Thursday, March 24, 2011
Kitty Goes to War
Author: Carrie Vaughn
There comes a time when you just can't take another helping of the same old thing. I'm not at that point yet with Kitty Norville, but I'm getting there. Maybe it's my fault for going through the whole shebang in less than a year, but Kitty Goes to War went down like that meatloaf in a cliche 50's sitcom: Tasty, well-made, but, geeze, meatloaf again?
We have two concurrent stories in Kitty Goes to War. We open with Kitty running down a stray plot thread from two books ago: a pattern of supernatural occurrences at Speedy Mart stores around the country. She thinks of it as just another time-filler for The Midnight Hour, even after getting served with a lawsuit. But when CEO Howard Franklin pays a visit to intimidate her personally, she starts getting the idea that she's actually on to something. With the help of Cormac -- who's back from prison with some new tricks -- she looks into it and winds up having to thwart an evil scheme. The second story has the military roping Kitty into helping them deal with some werewolf soldiers who've gone rogue. After assisting in recapturing the rogues early on, Kitty talks the brass into letting her try to rehabilitate them.
Long-time fans will be used to dealing with multiple stories per book. The main issue with Kitty Goes to War is that the two separate plots have very different tones. The first is a typical Urban Fantasy mystery/adventure, but the second is more of a character drama. Taken together, they produce a kind of toothpaste-and-O.J. effect- an unpleasant clash of contradictory stimuli. Vaughn averts the worst of this by keeping the plots themselves basically separate, but this introduces other problems. As the climax nears, logistics get a little dicey, and Kitty winds up driving across the state of Colorado to deal with the B plot before rushing back to Denver to wrap up the A plot. I can't help thinking that the matter of the werewolf soldiers would have been better saved for the upcoming anthology, where it could stand on it's own.
Regardless, the storytelling is pretty good. The A plot is old-hat for this series by now: adventure and mystery spotlighting a varied cast. Significant in the story are Franklin as a larger-than-life villain and Cormac with a new set of mysteries swirling around him. It must be noted that the truth about Cormac is pretty damn obvious, but this doesn't stop him from being intriguing. In fact, he's arguably a completely different, more interesting character now then before he went to prison for two years.
However, sharing space with the other plotline does the story a disservice, and not just because of the tone problems. The pacing's off-- everything falls into place a little too easily for the good guys, and a lot is resolved because of Cormac's actions offscreen. And the most interesting thing in the book -- Cormac's new abilities -- is pushed onto the sidelines because there's no room for it.
Our other story is good and bad. Unfortunately, the bad is obvious and the good is subtle. For one, it's painfully transparent. We have three soldiers -- Tyler, Walters, and Vanderman. Vanderman is written off as a hopeless case pretty early. Tyler is the one for which Kitty holds out hope of redemption, and he's the one the book focuses on. Walters, meanwhile, is more or less a nonentity. I knew as soon as the story started moving in earnest that Walters was going to screw everything up at a critical point -- he literally serves no other purpose. Tyler is our main character here, and honestly, he's kind of bland too. He a traumatized soldier, and that's pretty much it. Two days after finishing the book, I can't remember a single thing about him.
The story is actually more about Kitty than the soldiers. Kitty's isn't often proactive in her adventurings -- usually she just gets roped into these things. After the soldiers are recaptured, her job is basically done and the Army tells her "thanks, bye." Her attempts to rehabilitate Tyler and Walters -- even sticking her neck out to get permission -- are a sign of her own development since the first book. Whereas there she was scared and cowering and just wished all this supernatural hoo-hah would leave her alone, here she's actively seeking out to solve problems. She notes that she herself continually undermines her attempts to live a normal life by "taking on projects", and indeed she's become an active force in the world, running off on these complicated and dangerous adventures because... well, because it's the right thing to do. Girl's become a regular hero.
On the other hand, she might be getting a bit too much into the heroic mindset. Late in the book, she does something really, really reckless -- something that suggests a sense of invincibility. This is disturbing, especially given that it was clearly demonstrated in the soldiers' backstory that a werewolf is not indestructible.
Kitty's pack also shows up in both stories as a significant force, and for the first time actually gets to do things. Since Kitty took over in book 4, Vaughn has seemingly gone out of her way to avoid doing anything with them. Two of the three books since have taken Kitty out of town, and in book 6 they existed mainly to put pressure on Kitty to stop the attacks now. Here, however, they're fleshed out a bit more as people and better integrated into the plot. I hope we get more from them in the future. (And the next book has Kitty going to San Francisco. *sigh*)
For all the problems, Kitty Goes to War is a solid entry in the series, serving up everything we've come to expect: Pathos, drama, action, and Kitty's ever-present monologue, alternately snarky and contemplative. It kept me interested until the end. Still, I can't deny that the series is in a bit of a slump. There was a sense of vitality in the first six or so books that I'm not getting here. House of Horrors was the same way -- entertaining, but I expected more spark. I still want more stories about Kitty and her world, but the magic has been fading. I have faith Vaughn can recapture it if she tries, but for myself, I'm glad book nine isn't out until summer. I need a break.