Tuesday, July 6, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'Kitty Goes to War'

I will reiterate my warning from my review of the seventh Kitty book: this is eighth in a series, and thus, reviewing is difficult without giving away things from previous installments. Thus, if you're interested in this series, I would advise not reading this review unless you want some things (some minor, some major) spoiled.

The Book: Kitty Goes to War (eighth in the Kitty Norville series)

The Author: Carrie Vaughn

How I Found It: I've been a fan of the Kitty books since the beginning, and of Carrie Vaughn's writing in general. My review of the previous Kitty book, Kitty's House of Horrors, is here; my review of her young adult novel Voices of Dragons is here.

The Review: Kitty is used to supernatural unpleasantness, along with mundane unpleasantness. She's been subpoenaed by the Senate as an authority on supernatural matters. She's had to take down her former pack in order to establish dominance in her hometown of Denver--all the while dealing with her mother's breast cancer. In the previous book, Kitty was a participant in what she was told was a reality show about supernatural creatures living together, until that reality show turned into a snuff film.

This time around, Kitty has to deal with two problems. First, she is sued for libel after suggesting on her show that Speedy Mart, a national chain of convenience stores, might be attracting supernatural happenings. Soon after, Kitty receives a call from Dr. Shumacher, introduced in previous books as the head of the National Health Institute's Center for Paranatural Biology. Three soldiers--Vanderman, Walters, and Tyler--have returned from Afghanistan, with one big problem: they were part of an unofficial unit of werewolves in the Army, and with their alpha killed, they are leaderless and deeply traumatized. Kitty and her husband, Ben, are asked to consult on the matter, to see if anything can be done for these wolves--stronger, more unstable, and a potential threat to the dominance of Kitty and Ben as an alpha pair--to help them adjust to normal life.

There's also the matter of Cormac, Ben's cousin and Kitty's one-time almost-love interest. A bounty hunter of werewolves and other supernatural creatures, he was imprisoned in the third book for killing in order to save Kitty and Ben's lives. Now, two years later, he is on parole and back in the real world. Kitty notices that he is acting strangely, different from the Cormac she knew, but Cormac is frustratingly silent on the subject. Three newly minted and uncontrollable werewolves, a libel suit, and a friend acting odder than usual--could Kitty be in over her head?

I've always enjoyed Vaughn's style of writing and Kitty's character, so this book wasn't a disappointment for me. The usual humor is there, and I definitely got a few giggles out of Kitty's usual snarky nature. I'm also very pleased at Vaughn's decision to have Cormac paroled--he was my favorite character from the first book on, and I was waiting for him to come back and be a big player in the series again. My curiosity has definitely been raised by the plot decisions in this book and while I've sometimes had my own opinions on how I would have handled things had I been behind the wheel, I was very satisfied with the direction things are going for the series if this books is any indication. This book takes a step back from the vampire politics that drove Books 5 and 6 and played a small part in 7, and I was grateful for that, as the politics have sometimes confused me. This book is more like the old-school Kitty of Books 1 through 3.

Vaughn continues to build up alliances for Kitty, adding new characters with helpful resources, and Kitty's pack is built upon just a little bit more; we see more of key pack players such as Shaun and Becky. Detective Hardin is mentioned briefly but nothing more ever comes of it; same with Odysseus Grant. (A wise choice; too many characters might have been confusing to keep track of, so mentioning them in passing worked well.) Dr. Shumacher, a tangential character in previous books, is brought more to the forefront and given some development. I wasn't all too pleased with her characterization here--she came off as the typical one-dimensional scientist at times--but it gave her character another side other than someone Kitty calls with a question on occasion.

I liked the increased focus on lycanthropy and its effect on people who might not have been all that ready for it. I was really intrigued by this plotline as soon as I read the first summary that was released for the book, and I wasn't disappointed. The soldiers' plight is believable and raises ethical questions for Kitty and for the military. One thing I've noticed about the recent books is that there hasn't been much focus on the werewolf aspect--this book and Book 5 only featured one shapeshifting scene apiece. While it is in the background at all times, more focus has been placed on the humanity of Kitty and the other wolves. Vaughn tries to show all sides of the condition by making Kitty's human side one thing and Kitty's Wolf something else entirely. I liked this book's focus on how a werewolf adjusts from one life to another; it was explored briefly in previous books with flashbacks to Kitty's transformation and then in Book 3 with Ben's, so it was nice to see it explored more fully.

My one complaint about this installment of the series was that the two separate plots--Kitty's attempts to rehabilitate the soldier werewolves and the CEO of Speedy Mart suing Kitty for libel--weren't tied together very well. The main focus was the soldier plot, with the Speedy Mart plot popping up occasionally, but mostly staying in the background until the last fifty pages or so. I felt they could have been better tied together somehow, or that the Speedy Mart plot could have been given a little bit more prominence in order to make it seem more unified. In general, though, both plots were interesting and resolved well in the end.

Overall, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this one to Carrie Vaughn fans, though it's not quite a great starting point for those considering picking up the series now. This is still my favorite series of today and it's been consistently wonderful.

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