St Martin’s Press, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-312-94829-0
Caitlin Kittredge’s debut urban fantasy novel Night Life has werewolves, witches, and dead bodies. I know, that seems to describe every other urban fantasy novel on the shelf at the moment. Therefore, if you ask me why you should read this one instead of any other random urban fantasy novel out at the market at the moment, I honestly don’t know. All I can say is that, at the very least, Ms Kittredge can sure tell a story because I finish this book in a single sitting. However, the behavior of the lead characters can be too problematic for me.
Set in Nocturne City, this story takes place in an alternate Earth where creatures not quite human or humans with unusual abilities dwell side by side with ordinary humans who may or may not be aware of the existence of these otherworldly types. There are hints in the preview of the upcoming book that there are more to the setting, but in this story, the focus is on the werewolves and the blood witches.
Our heroine Luna Wilder is a detective with the Nocturne City Police Department and she is the only one in her family who can’t get the blood magic thing done right. Blood witches, as the name suggests, use blood – not a lot, of course – to catalyze their woo-woo rituals. If being the not-so-gifted black sheep and on her grandmother’s black list aren’t bad enough, Luna was bitten by a werewolf during a date to remember and as a result she’s also a werewolf now. Because she is turned by a rogue werewolf, she has no pack to belong to. A werewolf without a pack is called an Insoli. Insolis are fair game for any werewolf in a pack.
I know, Luna Wilder, half-witch, half-werewolf – can the author come up with a name that is even more precious than that one? On the bright side, it could be worse – Luna’s cousin is called Sunflower. She understandably would like you to call her Sunny. Maybe the whole “I’m with nature” name thing runs in the family. They are all blood witches, remember?
In this story, young women, some are prostitutes, are showing up dead as a result of a grisly ritual murder. Luna at first suspects that the murderer is the werewolf pack leader, Dmitri Sanovsky, but eventually she realizes that there is far more to the whole gory situation than meets the eye. Someone may be committing these murders to summon an ancient powerful demon, for example.
The bad guys in this story are pretty obvious (the fact that they are the only bad guys in the story from the start may have something to do with it) but there is an interesting twist behind the grand chain of events at the climax of the story. Therefore, this story isn’t that predictable. While there are many elements here – from crooked cops to the heroine turning into a vigilante do-gooder after she is made to turn in her badge – that seem to come out from a by-the-book cop story, Ms Kittredge manages to combine everything to make a most riveting read. There is nothing here that makes me sit up and go wow, but the story is a most readable and well-paced read.
However, I find the heroine’s behavior in this story problematic. Simply put, Luna is reckless and has no tact. She’s the kind of person who, when faced with a brick wall, will charge at the wall with her head until either she suffers a cracked skull or the wall breaks down, all the while making sarcastic quips. She knows that she is on thin ice with her superiors, but instead of being subtle or cunning, she continues to flaunt her reckless maverick ways until she gets canned. Likewise, there are many moments when she is just plain stupid – charging alone into a bar full of werewolves when she knows that a pack has the right to do anything, even kill, an Insoli, for example – only to go, “Oops!” or, worse, scream for Dmitri to come help her in one particularly irritating instance, once she’s in hot soup. The really problematic thing is, she knows that a particular action is stupid, but hey, she’ll go ahead and do it anyway. A heroine like Luna is not good for my blood pressure because I can never make up my mind which gruesome method of death is appropriate for her.
I also can’t help feeling that this story will be so much better if the author hasn’t introduced this eye-rolling chemistry-free “mate attraction” thing with Dmitri. In this book, these two generate all the electricity of a toothbrush. Dmitri is an inconsistent character. One moment he’s a pimp, then he’s supposed to be in love with that dead prostitute that is working for him, then he’s leering at Luna, then he’s a powerful pack leader, then… I don’t know who this guy is or what he is supposed to be. Dmitri starts out as a more interesting shady type who for some reason is abruptly changed into this more stereotypical Werewolf Pack Alpha Leader character in a transition that doesn’t seem true.
Night Life is therefore a flawed debut in my opinion. It is very readable, but at the same time, I can only hope that the next book will have all the characterization kinks ironed out. The author already has the pacing and the narrative style down pat. Oh, and please, let’s cut down on the number of times Luna decide to do something reckless and idiotic as if she’s a one-woman circus of laughs. She’s not that tough or capable to make such stunts palatable.