IT TOOK A SECOND TO CHANGE ELENA’S LIFE…
Few will escape the sense of deja vu; you’ve read this story numerous times before.
(The Women Of The Otherworld, Book 1)
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Format: Paperback, 464 Pages
Date: 6th May 2010 (First Published 2001)
When Kelley Armstrong’s debut novel, Bitten, was first published in 2001 the urban fantasy genre was still very much in its infancy, hence the book didn’t need to do much to stand out; Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series was more or less the only high profile competition. As the market was not yet as saturated as it is today the tropes that readers now come to expect of the genre had not been established. One obvious benefit of this circumstance is that readers at the time would more than likely not have viewed the story as lacking in originality. Sixteen years later, however, anyone reading the book for the first won’t be able to escape the feeling they’ve read it all before.
Those of you well versed in urban fantasy will be unsurprised to learn that this first instalment of The Women Of The Otherworld series features a female protagonist (as is so frequently the case) in a world where the supernatural is a reality. Nor will it shock you to discover that for much of the book’s narrative this heroine finds herself “torn” between two men. In the blue corner, “The Bad Boy,” whom she knows is no good for her, but he’s possessive, controlling and dangerous; ergo, he’s exciting and makes her hormones go crazy, so she loves to hate him, and hates to love him. In the red corner, “Mr. Nice Guy,” whom she regards as undemanding, loyal, safe and dependable; ergo, he is boring and incapable of stirring her passions. In other words he’s far too good for her, and deserves so much better.
No prizes for guessing the outcome of this tediously predictable love triangle. After all, it’s not just a well worn, established trope in urban fantasy, it’s a convention that prevails in literature in general so it would be unfair to criticise Armstrong for utilising a cliché that seems to resonate with large numbers of female readers. The only saving grace is that the relationship shenanigans don’t completely overshadow the novel’s principal story line.
The story takes place in North America, switching between Canada and Upstate New York, where the novel’s werewolf heroine lives an unusual existence, in more ways than one. Not only is Elena Michaels the only female member of her pack, she also has the further distinction of being the only female werewolf in the world. But rather than being a source of pride, her unique circumstances are the cause of much resentment because she was “turned” against her will by the man she loved.
Years later, Elena remains reluctantly bound to her werewolf pack, and her duty to the pack. This duty essentially entails ensuring that the existence of werewolves is kept hidden from the world by adhering to the laws that govern werewolf civilisation, and, when the need arises, eliminating humans who stumble upon the existence of werewolves; which complicates Elena’s efforts at maintaining some semblance of a normal, independent life as a journalist in Toronto.
Elena’s commitment to her pack, as well as the life she has built for herself outside of it, is put to the test when a series of grizzly murders threatens to expose her pack to the world. More disturbing than the killings themselves is the awareness that whomever is responsible has intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the pack. But can Elena get to the bottom of the conspiracy before it is too late? And can she do it without exposing her supernatural secret to her human boyfriend, Philip?
What was once a mildly gripping tale when the novel was initially published is a very run-of-the-mill affair today. The narrative progresses predictably to its predictable conclusion; few readers will encounter much in the way of genuine surprises. Likewise, the characterisation is rather typical of the genre, with several of the characters fitting familiar archetypes. Elena is the kick-ass, independent heroine with poor taste and judgment when it comes to men; her love interest, Clay Danvers, is the brooding, misunderstood alpha male; her actual boyfriend is the oblivious, expendable loser. The antagonists, meanwhile, are from the James Bond school of villainy. Rather than taking care of the “good guys” as quickly, directly and as ruthlessly as possible they find it necessary to toy with them and play needless games; not to mention the bizarre insistence on verbally articulating their nefarious intentions before getting on with it.
As is frequently the case (at least as far as this reader is concerned) the most interesting character of the novel is one of the minor characters; in this particular instance, Jeremy Danvers, the leader of Elena’s pack, and the adoptive father of Clay, who receives negligible ‘page time’ during the story. Armstrong reveals enough about him to highlight that not only does he have an intriguing backstory worthy of exploration, he also has more depth than any of the main characters, and the potential to be a protagonist in his own right. It’s not a stretch to suggest that Bitten would have been a more interesting affair if it was narrated from Jeremy’s point of view; certainly more worthwhile than waiting to see how long it takes for Elena to betray her boyfriend.
Despite the aforementioned deficiencies of the book, none of these matters are inherently detrimental to the readability of the story. From beginning to end, Bitten, remains readable on account of Armstrong’s engaging writing style. Her narrative is never laborious; few readers should have difficulty completing the novel, though it is not one likely to live long in the memory or be hugely influential.
In conclusion, how much urban fantasy you, as a prospective reader, have consumed prior to picking up Bitten may prove to be the determining factor in your reaction to the book; the more you have read, the less worthwhile it will seem. Chances are you will find it hard to shake the feeling you’ve read it all before. If you are new to urban fantasy, Bitten, is likely to be a more rewarding read because The Women Of The Otherworld series is one of the better urban fantasy series out there.
Telling it like it is. Giving you honest and balanced, spoiler free reviews. Completely devoid of irrational fanboyism, or shameless astroturfing.