Friday, November 11, 2011

Review: Kitty Goes to Washington by Carrie Vaughn, book 2 of the Kitty Norville series

Kitty is taking her radio show to Washington DC

After the existence of vampires and weres became more and more unavoidable and more and more well known beyond the fringe, the government has finally had to take notice. Not least of which because there's a government department appropriating funds to investigating paranormal biology.

Kitty, as one of the few publicly open and known werewolves, has been called to testify in front of the Senate committee. But the chairman of the committee is a senator she's known before – a religious fanatic who is convinced that vampires and weres are devil spawn that need to be destroyed – is this an investigation or a witch hunt? And to further add to the doubt and confusion it seems that the government scientists, Dr. Flemming, who she has been working with is neither as pure in his methods or his intentions as she had previously thought – just how compromised are the doctor's ethics and what risk does that pose for Kitty?

In DC she also again runs into the mysterious priest, Elijah Smith, with his strange power to suppress supernatural natures and compel vampires and weres to follow him in his travelling commune. She also finally gets to see how weres can exist without a pack – and a whole different side to vampires.

There's a lot going on in this book and a huge chunk more of the world is revealed, with considerably more possibilities – things have got a whole lot deeper for Kitty and her world.

This world remains one that intrigues me. While it has many of the Urban Fantasy staples and most of them follow along very strong lines (which isn't a bad thing, the classics became classics for a reason and it's actually nice to see a lot of the legends represented rather than so many discarded) we still have a very original moment. This series is taking part as the supernatural is revealed to the mortal world. This isn't where the supernatural world is hidden nor is it after the supernatural world is known to the more mundane world – this is the first series where we're seeing the actual revelation

I'm also glad we saw the flip side of not having a pack. Idyllic and peaceful on the outside, with everyone doing their own thing with no rules or restrictions or politics or games of dominance and submission – but at the same time you don't have people looking out for you, caring about you, worrying about you and ready and willing to back you up, support you and dig you out. I really liked how well it was done – the contrast of freedom and security – of how not owing anyone also meant no-one owed you anything either.

The plot was also very together. I didn't know where it was going, it was a completely new angle and I predict any of it. I won't say it had a lot of twists (though there were some) but it was a complete mystery and I had no idea how any of the plot lines would resolve until they actually did. It remained interesting and compelling throughout, always keeping me engaged and curious to see what happens next and where the story was going.

Ok, there's a moment that bothered me. For some reason they decided to go check out Elijah the freaky preacher with a psychic she'd just met and a reporter for one of those out-there monster shows (y'know, the TV equivalent of the Weekly World News). She just decided to go. No special reason why she should, let alone without reliable backup. And wouldn't you know it, the reporter just happened to have special special protective charms to hand out AND a grandma who knew exactly what to do about Elijah. It wasn't book breaking but the plot did wobble rather there, methinks.

If I had one other niggle it's that the ending was too pat. The committee seemed to be very restrained and reasonable with their findings and it felt, well, too ideal maybe. Or maybe I have too much cynicism. Other than these two, I think the story held together well without plot holes are head scratching

Kitty as a character is something I can't decide on. She's strong and independent at times and then she turns round and tolerates dominance and control – then she seems to resent it and rebels and defies in a way that seems to reject even simple kindness... then capitulates in the face of arrogant high handedness. I won't say she's an unreasonable character, I would say more she is a growing character, a maturing character just realising her strength but still assailed with doubts. So she's either very complex and nuanced and well written – or she's inconsistent and clumsy and not well characterised. I'm not sure which :)

We do have some POC in this book, quite a few. But most of them by far seem to be presented as foreign. They were decent characters and not overtly problematic (though certainly bit characters) but at the same time POC = from some exotic other place is not a great trope.

We had some vague past references to GBLTness – Kitty and Arlett hurriedly assuring each other that they're straight (*eye roll*) and a story about gay couple causing political chaos with their infantile love affair. Thankfully both are very very brief side points and after the treatment of TJ last book, I'm pleased by that.

While, so far, the book has generally avoided too much the tope of fantastic prejudice (where being supernatural is often compared to being a marginalised group that faces discrimination, oppression and persecution) we're skirting the line and I fear we may be heading rapidly in that direction

All in all, I am much happier with this book than I was the first book. Kitty is a much stronger person, there are less problematic elements and the story feels more concise and less vaguely rambly. The plot lines were more concise, there weren't loose threads hanging around and they flowed together naturally. And while Kitty makes a decision or two that make me scratch my head in bewilderment, I'm not actually screaming “why why WHY would you do this?!” at my kindle as I was before.