Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Kitty's House of Horrors by Carrie Vaughn, book 7 of the Kitty Norville Series

Kitty Norville has been given a new opportunity to garner more publicity for her radio show – reality television. Yes, some rather dubious studio has a plan, gather the few celebrity supernatural beings together – werewolves, vampires, psychics, sorcerers, put them in a cabin in the remote wilderness while filming them all as if it were Big Brother. Sounds like fun?

Well, things get considerably less fun when people disappear. And the power goes out. And the phones stop working. And then people start dying.

Suddenly the monsters are the hunted ones and there are booby traps and guns and bombs and a hidden enemy lurking the forest trying to pick them off one by one.

At this point, the only thing left is to try to survive and try to escape.

Ok, after a brief problem in the beginning (which I’ll get to) I liked this story. I liked the novelty of it – the monsters being confined and hunted so. I liked the tension of it – it was really well paced and the suspense was built beautifully. I liked the character dynamics, everyone was unique enough to be interesting without any convoluted tension or dubious interactions that made no sense. Everything was natural, tense and a little scary

And speaking of scary, I’m impressed by how the enemies were made to be scary. Considering the powers in the house, the different kinds of preternatural creatures, it would be easy to just think “why doesn’t Kitty and Co just walk out the house and eat them?” but we never get that. The enemies, normal humans, are always threatening always a danger and never once do you just think “they’re just human, eat them!”

There is an element of mystery, but that is solved relatively quickly, it is far more an issue of survival horror. And I don’t think I’ve ever really seen survival horror done this well when written, it’s rare for a book to have that atmosphere of fear or even that sense that anyone could die (I had an idea of who was expendable and the characters that would definitely live and I was wrong, very very wrong). The tension, fear and loss was very well maintained  and there were moments of utter shock for me - in short, everything you’d expect from a survival horror.

I generally like Kitty as she has grown so much over this series. And here we see that growth – she doesn’t like leading or confrontations. Yet at the same time she’s good at it, she knows what she’s doing, she has charisma and common sense. She’s a peacekeeper, navigating through the personalities and egos around her with charisma, wit and intelligence and she continually has good plans and insight to lead the whole group through the whole siege and, despite the greater power and age of many present, sets herself up as the one in charge with the best ideas without it being convoluted or silly or horribly Spunky.

There was an irritation though. Throughout this book Kitty keeps asking “what would Cormac do?” which isn’t bad because obviously he has experience in hunting and surviving. But the way it’s used makes me frown because “what would Cormac do” is usually answered by “something that Kitty’s more than smart enough to figure out in her own head without having to think like anyone else.” I wouldn’t mind if she produced some master tactics or extra ruthlessness, she doesn’t. And this annoys me because firstly it implies that Kitty needs to borrow another (man’s) mindset to be able to do this and secondly everyone looks at her as if she’s the offspring of Sun Tzu and Reynard the Fox with her cunning, crafty plans. And they’re not that cunning – yes it’s a pet hate but I do dislike characters being made to look clever by reducing everyone else’s intelligence to that of a stunned puffin. At the end of the book she thanks Cormac for his insight – and that just makes me grind her teeth. Kitty, own your own brain and your own achievement!

One of the problems I have with this book is similar to the problem I had with Kitty and the Dead Man’s Hand - the foundation for the plot seems shaky. Kitty going onto a reality TV show run by such a disreputable company after she’s already had great success with her television show in Las Vegas just doesn’t feel sensible to me. Why would Kitty do this? Why would she consider it? Sure for publicity – but she couldn’t get better television publicity than this? It just, to me, makes the premise of the book rather contrived.

Inclusion wise we have 2 POC. The first is a black werewolf. He dies quickly. And while he lives he is portrayed as just that little more animalistic than the civilised Kitty. The second is much better, an Asian vampire of authority and skill who I hope we will see more often in the series since there’s a hunt that she’s going to be a major part of the meta-plot.

There are no GBLT characters again. We do have an atheist and he’s actually considered on par with the werewolves, witches and vampires by the highly religious people hunting them, something even Kitty snarks.

All in all this book was very different from the ones that came before – but it was really well done. Exciting, tense, on edge and fun. It had some issues, but it had plenty of pluses as well.