Bitten, by Kelley Armstrong

>> Monday, December 20, 2004

I'd heard a lot about Kelley Armstrong's Bitten (excerpt) and was looking forward to giving it a try.

Armstrong has a very interesting site, chock-full of little extras, including 3 novellas which are prequels to Bitten. I've already read the latest, Beginnings, the last chapter of which was published only today. This one deals with Elena and Clay's early romance, right until she was bitten.

Elena Michaels slips out of bed, careful not to wake her boyfriend. He hates it when she disappears in the middle of the night, and can’t understand why any normal woman would crave the small hours of the morning, the dark unsafe downtown streets. But Elena’s skin is tingling, the pent-up energy feels like it’s about to blow her muscles apart — she can’t put it off any longer. She loves to run at the edge of the city, but she doesn’t have time to get there. She has to slink into an alley, take off her clothes and hide them carefully, and make the Change.

Elena’s trying hard to be normal. She hates her strength, and her wildness, and her hunger for food, for sex, for running in the night, for the chase and the kill. She wants a husband, children...even a mother-in-law. Or at least that’s what she tells herself.

And then the inevitable happens. The Pack needs her. The Pack she loves and hates is under siege from a bunch of disreputable and ruthless mutts who are threatening to expose them all, breaking all the rules that have kept them safe. The loyalty of her nature calls her home, and into the fight, which tests just who Elena is: the wild woman or the wistful would-be human.
I really enjoyed Bitten. It would have even been a keeper, if it were not for a couple of things which prevented me from really loving it. My grade is a B+.

I loved that it was so original. Everything felt fresh, from the mythology, to the plot, to the romantic thread, to the characters. The world building is excellently done, especially. The mythology of Armstrong's werewolves is complicated and coherent and interesting and very extensive. Sometimes so extensive, that some places are a bit weighted down by a bit too much exposition, yes, but it was all really fascinating anyway.

Armstrong's werewolves weren't the typical cuddly, loveable big dogs you usually find in romance. They have a violent side and kill when they need to and some scenes are very violent and gory. Armstrong didn't shy from portraying this aspect of them, as well as the loyalty and love between the whole Pack.

So, intellectually, I very much appreciated her not prettying up them up, but I must confess this had a flip side for me. Some scenes were way too much for me. Usually, not being able to stop thinking about scenes in a book is the mark of a keeper, but when the scene I can't seem to tear my mind from involves a moribund man with his intestines hanging out, it's not so good.

Also, it disturbed me how little value human life has to all these werewolves, how easily they will kill a human. Even the Pack... they don't kill for fun, but they feel no remorse for killing someone who threatens them in any way. And I mean any way, not just people who hate werewolves or something and want to destroy them. I mean people who are put in a position of knowing about them through no fault of their own, like a lab technician who has the misfortune of noticing something strange in a sample, for instance. I understand the self-defence aspect of this, but no one seems to feel any... not remorse, exactly, more like pity for people like this poor sod.

My favourite element of the book was Clay and Elena's relationship. It's a very, very complicated relationship, and all the nuances of their backstory and how it has affected them are revealed slowly. Elena and Clay are very complex characters, too, but Armstrong's writing made me feel I understood them. I actually identified a lot with Elena, really understood her resentment towards Clay for having bit her. I didn't for a minute think she was being too hard on him. There's a moment when she thinks how she doesn't want to talk things over with Clay because she fears they might actually patch things up, and that would mean that Clay's biting her and all the grief she put him through after it was worth it, because he ended up getting her. That very "cut off your nose to spite your face" bit of reasoning really, really resonated with me, for some reason. In a way, it made Elena even more real.

Clay I had some problems with. I admit that going only with what was in Bitten, he was just too scary for me, especially since we do not see his POV. Though I do think that the fact that he was so... inhuman, I guess, made his vulnerability when it came to his love for Elena even more poignant. Reading the Beginnings novella, seeing his POV in the run-up to "The Bite" really enriched his character for me.

The plot was interesting, even though, as I said, I was a bit icked out by some scenes in the first part of the book, when they were all at Stonehaven investigating what was goingon. My favourite part fo the book were the scenes in Toronto, when Clay and Elena go back and a neat little triangle ensues, when Elena goes back to her live-in boyfriend.

Will I continue reading this series? I sincerely don't know. As much as I enjoyed this one, I've read a couple of reviews of the next book, Stolen and everything seems to indicate that there are even more gruesome scenes there, and that there is less focus on Clay and Elena's relationship. I don't know, it might end up being like the first Anita Blake book, which I liked, but then decided not to continue the series.


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