Monday, September 24, 2012

Kitty Steals the Show

Series: Kitty Norville (#10)
Genre: Adventure
Author: Carrie Vaughn
Publisher: Tor

I've reviewed so much Kitty Norville by this point that I worry about repeating myself. I want to call this book a "return to form", but have I used that term in relation to one of her other recent books? I can't remember, and I'm too lazy to look it up. But it's true. After wandering into unfamiliar territory in her last outing, Kitty has gotten back to basics. The latest entry in this long-running series hearkens back to the early days, full of strange, remarkable, and above all human characters. It pays off: Kitty Steals the Show is the series' best book in years.

After years of toiling alone, Kitty Norville is finally getting some recognition. Not for her battles against the megalomaniacal vampire Roman, those remain secret. But her greater work of speaking out and speaking for the supernatural citizens of the world has gotten her tapped to deliver the keynote address at the First International Conference on Paranatural Studies in London, England. So, with husband Ben, perennial hanger-on Cormac, and no idea of what she's going to say, Kitty packs up and heads out. In London she runs into friends old and new, but also enemies. Because the vampires have likewise converged on London for a gathering of their own. Although the city is neutral ground, that won't stop Roman's lackeys from scheming. And they have an eye on a good, good friend of Kitty's.

Vaughn's biggest strength as a writer has always been her characters, and Kitty Steals the Show wisely puts them front and center. The idea of a conference where the supernaturals of the world come together before scientists and onlookers gives her the perfect excuse to bring back some old friends, and unlike Kitty's House of Horrors, this time they're here to be more than cannon fodder. Tyler, the special forces werewolf from Kitty Goes to War, is back and a major player in the plot. Emma, the newly-turned D.C. vampire who had her own story told in a short story, is also on the scene. And there are compelling newcomers as well, including a fairy queen whom I hope we get to see more of and the vampire master of London, Ned.

There is, however, a hazard in all this; a lot of characters means page space has to be divided many ways, and inevitably someone gets pushed aside. Kitty Steals the Show bites off a bit more than it can chew, and almost chokes. The pagecount is spread a little too thin over a few too many plotlines. Some of them could have really stood to get more focus. Luis, Kitty's wild fling from book 2, shows up unexpectedly, and you expect some tension between him, Kitty, and Ben, but that plotline winds up going nowhere. Cormac has his own storyline, which does go somewhere, but it doesn't relate much to the main plot. In fact, Cormac generally sticks out like a sore thumb. The major bullet point of his character since book 8 -- having the disembodied spirit of a ghost living in his head -- is something that's hard to get across with Kitty being the perspective character. Vaughn has recently made noise about spinning him off into his own novels, and that might be for the best; he's increasingly out-of-place in the main series.

Still, the overall story holds together well. Some might complain that nothing much happens, but this isn't true. Stuff does happen, and it seems to be prep for the final conflict with Roman, which might be coming sooner rather than later. In recalling the series' early days, there may be a tacit acknowledgment that the whole Long Game arc has fizzled, dragging the series towards epic chess games between forces of good and evil when Vaughn is much more comfortable and assured doing small-scale, personal stories. Again, the return to basics is welcome; Kitty Steals the Show has less to do with world-ending conflicts and more with Kitty finding her place in the world.

Do I have more to say? I guess not; I am, as always, a devoted fan, and Kitty Steals the Show serves up exactly what I wanted. Little surprised or shocked me, and as before, I never felt like the major players were in any real danger. But I don't have to be suprised; proper execution of an idea matters a lot more. I said over twitter that this book reminded me why I do this, and I wasn't exaggerating. In an environment where everyone regurgitates the same old stories and amateurs with less skill then they think dominate (yeah, yeah, glass houses,) Vaughn's solid craftsmanship and refusal to embrace cliches is a breath of fresh air. Would that I could read books like this more often.

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