Monday, August 9, 2010
Kitty Goes to Washington
Author: Carrie Vaughn
At one point in Kitty Goes to Washington, the author- through the mouth of the eponymous protagonist- gives a shout out to Call of the Wild author Jack London. That is telling, I think. London's favored medium was the short story. He wasn't really cut out for novels, so his novels tend to operate on the Voltron model. He puts several different stories together along a continuous narrative, ideally producing a whole greater than the sum of his parts. If these first two books are any indication, Carrie Vaughn operates in a similar way- weaving together four or five different plotlines into a single tapestry. In Kitty and the Midnight Hour, this worked very well. In Kitty Goes to Washington? Not so much.
Vampires, werewolves, and miscellaneous other supernaturals have lived in the shadows for centuries. But times, they are a changin'. Thanks in part to Kitty Norville's radio show, the cats are out of the bag and the world is learning how to cope. Kitty herself is a lone werewolf, walking the earth after pissing off her pack back in Denver, stopping in a new city each week to broadcast The Midnight Hour. But a stray subplot from the previous book rears it's ugly head and drags Kitty to Washington, D.C. to testify before a Senate subcommittee. While in town, she rooms with the local vampire mistress, romances a hot werejaguar, and investigates a government agency that's up to some shady stuff.
As with the previous book, the real high point here is the characters. Returning from Midnight Hour are badass monster-hunter Cormac, the obviously evil preacher Elijah Smith, and Ben. You remember Ben? The lawyer? He gets an expanded role as Kitty's partner in snark. Of the newcomers, the most compelling of the lot is Alette- a vampire mistress with a maternal side that immediately latches on to Kitty. Other standouts include a shell-shocked werewolf who fought in WWII, Alette's right-hand vamp Leo, and Roger Stockton, a tabloid reporter who drags Kitty into a big story. And of course, there's Kitty herself- still the same smart-assed bitch with her heart on her sleeve and a talent for finding trouble.
The plot connecting all of these characters is... complicated. And, it must be said, not put together as solidly as the last book. Most of the storylines are appealing on their own, but unlike Midnight Hour, they don't tie together too well. The confrontation with Smith and the exploration of Fritz's past are good bits, but have only a tenuous connection to the main plot. Luis' romantic subplot with Kitty feels completely gratuitous. They have a lot of really good sex, and... that's it, really. Kitty's narration even admits at one point that there's nothing more to their relationship. Maybe it was meant to make up for the creepy sex she was having with Carl back in Denver, but it comes dangerously close to being fanservice and nothing else.
And the penultimate confrontation- the sequence that is supposed to be the climax of nearly everything gone before- doesn't work. It simply strains believability to the breaking point. It requires that one character be a ranting maniac with delusions of grandeur. No problem, he'd been established as such. It requires that another character be willing to manipulate the first to his own advantage. Perfectly reasonable. But then it requires that two other major characters- both consistently portrayed as intelligent- suddenly become stupid enough to go along with a plan that is A) blatantly illegal, B) explicitly designed so that said illegal activities will become public knowledge, C) liable to get them all arrested and/or sued, and D) not a little bit cruel and amoral. The jury's still out on how Kitty turns this fix to her advantage- logically, it makes sense, but I can't help feeling that she had some loaded dice for that "Charm Person" roll. Fortunately, the final confrontation shortly thereafter is much better done, and allows the book to wrap up on a high note.
Kitty Goes to Washington can't help feeling like a step down. In as far as there's and overarching storyline, it boils down to "Are supernatural beings inherently bad?" Which is a stupid question, given all we saw back in Midnight Hour. Of course not- they're human, same as everyone else. Add to that the lack of real character development in Kitty, and the whole thing comes off as kind of pointless. This doesn't make the book unreadable by any means, but it does leave it feeling like a hollow experience.
Still, there is fun to be had here if you approach it in the right way. Don't worry about where the plot is going, because it isn't going much of anywhere. Enjoy the journey, the small dramas, and the fascinating people you meet along the way. This isn't a deep book, but witty writing and entertaining characters keep it interesting. And in the end, the only thing required for a good story is that it be interesting.