Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Review: Kitty's Big Trouble by Carrie Vaughn, Book 9 of the Kitty Norville Series

Kitty has received a call from Anastasia – Roman is acting again. The ancient vampire playing a game of nothing short of world domination is on the move again with a new plot and a new plan. This involving a magical artefact of great power that could severely twist the balance in the struggle. Anastasia needs backup – and of course that involves Kitty.

So Kitty finds herself travelling to San Francisco. But the action is not nearly as simple as she imagined as she delves deeply into Chinatown and faces beings she never encountered before and a whole different level of threats and questions. They’re outside their territory and dealing with threats outside their experience – as if a 2,000 year old vampire weren’t more than threat enough. There’s a lot to learn, a lot of new experiences and whole new concepts to grasp

And, of course, while she’s willing to backup Anastasia because she doesn’t want Roman to win an more than the vampire does, she also has to deal with the fact so many vampires see werewolves as servants and footsoldiers. It’s a balance to help without being pigeonholed into a subordinate role.

Then there’s always the question of how far a werewolf wants to be dragged into vampire plotting – and whether she can afford not to be

I like this book though there weren’t many twists or mysteries, there was a lot of exploration and expansion of what had happened before and a development of the meta-plot. We’re setting our feet solidly and focusing a lot on the pack of three that I like so much. We can see the relationships develop more, boundaries set, plans laid and everything just moved along against an interesting backdrop and a curious, intriguing and exciting storyline. There are no real twists, but there’s a lot that’s curious and interesting and expanded upon

Kitty spends much of this book rather out of her depth – which makes her very reactionary. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing – not every book has to be driven by the protagonist, so long as the protagonist is following events rather than being dragged along by them. And Kitty followed, she wasn’t dragged. She followed guides to places she didn’t understand, spoke to people who knew more than her, took action as appropriate, listened a lot, spoke a little more than she should (she is, after all, Kitty) and was still a part of everything even if she didn’t set the direction.

I think this book may be a transition book. Because while the story was good in and of itself, it set us up for so much more – both expanding the supernatural world as we know it and setting a whole new theme for the books. Kitty isn’t just the DJ who occasionally wanders into things for funsies and gets in trouble (though, I have to say, her whole decision to go to Dodge city was utterly unnecessary and extremely convoluted. Why was that even there? It felt like padding stuffed into the book for no good reason). No, the battle against Roman is pretty much being passed to her, she has been set up as its general and, in so doing, it requires her to be involved more. We should see a lot less of Kitty either stumbling into situations for no good reason (Kitty’s House of Horrors, Kitty and the Dead Man’s Hand) or being dragged into it by other people – we’re going to see Kitty actively getting involved in situations with an actual reason to do so. I think it’s going to be a major improvement of the series

I am actually very touched by Kitty’s attempt to find out about the hidden history of supernaturals. This is one of the few instances where I will say that a marginalised issue was presented without actual appropriation – because she was very quick to avoid any mention of actual marginalised groups, any claim that werewolves are discriminated against or are a persecuted group and any direct comparisons with actual marginalised bodies. And yet, her reasons for wanting to find out about werewolves through history struck a chord as well as those werewolves in turn not being able to talk about being werewolves. It was powerfully written and very well done.

That said, I’m always leery when people take actual famous people and turn them into supernatural creatures for their stories.

We had a large number of Chinese people in this book who managed to both show considerable amounts of cultural markers while not pandering to any of the traditional stereotypes we see. In fact, I loved that Grace was quick not only to stamp down on stereotyping but also at the idea of some grand Asian sage who must know all about it because she was Asian – and even more when she made it clear that Chinese culture is inaccurate – it’s Chinese cultures. And even that they had Grace as a Cantonese speaker who didn’t understand what the Mandarin speakers were saying – rather than just using “Chinese” as a language.

The Chinese supernaturals also showed what seemed to be a considerable amount of research. Though I didn’t understand why these gods were bothering to consult with – or speak so kindly to – Kitty Norville, there did seem to be a considerable amount of research behind them. And it is the nature of Urban Fantasy for protagonists to be treated with a higher level of respect than you’d expect.

Kitty remains a strong character though she has some neediness still and some desire for support – and Ben does have a protective instinct towards her that can be irritating at times. But it’s never reaching a point where it is overtly annoying – it’s reasonable to be protective of one’s spouse so long as one doesn’t take it to the “weak and feeble woman, stay behind me you delicate flower” level. And Kitty makes her opinion clear one what she thinks of Ben being offended by being called “Mr. Kitty” which I liked. Kitty was independent, central and demanded to be part of everything in this book, made sensible plans and was generally intelligent and a good character. In fact, the most powerful characters in this book – Anastasia, Kitty, Xiwangmu – were all women.

There were no GBLT characters in this book, but given past history, I am happy about this. Even if, yet again, we’re treated to an all-straight San Francisco

All in all, this is a new chapter in the series and I loved it. I can’t wait to see whether this direction will be followed and whether we will be seeing more of the Kitty vs Roman war as a whole new angle for the series.