by Kelley Armstrong, fantasy (2001)
Little, Brown & Co, £10.99, ISBN 0-316-85539-1
Don't be fooled by the "Sassy werewolf chick" hype on the cover. Bitten, Kelley Armstrong's debut, is a violent werewolf novel in the grand bandwagon-hopping tradition of Laurell K Hamilton, but the werewolf heroine Elena Michaels is anything but sassy and strong. She is weak, sometimes pathetically so. If I am not expecting a wisecracking werewolf sassy bitch heroine the way the hype leads me to believe, I may not feel so cheated and hence enjoy Bitten more than I actually did.
Elena is a werewolf who has left her pack. Or so she believes. She lives with a human, Phillip, in her attempt to be human and normal. Unlike most werewolves who are born that way, Elena is bitten and transformed when she was in early twenties by the man she loves, Clay, who turns out to be a psycho werewolf with a capital P. Elena rejects the wolf part of her. Also, Elena is special. Werewolf genes are passed on from father to son. Female "transformed" werewolves rarely survive the first Change. Hence Elena is the only female werewolf known in existence.
Until the Alpha head of her Pack, Jeremy calls. Rogue werewolves - "mutts" - are killing humans and drawing humans' attention to the existence of werewolves. Elena, who is expert in tracking mutts, is called to help and she reluctantly does. This brings her in close contact with Clay again, as they work side by side. Clay wants her. He has never stopped wanting her. And he will kill anyone who is in his way to possessing her.
My thought is one of a loud dismayed "Why?" Indeed, why Elena? Why do all those gorgeously psychotic and mad, bad, rabid, and oh-so-bad werewolf lunatics want Elena? She is such a weak creature. She keeps saying oh, she doesn't want to do this or that, but she does them anyway. Throughout the whole story, she is an observer, never an initiator or a doer. Even at the end, her Grand Actions are compelled by Clay in trouble. Everything she does has to revolve around a man. Sad.
The author isn't above using the stereotype that all strong women must have some screwed-up childhood, ie women are by nature sweet and jolly. Elena's past is really screwed-up and she has experienced everything from sexual abuse to even being imprisoned in a cage. Nice. Perhaps Elena's weak and passive behavior stems from the fact that she is a female in a pack, but still, that's no excuse for her then to pretend that she's strong and hence insult my intelligence. Also, Ms Armstrong isn't above using Elena to preach about the Evil of Humanity in a most unsubtle and preachy way. After a while I just wish Elena will die and leave me alone to enjoy the rabid bad werewolf boys.
And those werewolf boys! Unlike Laurell K Hamilton's hedonistically bisexual werewolves, these doggies here are strictly macho and dominant. Both are fun in different ways. If someone wants me as bad as Clay wants Elena, I will die happy, I tell you. That guy is obsessed and devoted, ooh, yummy. Likewise, the evil bad werewolves have their moments too, and plus, they get what little of the fun lines present in this surprisingly dour story.
Do be warned that this book is violent. Dogs die. Puppies die. Cute furry animals die. People die. This ain't no Disney cartoon, buddy. They die with their heads clawed off and their guts disemboweled. Their throats get slit almost all the way through. This is prime time gory fun.
If this is going to be the start of the series, I hope Elena will get a spine in the next book. Seriously - without a wisecracking tough heroine, what's left to savor? The violence, maybe. But there is little humor, too little sex, slashy, hetero-, homo-, or free-for-all, and worse, when the violence-induced high is gone, there is very little for me to chew on. Bitten doesn't bite much, and that's a big pity.
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