Thursday, August 16, 2012

Review: Kitty Steals the Show by Carrie Vaughn, Book 10 of the Kitty Norville Series

Kitty Norville is taking a holiday from her pack, and even from the US, to attend a conference in Londo. It’s the first conference on the paranatural in the world and it promises to be huge as vampires, werewolves, wizards, the fae as well as doctors, scientists and policy makers all gather to study, share their findings and discuss the many many ramifications of the newly revealed supernatural around the world.

Kitty is due to speak, and on her way over her speech is the main thing preying on her mind. In London she gets to meet up with several old friends and allies who have also gathered for the conference and has great fun being the guest of the Master of London – a Shakespearean actor.

But when she arrives she is also faced with the culture shock of European vampires – and their attitude towards humans and werewolves. But worse still, Roman’s presence is very much felt, his machinations not just threatening Kitty but also the Master of London. Again, Kitty is arrayed against him and again Kitty rallies the forces as more lines are drawn and more allies are made in the Long War against Roman, the Dux Bellorum.

The problem I have with this book is it starts at about 50% in. Before that we have a wonderful amount of foreshadowing and development – which would be great, if I hadn’t read the previous books. As it stands, I learn about Tyler, but nothing new. I learn about Roman, the Dux Bellorum, but nothing new. I learn that Dux Bellorum is plotting and sinister – I knew that – and that vampires look down on werewolves, something I also knew.

I wouldn’t say it was boring to read or painful to read. It wasn’t, it was recapping an interesting world, introducing Kitty to a new setting and introducing a new cast of characters. It was all interesting and a decent revisit of what had passed before and what Kitty was actually involved in now. But it went on too long – there was this whole conference that we barely had chance to see, development of Marid, Antony and Ned that we never really got, even further exploration of Caleb and how being werewolf of all Great Britain and Ireland worked. Since Kitty referenced them, they could have had a greater analysis

There was also an issue, I think, with side plots that, again, added very little to the actual ongoing plot. We had Luis and Esperanza paying a visit and Cormac/Amelia connecting with Amelia’s family, the fae buzzing around Kitty – interesting stories, interesting characters, things I enjoy seeing explored, but adding nothing to the overall plotline. This wouldn’t have been a problem if the whole first half of the book didn’t feel exactly the same way. In short, the first half of the book was interesting, but it also didn’t go anywhere. It was a pleasant meander through interesting scenery – but with absolutely no destination.

When we reach the half-way point, we actually have things happening and the plot picks up considerably. Kitty is fully invested in combatting the wiles of Roman, she is speaking to the vampire Masters

But even then, I have to say that Roman’s plotting seems a little… insipid? If he is making a real play to take out Ned, the Master of London, then I would have thought the grand conniving plotter with all of his super skills and connections would have done a better job than he did. As it was, all of Roman’s activities in this book seemed to boil down to a half-hearted, even poorly planned and opportunistic, swipe at Ned and a vague, not very well planned attempt at Tyler, the werewolf soldier. Neither was executed with finesse, skill or particular intelligence and both left me feeling vaguely unimpressed about Roman (especially since his one claim to fame, being over 2,000 years old, has now been matched by Marid). We had all this dead space at the beginning of the book that could have been used to big Roman up as the big dire threat – and it was wasted.

I really liked Kitty’s ways of resolving the conflict as well. Building alliances between the werewolves and the vampires and even some other master vampires. Going to see the werewolf followers and encouraging them to leave their masters was excellent and a wonderful plan – and so very Kitty, Rescuing Tyler was exciting and brought some old foes to the fore. I even liked Kitty’s call to arms and how this is a complete shift in her life and her career as she changes her focus to the line in the sand she’s drawn between her and Roman.

But all of it, good as it was, could have used greater development – why was Tyler so in demand? Why didn’t we see more alliance building? Kitty going to see other masters through Marid and Antony? Her sowing dissension in the ranks of the werewolves was, at most, a chapter and pretty much involved Kitty going to them and saying “guys, you can leave.” It could have been more – it could have been much much more.

I love Kitty as a character. I love that she hasn’t become a combat monster. I love that she’s a leader because of what she’s done, what she’s earned and the fact she’s willing to talk and unite people rather than the fact she is the Biggest Baddest Wolf of them all. I love that it’s openly acknowledged that most the other werewolves are more dangerous than her and Ben and that isn’t changing as the book progresses. She never seeks out a fight and, in fights, she’s not especially effective either. Her strength doesn’t come from her ability to tear things to shreds with her claws. Her strength comes from her honesty, her skilled speeches, her love of talking, her avoidance of conflict and her ability to make people think. She is a leader without being a tyrant and without relying on the fear of her fangs. It’s pretty original in a genre chock full of female characters who have the Super Shiny Magic Power while carrying a small arsenal, a sword and having black belts in more martial arts than actually exist.

Inclusionwise, we had a few POC creeping in, certainly more than in previous books, but that’s not saying much. With each passing book we seem to be building up a greater level of supernatural prejudice and it does make some good points about how dehumanising is such an essential element in persecution, it also comes very close to unpleasant appropriations.

It was an interesting book, a good book and a fun book. But the meta-plot is shaking here. It was developed enough, Roman was not maintained as a big bad threat enough. And while I loved Kitty’s plots and ideas and her methods and I loved the way Kitty is rallying people and setting herself up as a leader to combat Roman, all of that falls if Roman isn’t presented as a realistic threat. There’s too much foreshadowing, not enough action. Too much guessing, not enough seeing and too little of anyone actually doing anything.