Thursday, February 19, 2015

Low Midnight (Kitty Norville #13) by Carrie Vaughn

Cormac has finally completed his probation after his lengthly prison sentence. Time for a new beginning – and not just from prison; the werewolf hunter has no guns, supernatural friends and is now haunted by a Victorian witch. A lot has changed for him.

And with this whole new reality he is now front and centre investigating a 100 year old murder; with completely new tools and a completely new viewpoint.

This book was necessary

I can see you all pulling back now, because “necessary” is a word I fall back on when I don’t have a lot of good to say, especially since I’m very up and down about this whole series (which runs from 1.5 fangs to 4 fangs for me) but hang on there

This book is necessary because it takes Cormac’s story and that story needs to be told to try and hold the ongoing story together. Cormac is one of the main stories and probably Kitty’s closest friend outside of her husband. He was a ruthless, dangerous, gun wielding werewolf hunter then he befriended Kittie the werewolf, spent several books in prison and is now free again with a ghostly Victorian witch partially possessing him.

Yes… that’s a complicated character arc. And to actually analyse that character arc, develop Cormac’s character (especially since, now he’s out of prison and no longer on parole, he’s going to be a much more involved character in the series) we needed this book. We needed a long time through Cormac’s eyes to see how he’s adapted to the vast changes of his life

How does a man with deep involvement in the militia movement who has turned his back on that in disgust despite some of the opinions of it still shaping him adapt? What about a man who has been raised by a highly judgmental and oppressive father who he spent his life trying to please (unsuccessfully) but is now living just about the opposite of everything his dad stood for? What about a man who was deadly with a gun, surrounded by danger (and not just the supernatural) who now cannot carry firearms as a convicted felon? What about a man who spent his life on the fringes of the law with numerous criminal contacts now trying to live within the boundaries of the law for fear of his parole being revoked and due to promises he’s made to Kitty and Ben? What about a man who feared and hated werewolves but whose closest friends are now werewolves? What about a man who hated all things supernatural who is now a witch by proxy and possessed by a ghost? What about a manly-man in almost every stereotype who is now possessed by a woman?

Cormac has gone through some pretty enormous changes. And this book was both necessary and very good at developing all of this, having him face dangers without guns, having him confront old friends and contacts who are still very much where he was (with guns, breaking the laws, fear the supernatural etc) and realising how different he is. There’s his attempt to try and stay away from anything that would break his parole as well as his slow acceptance with magic

There’s also his excellent relationship with Amelia, the ghost possessing him. She is deeply insecure because she realises that, sooner or later, he will be capable of pushing her out so she’s very wary about alienating him; she’s also extremely frustrated by her lack of direct agency since she has, by definition, to act through Cormac and with his consent (and maybe she could possess him fully but that is morally unacceptable to her). This is poignant because Cormac is often times very uncomfortable with her and they’re often at odds. But their relationship grows and feels familial and almost romantic at times – it’s quite complex and nuanced.

It’s also interesting to see how their characterisations work together. Cormac, surprisingly, is often the cautious, the safe one while Amelia is insatiably curious and the one who keeps driving them back into the action. She’s also the one with the greyer morality which is a nice subversion.

So my criticisms… firstly, and this isn’t the first time, I think the whole foundation of the plot is shaky. I think sometimes Carrie Vaughn has an idea of the story she wants to tell but doesn’t really know how to get there so we get railroaded. I don’t particularly see why Cormac is investigating this 100 year old murder. I don’t really see why the women who gave Cormac this quest actually did it – I don’t see why they would be this invested in this investigation or why it would so eclipse their concern over their niece and her story. It felt a little like a bad RPG where you can’t progress in the story without fulfilling some kind of random side quest.

But my main issue is I just wasn’t that invested. Sure it is necessary to tell Cormac’s story to try and fill in all of the complexities of his character, but I still aren’t that invested in it. Perhaps it’s because Cormac has been out for so many books in prison but for all his complexities I don’t really care that much about this character. I certainly don’t care enough to be invested in an entire book about him. More, this book, for all it resolved and developed all of these issues and did them quite well, it also kind of did them fairly predictably. There was nothing particularly surprising here, there was nothing immensely awesome about it. It tied up all the loose ends but it felt… workmanlike. It felt necessary. It felt like it was neatening things up. And, yes, that was necessary and it certainly wasn’t bad but… meh.

Diversitywise we had a couple of Native American characters (one of them a skinwalker so it was nice that they did make sure this Navajo woo-woo was actually held by a Navajo character) and a lesbian couple (which, while they didn’t outright say they were lesbians, they were also very careful not to let their relationship remain just implied or subtext – it was overt). They’re minor characters, but I think everyone but Cormac and Amelia were minor characters on this show. Amelia also has some interesting little discussions about women’s rights and the difference between her era and this era with equal caution to make sure she doesn’t treat the 21st century as some kind of golden utopia of gender equality in comparison.

This book needed to be there. And it was short, to the point and did everything it needed to do. It had a job to do and it did it well and in a way that wasn’t awful and wasn’t boring. But it was a jobbing book, it was a necessary book and it didn’t really feel thrilling.