Thursday, August 22, 2013

Kitty in the Underworld

How about that? The first time I've gotten an offer of a review copy for a major release, and not only have I more or less given up on my blog, but I already bought the book for myself. The irony, it burns...

I've been a fan of the Kitty Norville series since I started Lupines and Lunatics back in 2010, and these past three years I've seen it be good, bad, and indifferent. The last book hit "good", and this one continues the momentum, although it's also a different kind of book. The appeal of Kitty Rocks the House was in the way it spotlighted the many characters in Vaughn's universe. By contrast, Kitty spends most of her latest outing either alone or interacting with a small group of newcomers.

Said newcomers, are, essentially, a crazy evil cult. A vampire with a trio of underlings who tranq Kitty, lock her up in an abandoned mine, and attempt to convert her to their cause. Much of the early book is Kitty being tortured with hunger, confinement, and isolation, along the way plunging into the occasional soul-searching monologue. Once she cracks and lets her wolf out, her captors let her in on the purpose of all this: They need Kitty for a magical ritual that will, they hope, destroy archvillain Roman. So, still a crazy cult, but not really evil. I guess?

The main issue here is that, once it comes out that Roman is their common enemy, the antagonists suddenly stop looking like bad people. Instead, they're flawed but basically decent individuals pursuing a noble cause. It's a strange twist to drop on the reader, and moreso the fact that, after half a book of making these people out to be loonies, Kitty suddenly decides to join forces of her own free will.

It's to Vaughn's credit that this doesn't come off as stockholm syndrome or anything of the sort. Or maybe it isn't, because frankly, stockholm syndrome would have made more sense. Instead we get the idea that Kitty is entering into an alliance of convenience. That's certainly a good move from a practical standpoint, but it's the same issue I had in Rocks the House where Kitty talks Becky down from the planned pack-coup and Becky never even brings up Kitty using her as bait back in Kitty Goes to War. Real people are not this reasonable. Is Kitty so detached emotionally that she can just shrug off the events of the previous two days and throw in with her captors? She certainly wasn't back in book 2, where she got a similar treatment over a much shorter period of time and likened it to being raped.

But keep in mind that all this comes after having a few days to reflect on the book. In the moment of the story, there's enough good in play that even major missteps don't kill it entirely. This a very introspective book, with Kitty considering her place in the world and just what it might require to defeat Roman. At the same time, though, Vaughn doesn't overdo it and descend into navel-gazing, but keeps the focus always on the driving conflicts and driving questions of the story. Along the way we get backstory on Roman and set up for future conflicts. I'm still not sure that the Long Game storyline is playing to Vaughn's strengths as a writer, but things have gotten a lot more interesting now, and with the various forces starting to move openly, maybe there's life to be breathed into this plot yet.

One thing that struck me as particularly interesting, and it's so subtle I can't be sure whether or not Vaughn intended it. Kitty's relationship with her wolf half has changed due to the events of this book. Before, it was a very one-way thing; Wolf-Kitty was a oppressive presence that whispered things in Kitty's ear and took control of her once per month. Kitty mostly tried to ignore her influence. But by the end of this book, the relationship has become two-way; now Human-Kitty exerts the same influence over herself when in beast mode, and at one point they have something akin to an argument. The implications for Kitty personally and her universe are fascinating, and I hope those get explored further going forward.