BOOK REVIEW: MEN OF THE OTHERWORLD- by Kelley Armstrong

BLURB: I don’t remember the first time I changed into a wolf. One night I passed out, and awoke to find my body covered in yellow fur. My brain was beyond reacting. It took this in its stride, as it had everything else in my new life. I got to my feet and went in search of food.

As a curious and independent six-year-old, Clayton didn’t resist the bite – he asked for it. But as a lone child werewolf his life is under constant threat. So when enigmatic Pack member Jeremy Danvers saves him, Clayton is determined to protect his adoptive father, no matter what the cost.

So begins this gripping collection of four tales chronicling the bloody feuds of the American Pack, and the coming of age of Clay Danvers, a very powerful – and very singular – werewolf.

REVIEW: In spite of my gripes with paranormal romance, I love Kelley Armstrong’s writing; she’s funny, descriptive, her action sequences are great and I love her sense of snark. Out of all the different supernaturals that occupy her Women Of The Otherworld series, the werewolves are my favorite creatures. So when I found out this book was all about the werewolves with (almost) no other supernatural creatures, and minimal romance, I was in. Men Of The Other World was everything I’d hoped it’d be. Or at least, the Clay novellas were. The stories surrounding Jeremy’s heritage were a disaster zone, but I’ll get to that.

The two longest, Savage and Ascension,  cover Clay’s upbringing and Jeremy’s rise to Alphadom.

Savage mainly covers Clay’s meeting with Jeremy and his attempts to fit in with the pack, while Ascension covers the pack politics surrounding the power struggle that emerged over who will succeed an aging Dominic as Alpha.

Even though I hated Clay’s relationship with Elena, as a character he was interesting. A man who was turned a wolf as a child ( a sort of modern Mowgli), his story was fascinating and one that begged to be told. And Savage does an excellent job of this.

His meeting with Jeremy is very emotional and shows the patience of the man. Although this story is being told retrospectively from the POV of adult Clay,its still done in a way which employs the thought processes of child Clay. As someone who became a wolf when he was four and left human society until he reached the age of seven, Clay had initially forgotten how to understand human speech and has become a feral, slowly starving in the world.

Even though there’s no dialogue (Clay had forgotten how to speak at this point), and Clay doesn’t understand what’s going on, the emotion is all there. Clay’s mindset is that of well, a cross between a frightened child and scared animal, whose mentality is purely fight or flight, not fully comprehending what’s going on and only coming to Jeremy for food. He sees Jeremy’s attempts to try and dress him as a ‘game’, and it takes a long time to build trust. Armstrong doesn’t rush this, and we have repeated incidents of Clay running away, causing trouble and making Jeremy’s life extremely difficult.

This really demonstrates the compassion of the character, and his patience. Another wonderful thing about this story is that we finally see the werewolves (other than our Italian businessmen) hold down a job. In Women Of The Otherworld, it always felt vague how they were managing to afford this huge property as neither Clay, Elena nor Jeremy’s jobs were shown having much impact on their lives. Here, we see Jeremy having to deal with managing accounts and the inheritance of Stonehaven on his own, and having to deal with translating work to keep the place afloat. This added a lot of authenticity to the book, and it was so wonderful seeing him having to deal with financial issues rather than living in the almost Disney Princess fantasy land where he can just get loads of money selling the odd painting because he’s just that super talented.

It was also great seeing a young Nick growing up with Clay, and their friendship and how his easy going nature clashed with Nick’s loner personality.The power struggle within the pack was fascinating and it was interesting seeing how the different power struggles clashed, although I don’t understand how Malcolm could have ever been a viable contender. Malcolm himself, was just a big, mean ball of macho bile; he doesn’t have a job, is continuously antagonistic to everyone. I honestly didn’t understand why a sensible Alpha like Dominic tolerated him, because he’s such a pantomime villain and a loose cannon. Sure, he’s a great fighter, but he’s nothing that couldn’t be replaced by a good shot gun. What did save him from cartoon villaindoom, however, was his fascination with Clay. I liked how they were both sort of different sides of the same coin, and Malcolm uses his wolf ideology to justify his cruelty, while Clay, allegedly more wolf than human, cannot understand this senseless cruelty.

One thing I did really hate was how quickly Clay went from being behind his peers due to being in the wild so long, to suddenly being extremely gifted and talented and ahead of everyone else. This happened in the space of a year or two. I’m sorry, but this is complete nonsense. There’s no way Clay could have caught up so quickly, and the only reason he does is because he’s meant to be this super special love interest. Clay is impulsive, irrational and lacks judgement and is extremely primal. He has shown absolutely no sign of having a brain for the entire series, there’s no way I buy him as this super special genius.

But all in all, I absolutely loved these novellas and enjoyed them more than a lot of Elena’s books in the main series.

Infusion and Kitsunegari

Now, with a heavy sigh I have to get to the disaster that is Jeremy’s Asian heritage. Oh my, why did she have to do this? You see, in this Jeremy is half kitsune on his mother’s side (which isn’t a spoiler- if a Japanese supernatural turns up in urban fantasy, it’s always a kitsune). So basically, a kitsune comes along, breeds with Malcolm in order to give Jeremy cool Asian mind powers and is killed conveniently when she’s completed her utility. Yeah, that sounds a bit cold but that’s basically all she is- an exotic baby maker that gives her son superpowers.

The problem is that this is the poster boy for badly used mixed race protagonists in urban fantasy, which is excellently deconstructed in this article here. The only reason that she’s Asian is so that Jeremy gets cool exotic powers, and of course after she’s done that, she’s of no further use so she’s done away with. Nothing of her heritage is passed on to Jeremy, she’s never treated as a person, and none of Jeremy’s heritage affects his life or him as a person- you’d think that growing up getting racially abused by his father and being the only mixed race Asian amongst a bunch of white men would have some affect on him. But no, it’s brought up so little in the series this feels like a bizarre ret con. This is even lazier Mixed Race writing than Zoey Redbird was in HoN, who at least acknowledged the existance of her heritage (even if it’s only to justify her super special spirit Pocohontus powers)- and if I’m saying an element is worse than anything in HoN, that’s the most damning criticism I can heap on something.

Worse still, in Infusion, the reason that the kitsune grandmother uses for choosing to throw her grandaughter at Malcolm is because their race is dying and they need ‘strong blood’. Yeah, POC wanting the ‘strong bloodline’ of white people is a racist trope that’s been around for centuries, and though I’m sure Armstrong didn’t purposefully write it that way because she’s not a white supremicist, it sounds so much like this it’s impossible to ignore. Also, having a Japanese woman throwing herself at a white man in the 40s… when the Americans were throwing Japanese Americans into internment camps? Man, that’s pretty bad.

It appears they do at least acknowledge the racism and the mother does say that she was playing on Jeremy’s Racist attitudes… but because she’s given no character it all feels played straight.

It gets even worse in Kitsunegari, as a gang of Kitsune attempt to seduce Jeremy away from Jaime in mangled English saying ‘I for you.’ So basically:

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Yes, we went there: we went full ‘me love you long time’, and it doesn’t even have the excuse Full Metal Jacket did of being written in the 80s. Or Southpark for being Southpark. These creatures are literal submissive sex objects, and apart from being desperate for Jeremy’s superior white- um, werewolf – semen, they’re given no agency, no will of their own compared with the other supernaturals of Armstrong’s world. They are literal sex objects throwing themselves to be used by the white male protagonists, and that is one of the most pernicious, nastiest racial stereotypes surrounding Asian women. This wouldn’t be so bad if there were more Asian characters, but Women Of The Otherworld is whiter than Donald Trump’s porch after a snowstorm. Hope Adams is the only non white narrator in the series, while Zoe Takano is the only asian character in the series… and she wasn’t exactly very competent in Broken.

I mean, why are the Kitsune dying out when the werewolves are doing just fine? Surely there were plenty of other supernatural creatures nearer home they could breed with? Why travel to a country they were on bad terms with for their supernatural sperm doner. Plus, kitsune and shape shifters in Japanese mythology typically try and breed with nobility, so the Danvers would be of low blood and beneath them.

It’s a shame we had to do this, to walk into so many unfortunate racial tropes for no other reason than to give Jeremy a bit of extra magic- which could have been done another way, as to my knowledge mind powers aren’t amongst the typical kitsune skill set anyway ; it was interesting delving into Malcolm’s twisted psyche, and Jaime was her usual awesome sassy self. Plus, it was nice seeing Jaime and Jeremy interacting as a normal couple, having to make time to see each other, working around each others schedules and responsibilities. Damnit, why did we have go there book? You were so brilliant otherwise!

VERDICT: Ignoring the tropey racial disaster zone that were Infusion and Kitsunegari, Men Of The Otherworld was an excellent collection that did everything a set of short stories about a main series should do: they told a story in their own right, and added a lot of depth to the series main characters.

RATING: 4 wolves out of a pack of 5

And on a final note, the English cover looks so much, and so much better than the alternative version. It’s good to know that at least Women Of The Other World is going equal ops on terrible torso pictures:

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TOP 7 VAMPIRE AND WEREWOLF TROPES THAT NEED TO BE STAKED TO DEATH

Vampires have changed a lot since their soulless bloodsucking days of Camilla, Dracula and Varney. No longer a shrivelled menace, but a sexy, sexy protagonist with a dark, brutal past .. washboard abs… and the pain of centuries of loss and denial and longing carried on their big, muscular hunky shoulders… (did I mention abs?) Yeah, goodbye evil demon and hello brooding sex God, vampires are totally teenage fap material now, while werewolves, though  less popular (the bestiality thing is kind of a boner killer), are the cool macho alternative; they can transform at will, are the natural rivals of vampires, and provide a caveman alternative to the metrosexual, refined seducers that are the vampires.

But while change is not bad (and as a woman I admit I actually love the sexy vampires and werewolves as action leads), there are some new annoying patterns that are beginning to emerge again and again. And there are some conventions that just need to be staked to death…

1) The ridiculous homophobia and racism analogies

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Damn those bigots and their intolerance against beings who frequently kill people!

There’s fantastic racism , but ever since the X-men became mainstream, comparing ‘discrimination’ against your supernatural creatures  to homophobia (while not actually including any actual gay people  as anything more than sassy comic relief or victims) has become the new trend to make a story more ‘edgy’ and ‘relevant’. But comparing the prejudice against a typically harmless minority to a justified fear against a supernatural  whose means of survival regularly ends in murder and torture is ridiculous.

Vampires  are feared  and hated because they’re extremely powerful with absurd wealth, often contacts in high position and have superpowers which they tend to use to kill people on a regular basis.

Fearing vampires/ witches/ werewolves isn’t discrimination- it’s is an entirely reasonable reaction to the threat they pose and the only reason it’s portrayed as prejudice is because vampires and wolves are super hot. If vampires looked less like David ‘putting the Buff in Buffy’ Boreanaz and more like Uncle Lurch, we would still be calling them monsters and no one would call it prejudice. And speaking of sexy vampires….

2) The  whining about the curse of being a super powered sparkly sex God

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Look at my monstrousness!

Ah, the trope that began with Louis, became mainstream with Angel and reached its horrifying pinacle with Edward Cullen: the vampire who is Just. So. Tortured. About being this super special immortal sex God…

Look, there is nothing terrible about being a modern vampire. Nothing.Sure, in the days of Dracula, when people were superstitious and vampires were actual monsters, becoming an evil hell beast would have been a serious downer. But not any more.

In pretty much every modern vampire series, vampires are the ultimate wish fulfillment. They’re eternally young, super sexy, super powered and in many versions they don’t even need to kill people to survive. When they do, there’s usually a way to only kill bad people- like Lestat’s mind reading in the vampire chronicles. Hell, half of them can even go out in the frickin’ sun.

Sure, you can’t have kids (well in some versions you can have little Dhampir babies), but that is pittance compared to all the benefits. There is no downside, and their plight is about as sympathetic as those characters from 90s who whined about how empty it was to have a great job and a nice car.

Lestat here sums up exactly how I feel whenever this trope comes up…

3) The Female Werewolf as the only one, an aberration or an anomaly

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Elena the lone female werewolf. Leah the only werewolf in Quilette history. Even in Wolf’s Rain, which has by far the best portrayal of wolves I’ve seen, SPOILER Blue the lone main female wolf in the series doesn’t count and can’t SPOILER enter paradise with the rest of the pack because of her  half dog status and is always the outsider in the pack.Female werewolves in the Mercy Thompson series are rare, and though Mercy herself is a skin walker (though I think that was retconned in later books), she is similar to this trope as she’s a rare canine shifter and is desirable to the males because she’s one of the only females whom they can breed with . And for that matter, the werecats in the shifter series operate on a similar basis. Female werewolves are always extremely rare and a HUGE emphasis is often placed on their fertility.

This makes NO sense. This makes no sense whatsoever. What kind of species operates like this? Not real wolves, which has a pretty even gender split. Moreover, in a wolf pack only the Alpha couple will breed, meaning that the fertility of the rest of the females aren’t a big issue.

It is an absolutely annoying trope which often reduces females to commodities to be fought over because of their gender, or treats them as a bizarre anomaly. And speaking of werewolves…

4) ‘Of course they’re like that- they’re werewolves’ as an excuse for the male lead’s douchey behaviour

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Paranormal Romance: making this guy look like the paragon of progressive gender roles

Clay Danvers. Adam Hauptmann. The literal alpha male. He’s  possessive and controlling. He makes decisions for our heroine ‘for her own good’.Not because he’s a co-dependent dick with no boundaries, oh no. It’s because he’s a werewolf, not a human, and of course they’re like that. Okaaayy now…

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First off, werewolves don’t exist and therefore  they don’t have to be anything. If they’re sexist dicks, then they’re sexist dicks because the writer chose to write them that way and that’s a really terrible thing to make your romantic lead. If vampires can stop being hideous chaotic evil monsters and go out in the sunlight sunbathing (which is wrong on so many levels), then werewolves can not be completely terrible too.

Second off, this has nothing to do with actual wolf behaviour. Compared with primates, wolves are fairly egalitarian, as they have an alpha couple, and a parallel rank structure for each gender- the males compete with the males while the females compete with the females. The curse of the werewolf should make men less patriarchal compared with humans if anything.

And finally, even if being a werewolf meant he had to be a controlling dick, for reasons, then there’s still no reason why any woman should put up with this. I don’t care if they’re mate bonded/ pinkie promised whatever  and he just can’t help himself- no.  That’s his problem and his responsibility. No heroine should have to put up with this.

There are plenty of human men out there, and If he wants to be with her that badly, because they’re SOULMATES, and IF SHE SAYS NO  it will cause A WHOLE PACK RIFT and HE CAN NEVER LOVE ANOTHER WOMAN AGAIN, then he needs to get his shit together. Just because he’s a werewolf doesn’t mean he’s not sentient and can’t control his actions- which are nothing like any real wolf. And if it does mean that, then he is a monster who needs a silver bullet not sympathy.

This trope is like Beauty and the Beast if Belle loved Beast BECAUSE of his shitty behavior and she didn’t make him change.Sounds fucked up? Well, welcome to paranormal romance.

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See this? This is Belle’s ‘I’m not impressed by your Alpha male shit’ face.

 

5) The Stupid Amount Of Money That’s Always Brushed Over

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This is more a trope I want to see explored rather than wiped out. Most vampires and often werewolves are insanely wealthy and it’s never really explained how. But it really should. How do they do that? I mean, when you can’t go out in daylight, can’t age and therefore can’t stay in the same job long enough to build a business empire.

I mean, think of the possibilities: maybe they gain money by offering the rich and powerful money in exchange for their business know how, creating a rather privilidged class of dangerous aristocrats (like Dracula). Or they could constantly have to make human contacts to look after their money? This trope is something that began with Dracula and continued with The Vampire Chronicles, and should really be something that’s explored.

6) The Generic Sexed Up Vampire Babe

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Vampires aren’t nearly as male dominated as werewolves, but when you think of all the prominent pop culture vampires: Dracula, Louis, Lestat, Jean Claude, Alucard, Blade, Angel, Spike, Bill, Damon, and many more, they’re all men. Honestly, the highest profile female vampires in pop culture I can think of are Marceline from Adventure Time, Claudia from Interview with the Vampire, those strippers from Dusk Till Dawn and that little girl whose name nobody remembers from let the right one in.

Vampires in fiction are very male dominated, And when females do appear? It’s usually not good. While male vampires can be heroes and villains, sexual and well rounded, vampire women are usually always evil and are relegated to the laziest of all female villain tropes: the evil sexy women. No ‘complex’ brooding for you, you are just evil and like sex, and use sex to get your way. And it is boring. These characters are comparatively shallower, less memorable than their male counterparts.

It’s a shame, because while Camille and Elizabeth Bathory provide some great precedents for cool female vampires, who are sexual but also powerful, Instead they seem to always use the overdone Bride of Dracula route with a bit of vampire queen Akasha from Queen of the Damned mixed in, as often vampires will have a female Queen or leader.

In short, we need more Francines and Claudias in our life, and less of these vampire succubus.(although Claudia is the mother of the creepy child female vampire trope which while enjoyable, is still a role that women get relegated to.)

7) The Ridiculously Old Vampire That Acts Like A 12 Year Old- and the Immortal Teenager

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Ever since The Vampire Chronicles introduces the ‘children of Millenia’ and the idea that a vampire’s strength increases with age, we’ve had a litany of vampires who are just stupidly old and it really has no bearing on their character. Especially the goddamned immortal teenagers.I mean, age just seems like a status symbol in vampire fiction, like a rolex watch.

Even if a vampire is old enough to have seen kingdoms rise and fall, or at least old enough to have seen the horrors of both world wars, their biggest priority is getting that 17 year old to go prom, or the decor or whatever childish problem they have…

It shouldn’t be that way. Having an ancient vampire that has lived through God knows how many tragedies should change the character and make them extremely different from the rest of us. Say what you will about Anne Rice and her purple prose, at least she made their immortality mean something, at least we felt the impact of the years on them and they felt different from everyone else around them. In many modern works, the immortality means nothing and doesn’t has lost so much of its impact.

 

Those were my top 7 biggest gripes with the werewolf and vampire mythologies, and if you have your own I’d love to hear about them.

 

BOOK REVIEW: STOLEN- by Kelley Armstrong

Blurb: When two desperate witches lure part-time journalist and full-time werewolf Elena Michaels into a carefully laid trap, she quickly learns that her perceptions about humanity are based on some fundamental flaws. In Kelley Armstrong’s supernatural thriller, Stolen, the world is populated with vampires, demons, half-demons, magical shamans and other supernatural races living anonymously among the human population–a concept that Elena has a hard time accepting, just as she struggled with her own lupine identity in Armstrong’s remarkable debut, Bitten.

But when Elena returns to her werewolf pack in upstate New York, pack leader Jeremy reveals that the threat people pose to the supernatural races should not be taken lightly. When Jeremy, Elena and her lover Clay decide to take action to protect their pack, Elena gets kidnapped on the orders of a power-crazed billionaire. While being held captive she learns that while some magical beings are good and some evil, none are capable of more outright cruelty and savage betrayal than ordinary, non-magical human beings.– amazon.

Review: Stolen is very much a transitional novel. While Bitten was stand alone and focused on the werewolves, this book  transforms the series into an ensemble piece with a dozen other magical creatures. Here, not only do we have the werewolves, we’re introduced to witches, half demons with different powers, shamans, sorcerers and vampires.

We get given an introduction to Paige and Savannah, who will go on to become protagonists for later books, as well as a host of other characters including Xavier, Leah, and Cassandra, who will be recurring characters in later books.

That’s quite a hefty task for one novel, and not only does it have to do all that, but it has to tell a decent story. Which it does well. While by far not my favorite in the series (that distinction goes to HauntedBitten and Industrial Magic), Stolen is far more than that boring middle book you’re stuck reading because it sets up the next book; It’s  a good story with a strong climax, and it introduces the new supernaturals in a way which feels natural and not like a big info dump.

Elena is captured by a big organisation experimenting on the supernatural. Her every movement is watched, and there are a whole host of enemies and dangerous characters whom you aren’t entirely clear whether they’re friend or foe. You know that Elena will make it out alive- when does the viewpoint character ever die?- but this novel makes painfully, uncomfortably clear that there’s a lot of other terrible things that could happen to her before then. Each botched escape attempt could result in serious repercussions; not only that, but the fate of the other people trapped in the institution is more uncertain- (and mild spoiler, not every one makes it out alive).

The reason I still read Women of the otherworld, a paranormal romance series, when I hate romance and I hate the ‘protective alpha male’ love interest (and by that I mean douchey stalker with no boundaries) , is because Armstrong is amazing at action sequences. The ending was great, and it had some real morally grey areas. Innocents had to suffer, and Stolen doesn’t sugarcoat the brutality of it.

Ty Winsloe is the main villain, and although he’s only human and not as compelling as say the super powered nasties that occupied Anita Blake‘s rogue gallery (before the series deteriorated into paint by numbers porn), he is still a realistic and unpleasant character you wouldn’t want to be trapped with. Xavier’s intriguingly untrustworthy, and … well, I won’t spoil it, but not only do we have wolves, but wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Paige and the all female witches were a breath of fresh air the series seriously needed. Too often in Urban Fantasy, we have a sassy, tomboyish heroine who’s the only strong female in the entire world who isn’t an evil slutty bitch who’s trying to steal the heroine’s man raaww.

Because of the insanely ridiculous ‘only female werewolf’ thing with Elena -which makes absolutely no sense but that’s a post for another time- this series was in danger of becoming this. I loved that Paige and Ruth love traditionally feminine things and it isn’t treated as inferior.

I loved it when Paige and Elena butt heads and Ruth casually freezes her and starts calmly telling them off for their lack of manners. I’m always a big fan of strong older woman and Ruth was great- reminding me of Grams from Charmed before the later series made her seem like kind of an asshole.

And now, with all the positive, we must get to the annoying element that blights all the Elena books: her taste in men.Fucking Clay- even reading about this man makes me feel suffocated and like I need space. Granted,  Elena is away from him most of the novel and so he’s less of an issue than, but their relationship still does manage to grate on my enjoyment. Here is a choice quote about their relationship:

I had to admit that since we’d been been back together, he really had been working at being less controlling, possessive, and over-protective. Not that he was giving me up and letting me live a semi-independent life. We kept separate bedrooms, but that was as far as it went.

Yes, Clay is needy, controlling, and imposes himself on her every second of the day. But of it isn’t because he’s a creepy, co-dependent douchebag. Oh no, it’s because he’s a werewolf and he can’t help it:

As part of my own relationship-saving efforts, I’d had to admit that this togetherness thing was part of Clay’s nature. Bitten as a child, he’d forgotten ever having been human […] He was more wolf than human. About the togetherness thing, Clay would argue that you’d never see a wolf telling its mate that it had to ‘get away for a while’ or needed ‘some personal space.’

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Yeah, that’s not how wolves work. If this were a real wolf pack, you wouldn’t get a mate and Elena (Alpha female by default) would start banging Jeremy, so I really wouldn’t pull the wolf card, Clayton. And of course, like with so many other stalking, douche-bag werewolf boyfriends (HAUPTMAN) , he blames it on being more wolf when this douchey behaviour has nothing to do with wolves- which I will go into on another post.

Second of all, as part of our relationship saving moves, Elena had to compromise and accept his stalking, possessive behavior as just how he is? Bullshit. This isn’t a compromise thing, this is HIS problem, HIS issue, HIS shit, not Elena’s, and there is no in between, HE needs to change- and agreeing to compromise is just enabling his behavior. Also, Elena’s making all the compromises. Throughout most of the series (I haven’t completed it, so I suppose it could change although I doubt it), he’s never less possessive, so Elena is just accepting it. Sure, she puts up a few token complaints because she’s a strong independent woman ™, but she never follows through, never forces him to change.

 I really can’t consider Elena as the strong heroine she’s marketed as when she puts up with this and their relationship- as much as I enjoy their snark and banter, their sexuality and rebelliousness, it really stops me from truly enjoying her books. I know I’ve railed on about this, and this is more a complaint about the series as a whole, but this unhealthy relationship dynamic really does ruin the Elena books for me. 

Thank God, the very nature of this plot meant that Clay and his co dependent behavior couldn’t ruin this book- although is it weird that a book where Elena is imprisoned by a pervert who can control her every move felt less suffocating than an average scene with her and her One True Love. But still, even if our heroine was kidnapped, at least she got to spend most of the novel trying to break out by herself without Clay breathing down her neck. And, once SPOILER she did escape, there was too much going on plot wise for Clay’s possessiveness to really cause any problems. 

The only other problem is that again, we have Elena doing incredibly  stupid and wreckless things. In the last book we had her running off alone to rescue Clay (actually running, instead of getting a bus or something- but fuck logic, WE NEED DRAMATIC TENSION!) This time we have her getting captured due to her own wreckless actions. We also have her HIGHLIGHT TO SHOW SPOILERS stopping in the middle of her own escape – still in the danger zone, after weeks of imprisonment and sexual abuse- to fuck her goddamed boyfriend.I mean, come on! A bunny in heat would exercise more control than this. It makes me doubt Elena when she says she earned her position as ‘voice of the alpha’, as I don’t think she’s shown to be responsible enough to babysit a pot plant, let alone… hell, let alone focus on her own escape!

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All the face palms  in the world can’t numb the pain

Gah, but in spite of all these frustrations what keeps me coming back to this series is the fact that Armstrong is an amazingly good writer. Her prose is elegant, descriptive and great at evoking scene and atmosphere while never slipping into any shade of purple.Her dialogue is natural and witty and her action sequences are always intense. If you can put up with the Alpha male douche love interest or *gasp* like paranormal romance, then I’d definitely check this series out, as this is definitely the best the genre has to offer.

Verdict: Stolen does a good job of transitioning women of the other world from a stand alone book about werewolves to an ensemble piece about multiple supernaturals. Not only that, but it’s a good story in its own right and definitely worth checking out if you enjoyed Bitten.

RATING:3 Kick ass she-wolves out of five

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: Bitten- by Kelley Armstrong

Elena Michaels didn’t know that her lover Clay was a werewolf until he bit her, changing her life forever. Betrayed and furious, she cannot accept her transformation, and wants nothing to do with her Pack.
When a series of brutal murders threatens the Pack – and Clay – Elena is forced to make an impossible choice. Abandon the only people who truly understand her new nature, or help them to save the lover who ruined her life, and who still wants her back at any cost.

Bitten is the debut novel of Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Other World Series, the inspiration of the TV series of the same name. In every way it is very standard Paranormal Romance / Urban fantasy, but what distinguishes this novel from the pack is Armstrong’s writing.

Her world building is strong. Werewolves are one of the big three of urban fantasy (the big three being vampires, werewolves and witches or some similar kind of spell caster), and they aren’t shockingly different from the wolves of your Mercy Thompson novels or any other urban fantasy series. But the werewolves’ lore is extremely well fleshed out in this story, and their world and history is deep and interesting.

Her descriptions of scene and atmosphere are detailed and really brings to life everywhere Elena is to life- whether it’s the gym, Bear Valley, or the forest where the pack are hunting deer.

However, it’s the action scenes and the humour in which is Armstrong really shines. I think the only way to do justice to Armstrong’s brilliant one liners is to give an example:

He flipped through the pages, stopping on a photo of a bikini-clad redhead sprawled over the hood of a Corvette Stingray…

“What’s the woman doing there?” he asked

“Covering a scratch on the hood. She was cheaper than a new paint job.”

Armstrong’s wit is on form throughout the whole novel. All the action sequences are fast paced, very tense and exciting. They grab you from the word go, whether it’s a deer chase or a show down with the Big Bad.

As for characters, the villains in this book are… serviceable. They aren’t memorable like the ones that can be found in Anita Blake’s (pre book 10) rogue gallery, but their motivations seem believable and they do provide a legitimate threat for Elena and the pack to fight against.

And speaking of Elena, the main selling point of this series is the strong ass-kicking female leads. Bitten delivers. Gorgeous, biting witty, no nonsense and a supernaturally strong fighter, Elena is an extremely engaging character. She is not your virginal lead, and is unashamedly sexual- and the many sex scenes, for that matter, are smouldering. Her downfall however, is being overly impulsive and making bafflingly stupid and reckless decisions. There is one point where she rushes to find the antagonists- while all alone, with no backup- without telling the pack where she’s going and having a big part of her plan hinging on them figuring out where she is and riding in for the rescue. Unfortunately, this is a stupid streak that will continue through later books.

Then, with all these good points, what could possibly go wrong? Well, our heroine Elena has a serious character flaw: her choice in men. Clayton Danvers is one of my most loathed characters in literature and ruins every Elena book he’s in. He is an (unfortunately) very typical paranormal romance lead, and if you’re a big fan of the genre and like the domineering alpha male love interests, you will love Clay. He has a lot of good points: he is gorgeous, sexy, and passionate, has hilarious banter with Elena and he has a single target sexual attraction towards her. Their relationship is very passionate, intense and high drama like Catherine and Heathcliff. But also like Heathcliff, Clay is very possessive and puts his obsession for Elena above Elena’s wellbeing. Clay is possessive to the point where his relationship with Elena becomes co-dependent and stalkerish.

First of all, they met when Elena was a student and Clay was professor of anthropology (a job that after this we never see him do or talk about because businessman Dominic is the only werewolf we actually see do any real work). The much older male love interest is a prevalent feature of Armstrong’s Otherworld series. The fact that he was a professor teaching her class is a dubious start.

Then, Clay bites her. He doesn’t talk to her, doesn’t try and tell her about what he is or give her a choice, he just bites her. He forces a dangerous, irreversible life choice on Elena without even talking to her. This is a big conflict between the two throughout the book, but even reviewers who dislike Clay’s actions don’t quite emphasise how bad he is. There’s a scene where Elena looks at the werewolf dossiers- the history of werewolves- and there’s a section that details all previous attempts to create female werewolves. They all died.

Now, as a man who’s been a werewolf since a child, and as an (alleged) academic, there’s no way that Clay could have not realised that attempting to turn Elena would most likely kill her. This means that he was willing to risk killing Elena rather than risk her leaving. I don’t care how well Clay knows Elena’s taste in maple syrup or how much he worries about her. This is not love; this is limerence; this is self-absorbed obsession.

I could list numerous instances of Clay’s manipulative, pushy and controlling behaviour (he gets very jealous when Elena tries to have other friends), but I will let this point speak for itself.

Elena may be ‘tough’ in the feisty, 21st century ‘Strong Independent Women Hear Me Roar’ way. I would actually find a more timid, female lead who cried a lot and wasn’t an amazing fighter- but had the strength to really stay away from Clay – to be a stronger female lead. All in all, this is a brilliant book and I would be giving it 4/5 for writing quality alone. But sadly the presence of Clay drags its score down.

RATING: 3 ½ restraining orders from the other world / 5

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