Monday, August 5, 2013

Kitty in the Underworld (Kitty Norville #12) by Carrie Vaughn

Kitty has another book to write – one on legends and history, one that looks back over the past and considers how many of the beast related mythological figures and heroes that feature so highly in history are actually wereanimals.

In particular Regina Luporum, the wolf who raised the infants Romulus and Remus who went on to found the city of Rome. A figure Kitty herself has been identified with

Perhaps too much, especially when a gang of rather odd kidnappers seize Kitty for this very reason. While Kitty thinks of escape, she can’t help but wonder if maybe this odd group has the key to defeating Roman.

So, I started typing this review, changed my mind and deleted it and started again. Then I did the same thing again. And again. And again. I’m now stream of consciousing while I stare at the screen and say “hmmmm”.

I’ve said this before when reading the Kitty Norville series and, to a degree, when reading any long series of books – you need to look at this book in two ways. Once as a book in its own rightand once as part of an ongoing series.

Looking at it as the former, I’m kind of lost. The beginning of the book and set up of the story is odd… after being kidnapped Kitty spends 90% of the book thinking and internal monolguing. There are attempts at escape but… well there are THOUGHTS of escape. I don’t particularly blame Kitty for not working day and night on her escape (except for one incident which I will get to) since there were so few avenues for her to escape – but it meant that most of the book was her generally trying to question her captors about why they’ve actually captured her, quickly becoming extremely sympathetic with one of them in a very rapid and never really labelled as such Stockholm-syndrome manner, until the end when there’s a fight scene and she leaves.

Basically, looking at it separately:
Kitty is kidnapped
Kitty spends a long time considering her imprisonment while kidnappers refuse to talk to her
Kitty: Let me out!
Kidnappers: No
Kitty: Tell me why you kidnapped me!
Kidnappers: No
Kitty thinks about how she’s imprisoned and can’t get out
Kitty: Let me out!
Kidnappers: No.
Kitty: Then tell me why you’ve kidnapped me!
Kidnappers: Here’s some vague clues
Kitty thinks about stories and said vague clues.
Kitty: Let me out!
Kidnappers: No…

And so on. The kidnappers very very slowly reveal why they kidnapped Kitty after playing mysterious for a while and much of the book is spent on Kitty’s own thought processes rambling away until stuff happens and she escapes, almost randomly. There are no twists and no real surprises – from the very moment I heard the kidnapper’s plan I knew it was going to fall flat – and not from any real intervention from Kitty. Looking at it as an individual story it failed pretty badly.

Looking at it in terms of a book in an ongoing series, it doesn’t sit well with me either. I called the last book much needed filler while Kitty addressed her many ongoing personal and pack issues around Denver. I approved of that; Kitty is ultimately a person with strong family and friend connections – which means I was doubly annoyed when 90% of this book involved entirely cutting Kitty off from those personal, family, pack and friend connections that we’d just established were so important. To me it undermined the redeeming feature of the last book.

Before that, we had Kitty’s visit to London which, as I said then, had far too much foreshadowing and not enough action. There the battle lines were drawn after Roman was well and truly established as a big bad.

The book before that was a collection of short stories that, obviously, did not advance the meta.

Then we have this book. It neither follows her characterisation in Denver nor, appreciably, adds to the war or development of the battle against Roman; there’s more foreshadowing, more hints and generally a general sense of “oooh isn’t Roman old and big and bad and scary” but very little actual concrete development, certainly not from Kitty. This is becoming a problem – Roman was introduced as a concept in Kitty Raises Hell and established and maintained as the Big Bad of the series in Kitty Steals the Show but she has done very little to actually address Roman and much of what she has done has been coincidental or accidental as much as purposeful. This is another book that is kinda, sorta related to Roman but doesn’t really advance anything. We’ve been in limbo too long and the information revealed about Roman this book added nothing – he’s old, he’s Roman, he was a general. We knew this.

To add to the monotonous nature of this book and the lack of any meta-development we also have Kitty making a decision that makes no damn sense at all. Half way through the kidnapping, she becomes co-operative and stops trying to escape. The excuse is that this group is an enemy of Roman’s – but she bases that on their word and a defaced coin. She takes everything at face value – her only doubts are based on whether her kidnappers can actually DO what they claim rather than whether they’re lying (and even then, despite her doubts as to their competence she still goes along with them). She trusts them to a degree that bemuses me – and takes risks to support them and even try to help and save them that made no sense to me.

She not only works with this group, but works with them despite their kidnapping her, despite them holding her prisoner and despite them being incredibly tight with any kind of information – but she goes along with it anyway. It didn’t strike me as believable. And I tried, I like this series enough that I have to fight my own instincts to make up excuses for it, but this didn’t work for me.

So, what was in the plus column?

In the plus column we have some interesting and intriguing foreshadowing about the Regina Luporum, the idea of a Queen of the Werewolves, a mother werewolf, the mother of Romulus and Remus as being far more than just a symbolic figure. This could be interesting if developed – even if just as inspiration for Kitty

I also loved how she looked at old stories, myths and legends and fit the wereanimals into them. I liked the depth the stories were given and Kitty’s objection to their being twisted to fit an agenda.

I also liked the writing - because this book didn’t bore me. It didn’t excite me, but with all of the flaws I’ve listed down here you would think I’d hate the book, and I didn’t. Kitty’s endless monologues were very real, sometimes powerful and sometimes interesting – or interesting enough that I was never felt the need to skim.

It sounds odd to say but, despite a story that didn’t impress me, the writing kept me reading this book and not once was I tempted to stop or start looking for excuses to take a break. It doesn’t make the book a great book but it stopped it being a disaster. It’s the safety net under the high-wire walker, he still failed to get to the other side, but at least he wasn’t splattered to chunky salsa in front of the audience.

I like the brief insight we see of Ben and Kitty’s relationship, I like how they bounce off each other, I like how he supports her, I like how she relies on his support and presence yet is still the dominant force and the unquestioned leader. I like that that’s not an issue.

With the kidnappers we have at least 2 POC, which is pretty essential given that they represent avatars of legendary heroes from cultures and regions that were POC dominated – a blue eyed, blonde Sekhmet would annoy me. I don’t like that Sekhmet does seem to be there as much for her love interest as for her own goals, but she’s nicely balanced by both Kitty and Zora in terms of their own passion and drive; as well as her own quiet strength – she has a lot of sense, more than any in the group and while she’s quiet she certainly has lines she won’t have crossed.

Overall, I have to say I was disappointed. This series is one of my favourites but it does have a lot of ups and downs. This book isn’t a complete down but it is pretty flat. Maybe it can be redeemed by later books putting its foreshadowing to good use, but as it stands I’m disappointed – and part of that is the high expectations I had of this series and the hopes I had going into this book.

A copy of this book was received in exchange for a review