Friday, August 6, 2010

Kitty and the Midnight Hour

Series: Kitty Norville (#1)
Genre: Advenutre
Author: Carrie Vaughn
Publisher: Hachette

Katherine "Kitty" Norville, radio personality, lives in a world where all the things that go bump in the night are real- vampires, werewolves, Christian fundamentalists, the works. Really, it's not that big of a deal. They keep to themselves, enjoy their peculiar entertainments, and try to keep the muggles from finding out. Kitty might not even know about it if she hadn't contracted lycanthropy three years ago. But she did, and now she has to deal with the personal implications, wolfpack politics, and the occasional territorial scuffle with the local vampire family.

Then she accidentally creates a hit talk-radio show about the supernatural. All of a sudden her star is rising as she offers pop-psyche solutions and flippant snark to callers dealing with boyfriends more interested in biting thighs then necks, or wanting to talk about unsightly rashes with someone outside the pack. Not everyone is happy, though- both her alpha Carl and the vampire master Arturo want her to shut down the show. Plus, she gets dragged into investigating both a faith healer who claims to cure lycanthropy and vampirism, and a serial killing werewolf. And oh yeah, someone's trying to kill her. And the hitman's pretty cute.

One thing about this book, it's certainly not under-plotted.

The first book in the Kitty Norville series throws a lot of stuff at the reader, to the point that one of the main attractions is the juggling act the author does to keep it all up in the air. Vaughn does indeed fumble a few times. A major character literally drives off screen near the climax and is never heard from again (at least until the next book), and Kitty determines the aforementioned serial killers identity through a leap of logic that strains believability. But the book does manage to hold together better than it should, and remains an entertaining read throughout.

Part of this success is that this is not a story about events. Rather, the events are used to draw out the true story, which is Kitty's development. At the beginning of the novel, Kitty is a small, scared girl in a large, scary world. Lycanthropy is treated by the author almost as a kind of split-personality disorder- "Wolf" is constantly threatening to come out and take control of Kitty, to the point where she can't rely on herself. Her packmates are no help, either. With the exception of the protective T.J., every named character in the pack is domineering and manipulative. The most prominent offender is Carl. His relationship with Kitty is a cringe-inducing fusion of psychological manipulation and questionably-consensual sex. Her radio show, however, gives Kitty the ability to start making a difference, and all the disparate plot threads ultimately tie in to Kitty gaining the personal confidence and agency necessary to break out of the system. The penultimate physical confrontation is not about stopping the bad guy so much as about taking responsibility for yourself and your actions.

The other major high point here is the detailed characterization. While the heroes and villains are nearly always clear-cut, they're never one-dimensional. By the end, the major villains- Carl and the serial killer- are more easily pitied than despised, mere marionettes on strings. Arturo is set up to be a threat, but turns out to be far more complex than originally portrayed. A setup like this is expected to boil down to Fur vs. Fang, or maybe Fur and Fang both vs. the bad seeds from one or the other. While that may wind up being the direction the series takes eventually, (There are eight books and counting, of which I've only read two thus far) taking Kitty and the Midnight Hour on its own gives the sense of a far more nuanced world.

I don't mean to imply, however, that this is an angsty work. The closest analogy I can make in terms of tone is an arc of Buffy. There's drama, and sorrow, and desperate struggles, but it's also fun. Kitty facepalms to stupid callers, trades barbs with a bounty hunter after her head, and consistently makes smart-assed cracks to the reader. This is not a book that's meant to enlighten- though it does, if you look deeply enough. It's meant to be enjoyable, and it is.

Kitty and the Midnight Hour is not a book for everyone. The various subplots leave the reader with a lot of things to keep straight, the pacing has problems, and at times it seems to be lacking focus. Even at its best, it may be difficult to get into, because it's quite a bit different from what people expect from an urban fantasy novel. It's less concerned with adrenaline-fueled fight scenes or passionate romances than with humor and subtle character drama. But it's a real page-turner once it gets going, and an enjoyable ride if you take it on its own terms. Give it a try.

1 comment:

  1. :D great review. This is pretty much how I felt about this book, as well. I quite enoyed Kitty's development, if confused by some of the subplots that were started and never finished. But as you said, that's a matter for the next book. I about headdesked when Kitty nearly hooked up with the bounty hunter, so I was glad to see him go. Kinda hope he doesn't show up again.

    Anyway, nice review! I like your review style! New follower.

    Is there any chance you're going to take on the Mercy Thompson series?


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