Sunday, September 5, 2010
Kitty Takes a Holiday
Author: Carrie Vaughn
Kitty Takes a Holiday is a very difficult book to review. I can't honestly say that I disliked it, and I think it advances the overall plot of the series in a positive direction. But having finished it a mere day ago, I don't have a single scene that I can call to mind as being memorable. It's a serviceable book, but totally forgettable. One can't shake the feeling of an author phoning it in.
As the story opens, Kitty is grappling with a foe that Vaughn, by profession, must be intimately familiar with: writer's block. Offered a book deal, Kitty has rented a cabin out in rural Colorado, partially to focus on writing and partially to escape the pressures of being the world's first celebrity werewolf. She fails on both counts- writing, it turns out, is hard. With no real ideas and only the wolf inside her for company, she winds up running around the woods on four legs far too much. Meanwhile she feels her success slipping away as a rival show hits the airwaves while The Midnight Hour is in reruns. Things get interesting when Cormac drops by, bringing their mutual friend Ben with him. Ben has been attacked by a werewolf and infected. Kitty being the only werewolf Cormac is on speaking terms with, she's the only one he can turn to for help. Cormac has good timing- their other mutual friend Big Trouble has also stopped by, in the form of an unknown party using Blood Magic to lay a curse on Kitty's cabin.
As usual for this series, the book is a conglomeration several plotlines- Ben's coming to terms with lycanthropy, the curse, a separate plot about a strange werewolf-like creature running amok in the area, and a fourth that picks up two-thirds of the way through after the others have been resolved. Unlike the juggling act of the first two books, however, here the plots are handled one at a time. This makes the book a lot less confusing and easier to follow. As with Kitty and the Midnight Hour, the events are not the story so much as the backdrop against which the real, character-driven story plays out. That story is the blossoming romance between Kitty and Ben.
As I noted in the Linger review, some romances produce stability and others produce instability. Kitty/Ben is a stabilizing romance. Ben needs Kitty to guide him through a difficult time. Facing a new life as a werewolf, he initially contemplates suicide, and needs Kitty's experience and comforting to reassure him that life is still worth living. Kitty needs this same reassurance, but for a different reason- without her radio show, she feels like she doesn't matter anymore. She needs to help Ben so that in so doing she can regain her sense of purpose.
That's not all there is to their relationship. There's also the mind-blowing lycanthropic sex. Which some would say undercuts the deeper issues, but no problems from this reader. Vaughn approaches those scenes exactly as she should- go for broke on the lead-up and aftermath, and leave the good parts for the reader's imagination. (Unlike some other authors we won't mention, who could stand to leave a bit more to the imagination.)
Some readers will look at this and say "Wait, what?" For the past two books, readers have been teased with an attraction between Kitty and Cormac. But now Ben- who was barely in the first book, and had a clear "just friends" relationship with Kitty in the second- has been upgraded to primary love interest. Cormac becomes the third wheel in a love triangle. If you think this comes out of nowhere, it does. But I have to defend the author on this point. Frankly, the Kitty/Cormac dynamic was never believable- Kitty jumps about randomly between being scared of Cormac, lusting after him, and considering him a close friend and ally. Kitty and Ben have much better chemistry and play off each other well. Ben's not really himself in this book- he's just had his world turned upside-down, after all- in Kitty Goes to Washington he was a great foil to Kitty, straight-laced and levelheaded where Kitty is brash and impulsive. So while the swerve could have been handled better, it's ultimately a good direction for the series.
So, okay. Bit of a stretch, but overall a good concept. Here's the main problem with Kitty Takes a Holiday: from start to end, the writing falls flat on its face. There's a host of new characters. But with the possible exception of Ariel- who has only three brief scenes- every last one of them is cliche and uninteresting. This is utterly baffling coming from a series which has up until this point been filled with lively and interesting characters. The worst victim of the sudden downturn is Kitty herself- gone is the snarky energy and vitality that made her such a joy to hang out with in her first two books. Instead she makes a lifeless and occasionally moody narrator. This very well may have been an artistic choice- Kitty's depressed for most of the book, so logically the narration should reflect it. But if this is the case, things went horribly right- a listless narrator makes for a listless story.
Another problem is a rash of anticlimaxes- antagonists are dispatched perfunctorily, and revelations go over like lead balloons. There's no excitement, and everything feels like a letdown. It feels for all the world like the author is just going through the motions, and does not really care. Like this is a story that for some reason she felt she had to write, but which didn't interest her. It's disappointing, because the underlying story does have potential. It's just that the execution has no spark. Kitty Goes to Washington was jumbled and lacked cohesion, but the individual scenes were generally good. Kitty Takes a Holiday has the opposite problem- the plot is tight and well laid out, but the scenes are so bland that it all falls down.
I should emphasize that Kitty Takes a Holiday is not a bad book exactly. The pages did keep turning, and I was interested enough to see it through until the end. But looking back on it, it had very little that stayed with me. I enjoyed watching Kitty and Ben's relationship develop, but it's not interesting enough to hold up the entire book. Recommended only to fans of the series, and even than under the assumption that later books will be more worthwhile. And that's not guaranteed- Kitty and the Midnight Hour was awesome, but each of the two sequels thus far has been a step down. Kitty Norville has to recapture the magic quick. Otherwise, it risks being the paperback equivalent of a band that had one awesome, genre-defining album and then faded into obscurity.