Friday, March 2, 2012

Review: Kitty Goes to War, by Carrie Vaughn, book 8 of the Kitty Norville Series

The government has a job for Kitty – or a request anyway. It seems that that nasty idea of werewolf soldiers has actually gone forward. Not officially, but a werewolf soldier thought it was a great idea and created his own little pack/squad. The problem? Well, a mortar round landing on him in Afghanistan, leaving his squad leaderless, and worse, his pack alphaless is the problem. Even more of a problem is the remaining werewolves, ignorant of what it is to be a werewolf, trained with lethal combats skills warring with each other for the new alpha position. Oh, and going AWOL.

Kitty, as the public face of werewolves, is asked to find this little pack of soldiers, bring them back to military custody and, even more, try and find a way to reintegrate them not only into civilian life, but into humanity as a whole. Something she has to think of as she goes along for, despite being Agony Aunt for the supernatural community, no-one has written a manual on exactly what it means to be a werewolf anyway.

At the same time, her reporting of a series of weird supernatural occurrences at a chain of convenience stores seems to have ruffled feathers. Faced with a lawsuit – and extremely dangerous magic, she has to rely on the newly released Cormac to figure out exactly what insidious plotting is happening at Speedy Mart.

This book isn’t an action packed book, at least, not until the end. But nor does it need to be. After all, Kitty has lead a pretty action packed life, especially in the last book. It was nice to see Kitty take on a more cerebral, emotional challenge after the death defying action of Kitty’s House of Horrors. After all, Kitty can’t have a life that is entirely death and destruction – even if she does have plenty of action, drama and major issues to deal with.

I really love the story about re-integrating the were-wolf soldiers into civilian – and human – life. I think it shows  not just an idea of how adapting to civilian life can be difficult, especially after a war zone but it also brings home the message we have seen in book after book about how hard it can be to be a werewolf. We’ve seen kitty fight her instincts, the effect of body language on her and her pack, the effort of navigating life as a werewolf, but this really brings it together as to the full difficulties of being a werewolf above and beyond the need to go camping every month. It also shows the importance of a supportive and helpful pack extremely well as well as why werewolf soldiers would be such an utterly poor idea.

In short, it finally brings together and shows us all the problems Kitty has mentioned in a very concise example. It has the added bonus of showing Kitty as an alpha and how she has grown into the role as well as the problems of there being no user-manual to being a werewolf and how much Kitty has to make it up as she goes along.

Though it wasn’t the focus, I actually really liked the Speedy Mart plotline. I liked the idea of something so supernaturally massive happening  at a place that seems so mundane. I think it’s an interesting, funny and, when you think, very real way about how magic would exist in our world. I mean, if magic were a real force in our world, would we really be seeing it in hidden holy places? Or would we see magically enhanced convenience stores? (ok, maybe not with the assassination weather) . I also liked how it has developed Cormac – since he’s been released in prison it’s clear he needs to move down a different path – especially since his old character was somewhat narrow (appearing as a mystery man with guns then disappearing again). This isn’t how I pictured him evolving but it’s going to be fascinating to watch. I want to see much much more of this in later books.

Which is something else I continue to like about Cormac’s storyline – firstly, that he couldn’t just kill people and not face consequences and secondly that, even released from prison, he still has things like parole conditions to be aware of. More than any other series, I think the Kitty Norville has really integrated the supernatural into the real world. Things aren’t washed under the rug, the police are involved. You don’t get to kill dozens of people and make the bodies disappear and yes, you can invoke thunder gods at Speedy Mart.

I am actually glad to see Kitty is having nightmares and problems from her experience in Kitty’s House of Horrors. Too often we see urban fantasy characters go through extremely traumatic events and generally emerge unscathed (or maybe with a cool, non-disfiguring scar that makes them look tough). Kitty has just endured a truly horrific experience and it has hurt her – and she is actually considering therapy. Kitty herself remains a good character - intelligent, thoughtful, not perfect but still strong and capable. She may poke people a bit with her curiosity and she’s inclined to mope a little when upset but neither are excessive and both are very real and true to what she is. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, she’s really grown as a character since Kitty and the Midnight Hour.

I don’t know but I have an inkling that Tylor may be POC, I don’t think he’s described as such, but at the same time other soldiers in the group are expressly referred to as white and he isn’t. If he is, he’s the only POC I can remember from the book. There are no GBLT characters (but after previous portrayals, I am sadly happy about this) but I do really wish the book didn’t use “coming out as a werewolf” please, no.

All in all, I was pleasantly impressed by this book. I thought it was going to be slow, and it wasn’t. It was developed, it was interesting and showed that you don’t need blood, gore and bullets, or a sexy romance or even a deep mystery to keep an interesting and curious plot line going that intrigues and draws the reader in.