Time Warner, £6.99, ISBN 0-7515-3241-X
While Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten focuses on werewolf characters, Stolen finds the author ambitiously expanding her fantasy universe to include vampires, witches, shamans, sorcerers, and demons. Unfortunately, it soon becomes apparent to this reader that these creatures far outshine the werewolves in sophistication, wit, and charm, leaving our lupine friends, in comparison, a little, shall we say, obsolete? In fact, I really don’t know what to think of Stolen. In a way, I enjoy reading this gory and fascinatingly bloody story, but at the same time, all the fun characters die, leaving the jingoistic, redneck, and intelligence-deprived werewolves alive and well to howl at the moon rise. I feel cheated, in a way. It’s like watching a tournament where the dummies win by some unlikely default.
If Bitten leaves you expecting a shipper-friendly book in Stolen in which the passive Elena and her nutcase darling Clayton spends 500 pages writhing around in doggy sex, boy, are you in for a surprise. Stolen pushes most of its shipper elements to the background, preferring to concentrate on its Das Experiment-like premise instead.
What happens is that Elena starts out investigating the claims of a person selling information about unresolved murders only to realize that the whole set-up is just for two witches Ruth Winterbourne and her apprentice Paige to warn Elena of an impending danger. See, a bunch of humans have been kidnapping members of the otherworldly creatures and locking them up in cells to study them. Ruth hopes that Elena can persuade her Pack to rendezvous with representatives of each otherworldly population in the area to discuss this problem. Naturally, being werewolves and hence a little on the thick, redneck, jingoistic side, it’s a hard sell to the werewolves that there is any need in forming the United Nations of Otherworldly Beasts. That will teach them when Ruth and Elena are captured.
The main bulk of the book deals with Elena’s experiences in captivity. She meets the apparently guileless half-demon Leah and the twelve-year old witch Savannah, among others. Providing the hospitality are the scientist Dr Matasumi, the army guy Colonel Tucker, the actually quite nice in-house medic Dr Carmichael, admin lady Sondra Bauer that feels that the only way to escape male suppression is by grabbing Elena’s saliva and turning herself into a werewolf, and the psycho rich guy Ty Winsloe who just cares that he gets to hunt down the beasts in a high-tech trap-rigged woodland.
While the author creates a fascinating mythology in her story and I find myself very intrigued by the witches and the half-demons, I don’t like Elena at all. It is one thing to wisecrack and mock everything when you are kicking ass and saving the world, but Elena is useless on her own. Without Clay to back her up, she’s unable to do anything. So what I get is Elena mocking everybody even as she stands there and looks around helplessly at the carnage taking place around her. I find her most unlikable. Even more annoying, the characters that are also the most interesting die one by one in this story, generally for no reason other than to add to the gore level of the story. At the end of the story, only the dullest creatures survive. It’s like watching a horror movie where all the fun skanks leaving the useless virgin brown cow to stare stupidly at the screen as the credits roll.
I enjoy the story, but the wrong guys surviving the fun really puts a damper on my enjoyment. If anything, Stolen only intensifies my irritation at the author’s werewolves. Clay is… I don’t know, but that guy may be territorial and gung-ho and all, but he is also a first-class bigot that will organize a cross-burning at your friendly human neighborhood. Also, he displays a dismal lack of brainpower in this story. The author tries to explain that Clay sees himself more of a wolf than human, but frankly, I’ve seen smarter and better behaved mongrels in the SPCA pounds. Elena, well, as I’ve already mentioned, a non-stop motormouth that is unable to deliver the goods is nothing more than a tiresome blow-hard in my book.
Stolen is well-written and entertaining, but seriously, the author has gotten the whole cast mixed-up. It is a good thing that the next book will focus on Paige and Savannah. I don’t think I want to read any more about these violently xenophobic and moronic lupines than necessary.