Kelley Armstrong – “Bitten”

3 Apr

armstrong-kelley-bitten
GENRE: Urban Fantasy
PUBLISHED: Plume, 2004

SERIES: “Women of the Otherworld” series, #1

WHY THIS NOVEL: I wanted to read the next one in this series, Stolen, so I re-read this one.


The back blurb:
“Elena Michaels seems like the typically strong and sexy modern woman. She lives with her architect boyfriend, writes for a popular newspaper, and works out at the gym. She’s also a werewolf.

Elena has done all she can to assimilate to the human world, but the man whose bite changed her existence forever, and his legacy, continue to haunt her. Thrown into a desperate war for survival that tests her allegiance to a secret clan of werewolves, Elena must reckon with who, and what, she is in this passionate, page-turning novel.”


Okay, I already wrote at length about the heroine in this novel, Elena; more precisely, about my problems with her. This is a more comprehensive look at the novel itself.

Elena is a thirty year old woman. Thanks to a bite by her lover Clay ten years ago, she’s also the only female werewolf in the world and she’s full of anger about that. Elena can’t reconcile her love for Clay with the fact that he was the one who bit her.

Elena is an orphan and grew up in orphanages and with various foster families. Because of her experiences in childhood, and especially with some foster fathers, she feels uncomfortable around other people and socially awkward. Meeting Clay all those years ago (not actually part of Bitten) seemed to change that. Finally, she felt comfortable around another being and her dream of normality seemed like it could come true. Clay’s bite changed all that, let alone it was the worst sort of betrayal to her. In addition, her chance at what she sees as a normal life with a human man – husband, two kids, the house and the picket fence, her lifelong dream because of her rather different childhood – is rather nil because of her werewolf side. But she tries with Philip.

Basically, the transformation into a werewolf thwarted Elena in two ways, because even as a werewolf, she’s an oddity again as the only female werewolf in the world. Bitten is about how Elena deals with her transformation into a werewolf and her life and about how she is forced to face it and her decision – trying to lead a human life – anew when a threat against her “werewolf family” emerges.

Bitten is thoroughly Elena’s story; the other characters seem more like secondary characters, even Clay. But since this novel is told in first person POV, that’s rather to be expected. Despite that, it’s clear what Clay wants which makes watching Elena blithely going her way without consideration for him and other people and/or recognition of their feelings not always easy to read.

I don’t mean she should have fallen into Clay’s arms – even though from the way this novel is written that so obviously seems the right choice for her – but I would have liked it if she had shown some maturity. Some of her actions appeared to me as if she got stuck in her teenager years in her development. Since this novel is about Elena dealing with her two identities as human and werewolf, I actually would have been okay with that if I wouldn’t had needed to read roughly three quarters of the novel before I got the impression that the novel dealt with that at last. Before, it just seemed like “setting the scene/introducing the character.” The balance was severely off for me and reading that was rather boring, sometimes even tedious.

Sadly, the mystery didn’t make up for it either. It was okay, but not all that interesting in its own right (mutts challenged the pack). More important, it mostly seemed to advance when Elena and the pack screwed up because they acted complacent and from a position of superiority regarding who dared to challenged them.

This leads me to the world building in this novel. I already said that Elena is an oddity as the only female werewolf in this world. On the whole, there are no more than 35 living werewolves at the start of the novel, divided into werewolves who are members of the pack and the other werewolves, called mutts. (I’m not completely sure what factor decides who’s pack and who isn’t; the alpha thing maybe?) The handful of pack werewolves monitors the mutts and brings them to heel if their behavior might reveal the werewolves existence to humans. Leaving aside the very small number (pack and total) and the elitist impression, nearly half of the whole werewolf population seems to be living in the US (which makes monitoring them easier, I guess). As with Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series, I was thrown a bit by the logistics and the convenience of the world.

Most things are told rather than shown in this novel, which often leads to long passages where background info is conveyed, for example about other characters. Sometimes even important conversations are just recounted when showing them would have helped to liven things up and let the other characters’ words and actions speak for themselves.

But despite all that and despite the fact that Elena is the narrator of it, I’m actually looking forward to reading Stolen.

Why?

Even with the overwhelming use of telling, I liked the voice. But much more important, like the first time I read Bitten, I thoroughly enjoyed Armstrong’s take on werewolves. They are not just characters who can shapeshift and go “growl” and all possessive. No. For Armstrong’s werewolves, and most of all for Elena who got turned into a werewolf against her will and wants/clings to her human side, it’s a real battle between intellect and instinct. Except maybe for Clay who is more on the instinct side of behavior. But he is comfortable with that and I loved that he is what he is and that there was no attempt to soften him and make him more civilized.

Elena’s werewolf urges, her need to transform and run as a wolf for example, makes her living together with her human boyfriend far from easy. Just read the prologue to get an idea. I loved it. And even though her werewolf urges are a major problem for Elena, when she’s a werewolf, running from her is a bad idea. Again, no attempt to soften her and make her more palatable. I really appreciated that.

And I really appreciated it when Elena’s struggle with her identities took on more meaning in the last quarter of the story. It nearly let me forget what went “wrong” before.

Sometimes it pays to continue reading.

For me, it sure did with Bitten.

Verdict: A decent read. With some tighter writing, less telling and more balance to Elena’s character, Bitten easily could have been a favorite read for me, especially because it concerns itself with one of my favorite questions in stories: the question for identity.

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4 Responses to “Kelley Armstrong – “Bitten””

  1. Marg Saturday, April 4, 2009 at 12:56 am #

    I think I am in the minority a little bit when I say that I actually prefer the books in this series that are less about the werewolves and more about the other creatures that inhabit her world!

  2. Jace Saturday, April 4, 2009 at 8:47 am #

    I don’t quite like UF so I’ve never read this author and others who write this genre. Also, I’m currently burnt-out on paranormals so I’m sticking to Medievals πŸ˜€ and Victorians … well, generally historicals without paranormal elements. πŸ˜‰

  3. nath Saturday, April 4, 2009 at 1:25 pm #

    Great review Taja πŸ™‚ Just in the series defense though, I will say that you soon forget Elena from Bitten once you get further along in the series. She definitively becomes more mature later πŸ™‚ I hope you will give it a chance πŸ™‚ and I agree with Marg. It’s much more interesting to see the supernaturals interact with each other than when it’s focused on one race.

  4. Taja Saturday, April 4, 2009 at 2:44 pm #

    Marg – I’m really looking forward to finding out what I’ll think of the other books in this series!

    JaceBitten is one of the two (?) urban fantasy novels I’ve read so far. And my plan for this weekend is to get some paranormals out of my tbr pile (and off my sidebar). By Monday, I’ll desperately need a change from all that possessive “mine” growling! πŸ˜€

    Medievals would be good then.

    Nath – thank you! No need to defend this series. There are things I appreciated and thought interesting in this novel; otherwise I wouldn’t have been as bothered *g* I also really enjoyed the later chapters in this novel and I’m really looking forward to reading Stolen. And then probably the others in this series. So all is well. πŸ™‚

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