Monday, February 16, 2009

Bitten, by Kelley Armstrong – Review

This book kind of blew me away. Buried inside a tightly-plotted, fast-paced paranormal action-adventure-mystery is this labyrinthine relationship that gives “baggage” new depths of meaning. It could be termed a romance, IMO, because that relationship is the central axis that the rest of the story revolves around, but it turns the typical genre romance formula on its head: the “black moment” takes place in the past-- we don’t actually find out about it until somewhere in the middle of the story. Mild spoiler in white font: The happily-ever-after is more of a possibly-ever-after. It’s possible that Armstrong breaks too many of the genre romance norms to be well received from purist fans; overall I think it probably works in her favor to be shelved in horror or fantasy.

I think that one of the fascinations of transformative “monster” stories like werewolves, vampires, Frankenstein, etc, is that it gives readers and writers the chance to explore the question of what it means to be human, and what it means to be “monster,” or even just “animal.” What really separates us from the animals? (I hope it’s more than accessories, because that puts me really far down on the evolutionary scale).

In Bitten, Clay is not your typical hero. His animal/monster side is far more prevalent and less principled than your typical hero and it scares the crap out of Elena, with good reason. Exactly what Clay is capable of, turns out to be the question that Elena has to answer with her heart – and it's really not one for a delicate flower of a woman. Good thing Elena has more substance to her than that.

At the opening of the book, Elena is working very hard to live what she perceives to be a normal life, in a normal apartment with a normal job and a normal guy. Fake it ‘til you make it. She’s almost there… but the gap is killing her.

As he sits on the edge of the bed, watching me, I know we’re doomed. My only hope is to make this relationship so otherwise perfect that Philip might come to overlook our one insurmountable problem. To do that, my first step should be to go to him, crawl in bed, kiss him and tell him I love him. But I can’t. Not tonight. Tonight I’m something else, something he doesn’t know and couldn’t understand. I don’t want to go to him like this.

“I’m not tired,” I say. “I might as well stay up. Do you want breakfast?”

He looks at me. Something in his expression falters and I know I’ve failed-- again. But he doesn’t say anything. He pulls his smile back in place. “Let’s go out. Someplace in this city has got to be open this early. We’ll drive around until we find it. Drink five cups of coffee and watch the sun come up. Okay?”

I nod, not trusting myself to speak.

“Shower first?” he says. “Or flip for it?”

“You go ahead.”

He kisses my cheek as he passes. I wait until I hear the shower running, then head for the kitchen.

Sometimes I get so hungry.”

You don’t have to be a werewolf to understand Elena’s feelings here. This passage packs an emotional wallop, and located as it is, just at the end of a short prologue, sets the stage in an electrifying way.

The mystery about who’s killing who and why and how is nicely done but I’ll admit that I got a little bored with it about 3/4s through, because that’s when things between Elena and Clay started to heat up, and that was the stuff I was really interested in. If it were a movie, it would be a great date movie: there’s something here for everyone – action, mystery, violence, sex, tension of all kinds, and a kick-ass romance, and a few themes to get you talking over dinner or drinks afterwards while the love scenes are still fresh in your mind. ;)

I'd like to talk more about Clay and Elena here, but I think we'd all be better served if you just go out and read it. You won't regret it!

Elsewhere on the web:

  • Phil agrees that the romance is a strong element, but calls that a disadvantage, heh.
  • A shortie by Gina (and I'm intrigued by her blog, I'm headed back to poke around in there).
  • Bella is a huge fan, but you'll have to brace yourself for the puns ("a howling good read").
  • Check out Armstrong's own site for lots of eExtras and good information. Definitely one of the better author sites out there.
  • Buy it!


*If you have reviewed Bitten on your blog, feel free to leave a link in comments!


Carolyn Crane said...

Great review! This is my favorite all time paranormal. yeah, it's a good point about the shelving - where really does it belong? Though horror is such a male domain, it seems wrong there with such a great (and hot!) story inside it. And didn't you love that dark moment in the past, and how it was rolled out? Sigh.

Incidentally, a friend lent me the first edition hardcover, and it had blurbs by the "welcome to my planet" chick lit Shannon Olson and somebody else - I think it was first slanted at a literary audience. But really, it's SO much better than that. I'm so glad you liked it!

LesleyW said...

This is one of my favourite urban fantasy books and is the one I recommend to anyone interested in trying out the genre.

It's also a book that I have found incredibly re-readable. It's always fresh and absorbing even though I've read it many times.

Anonymous said...

I love Armstrong's werewolves! There are one of my favorite to read about, I just wish she wrote more about them.

Renee said...

I LOVE this series, and this book, in particular. I think it has one of the best opening lines/paragraph around.

I've actually listened to the audiobook, and like LesleyW says about the book, it's good enough to listen to over and over.

Anonymous said...

I'm definitely going to read this now, despite my usual strong preference for vamps over weres.

Maybe it'll be my first Kindle download next week?

Anonymous said...

I loved a lot about it, but felt the Elena/Clay story leapt in a little clumsily with insufficient backstory--the reverse of my usual complaint! Once I read the extras on Armstrong's site (e.g. Clay's childhood), I found the overall story and series more satisfying.

I agree that the werewolf "hero" is unconventional; for me, that's one of the story's strengths. I'm tired of werecreatures whose animal instincts are only trotted out now and then like a conventional alpha hero with hairy arms. A werewolf whose animal nature lacks human morality--but it isn't evil, and it doesn't make him stupid--is refreshing. It also allows for a less than perfect heroine, which is important with the way Elena's developed.

Anonymous said...

I read this years ago when I wasn't into romance. My husband had it and said I should give it a go. Didn't enjoy it much at the time, but I wasn't into werewolves either, so maybe that's why. I should give it another chance, shouldn't I?

Marg said...

This is one of my favourite sereis, and now I eagerly wait for anything that Kelley Armstrong writes!

Jadesymb said...

I loved bitten.
If you want more Clay and Elena, try for the backstory!!

Nicola O. said...

CJ, Lesley, Jackie, Renee, Marg, Jade-- I can see why so many people list this as a favorite! It's been a week or two since I read it and I still catch myself thinking about it in bits and pieces. I think this is one that guys might like, too.

Jessica -- looking forward to your review!

RfP-- yes! this: A werewolf whose animal nature lacks human morality--but it isn't evil, and it doesn't make him stupid is what I was trying to get at. Love that about Clay, and the conflict it causes in Elena's heart. I also love the scenes where the two of them are just playing together.

Rikki, you know, there are a lot of books out there. I'm not much for giving second chances, but I sure did like this one.

Unknown said...

I am in love with this series. I read the book several years ago now and followed the rest of the series religiously devouring books as soon as they are released. In my opinoion the best adult fanatasy series around atm. Have you checked out her free online fiction? Read my blog post on it here Love Rie x

Nicola O. said...

It is a really great one. I'll check out your link!


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