Saturday, January 1, 2011
Kitty Raises Hell
Author: Carrie Vaughn
I seem to be in a love triangle with the Kitty Norville books. I love them, and I also love this blog. If the blog just loved Kitty too, we'd have a nice little menage going, but she must be a jealous creature. Every time Kitty comes over to have some fun, the blog is only a reluctant participant, sulking about while I try to... to...
Okay, not the best metaphor. But the point is: I liked Kitty Raises Hell. In fact, it reminded me why I run this blog, and after a few weeks of generally-mediocre material, that's a reminder that I sorely needed. But now, facing the need to do a write-up, I'm not sure that I have anything meaningful to say about it.
When we last left our heroine, she had just escaped the clutches of an evil cult devoted to the ancient Babylonian goddess Tiamat. Fleeing Las Vegas, she returned home to Denver where her pack, her radio show, her new bar, and some peace of mind awaited. But ancient cults don't really take kindly to their human sacrifices turning the tables on them, and barely weeks after the homecoming someone graffitied the word "Tiamat" on her bar's door. In flames. Kitty Raises Hell picks up more or less at that point, and the situation soon gets worse when an invisible assailant with pyrokinetic powers starts a campaign of terror against Kitty, attacking her pack and her territory. To fight back, Kitty calls on her networking skills, calling on her old vampiric friend Rick and her new magician friend Odysseus Grant for assistance. Further aid comes from a cable-TV ghost hunting show that conveniently stops by Denver, and a mysterious vampiric demon hunter. But as the attacks get stepped up, trust issues among her allies and the seeming impossibility of fighting an invisible enemy with conventional means make the battle a trial that pushes Kitty to her limits.
Kitty Raises Hell is a new direction for this series. Actually, more accurately Kitty and the Silver Bullet was the new direction and Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand was a brief backslide into the old ways, but the point is that we've got a different story here than usual. The old method involved multiple interwoven stories and a small recurring cast supplemented by many one-book guest stars. On the other hand, Kitty Raises Hell gives the stage mostly to recurring characters and focuses strongly on the main plot of trying to stop the invisible assailant. It's a much more conventional structure, and personally, I love it. The old way produced good reading, but every book ended with things left hanging that were never picked up. I've been hoping since the end of book 2 that Alette would grace these pages again, and we're all waiting for the day when Cormac gets out of prison. But this time most of the Denver characters are back-- most prominently Rick, being quietly awesome as usual-- and Grant joins the team providing advice and holding down the fort in Vegas. We've gone from an episodic structure to a very continuity-heavy one.
The plot, too, is a lot tighter than usual. Continuing off of Dead Man's Hand turns out to be a very good move, allowing us to leapfrog over the setup and get right into the action. The result is a tense, fast-paced story with plenty of meat and little fat. Additionally, the characters are a lot more active in solving their problems this time around. Last book was a lot of Kitty running around and getting nothing done, but here our heroes actually accomplish things. Progress against the enemy is slow but steady, with an increasing air of desperation as he gets bolder and more aggressive.
Things get a bit dicey near the end when the villain's nature is revealed. It's something that I figured out with a few simple deductions and a quick Google search a few chapters in, and if I had cared to I probably could have found all the info I wanted at a decent university library. Yet it takes nearly the entire book for Kitty and three seasoned paranormal investigators to figure it out. Weak. But the book makes up for this with the climax, which has Kitty staring him down face-to-face. A huge step up from spending the climax strapped to a sacrificial altar back in Dead Man's Hand.
Despite being a first-rate page-turner, however, Kitty Raises Hell sometimes seems like empty calories. The previous books were kind of like independent films: strings of not-strongly-connected scenes off of which you could peel back the top layer of narrative and find overarching themes, some of them very deep. Kitty Raises Hell is more like a adrenaline-powered summer blockbuster: a roaring good time, but in the end kind of a shallow experience. I can't shake the feeling that I wouldn't have liked this book if I hadn't already felt a connection to these characters. Perhaps I'm holding Carrie Vaughn to too high a standard-- from the start, this series has been about fun first and foremost, and this installment is certainly that, but in terms of ideas there's nothing here that we haven't seen before. A general theme of burying the past and moving on is teased out near the start, but it's soon lost in the chaos that follows.
Also, can I just get something off my chest? Kitty and Ben have way too much sex. Seriously. I let it slide in book 3 because they were still in the wild, enthusiastic stage of their relationship, and it was toned down in book 4. By book 5, I was beginning to get annoyed, but hell, they were on their honeymoon, I'd hardly expect them to spend it playing Charades. Now, however, it's edging into the realm of absurdity. Kitty will seemingly take any excuse to jump on her husband and drag him into bed. It's not a critical flaw. In fact, they're still one of my favorite fictional couples despite it. They're a good match for each other in terms of personalities, and their relationship is built on mutual support-- something we don't see a lot in a genre overflowing with stone-cold Action Girls and antiheroic Bad Boys. And it's not like Ben is degrading into a cardboard love interest either. He has plenty of agency in the story between leveraging his skills as a lawyer to the good guys' advantage and administering the occasional No-More-Mister-Nice-Guy treatment to someone. But it's grating. For one, they should both have whiplash by now, and for another, sex seems to be evolving into a default solution for any relationship problems that come up, which makes their marriage look kind of shallow.
But really, I quibble to very little purpose. Kitty Raises Hell is fun, end of story. It's good at what it does, and it doesn't set out to do anything more. And that's fine. Call it intellectually shallow if you want, but I had a damn good time reading it, and that's the Stone-Cold-Says-So bottom line. So there.