Friday, August 9, 2013

Welcome To The Midnight Hour

Kitty and the Midnight Hour
~Kitty and the Midnight Hour~
Kitty Norville
Book 1
By Carrie Vaughn

Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

Talk Radio.

Kitty Norville is a midnight-shift DJ for a Denver radio station—and a werewolf in the closet. Sick of lame song requests, she accidentally starts "The Midnight Hour," a late-night advice show for the supernaturally disadvantaged.

After desperate vampires, werewolves, and witches across the country begin calling in to share their woes, her new show is a raging success. But it's Kitty who can use some help. With one sexy werewolf hunter and a few homicidal undead on her tail, Kitty may have bitten off more than she can chew.

This book, and the series overall, has been on my radar for some time now. My sister bought the first three books a long while back and read the first one when she was in middle or early high school. Not the greatest decision ever. But before they went into the donation bin I snagged them and stuck them on my shelf. Followers should be able to guess by now that I'm a fan of werewolves, so a series having a snarky female lead who so happens to be a werewolf was an instant draw. It also helps that the author is visiting my local Powell's next week, so without further ado, let's dive in to Kitty's world.

Kitty, the hilariously-named and recently-turned werewolf, is doing her best to keep her life together. She's finding it difficult to balance her human need of independence and rent money with her inner wolf's need of community and ripping woodland creatures to shreds. After taking over the midnight time slot on the local Denver radio station, she thinks she might have just found her niche: discussion moderator and counselor to the supernatural anonymous. But complications ensue when her show garners the attention of some less-than-savory characters, and now not only does her pack demand that she quits her job, but some would rather she quit breathing altogether.

I'd say Kitty starts off as your typical snarky, kickass supernatural heroine. She has the independent streak, but doesn't yet know her full power, which is what you're reading the book to see her do anyway. I actually saw a lot of one of my friends in Kitty (and you should totally go follow her blog now...). Educated, witty, funny, not afraid to speak her mind with complete strangers, but at the same time not completely outspoken, a little insecure about certain things, and in the end just going about her day trying to make ends meet. Despite being a fantasy character, she felt human, which made her story all the more compelling for me.

I liked the werewolves in this story. They're not the movie-versions where they warp into a half-man/half-wolf monster, they change into full-blown wolves at least once a month. The full moon forces the change, but they are able to trigger the shift at any time. I found the wolf-mind an interesting feature of these werewolves - always lurking under the surface but taking full control while in its own form. But still, the wolf-mind is a part of the whole, so it is aware of the human mind's friends and desires, but ultimately it has its own priorities and instincts. And coming to terms with this wolf-mind seems to be the biggest obstacle a werewolf faces.

The feeling of wrongness or of being other is a common theme with supernatural fiction these days, a theme that finds many parallels with the modern LGBT movement. Now, there's having metaphors and subtle themes, and then there's throwing it in your face. The cover summary uses the phrase, "werewolf in the closet," a common idiom for not being upfront, or even lying about one's homosexuality. Then there's one point where Kitty wishes she could tell her family the truth about her condition, wishing it was as easy as saying she was lesbian [pg 41]. On the other side of the spectrum, one of the members of Kitty's pack is openly gay; he's actually a higher-ranking member, 2nd or 3rd in the pecking order, and is one of Kitty's most trusted and supportive friends. Unfortunately, I can see very little 'reason' to make him gay other than being a non-threatening (or at least not sexually threatening) male influence in Kitty's life.

I'm of mixed feelings about the LGBT references. On the one hand I'm appreciative that it's being addressed. It's nice to see something mainstream and fantasized such as the creatures of Twilight shown to have parallels with the very real issues of LGBT marginalization and prejudice. But, at the same time, I'm not sure the references and parallels were shown with the greatest finesse, or even respect. Wishing lycanthropy was as simple as being gay is both true, if you seriously think about it, and yet disrespectful to those who have legitimate fears about the backlash. I know this is a fairly inconsequential fantasy series, so it shouldn't be taken too seriously, but still, it's something I hope gets better treatment further in the series.

Another theme that seems to permeate werewolf stories is that of gender roles within the pack. There are many interpretations of the alpha/beta system and pack dynamics between males and females, I was interested to see what Vaughn had come up with. I was appalled when Kitty is raped by her pack leader in the Second Chapter. And not only is she raped, but she shrugs it off as just another one of the Alpha's perks:
Alpha's perogative: He fucks whomever he wants in the pack, whenever he wants. One of the perks of the position. It was also one of the reasons I melted around him. He just had to walk into a room and I'd be hot and bothered, ready to do anything for him, if the would just touch me. [pg 28]
What the fuck?!?! So being part of a pack not only subjugates you to another person, but magically and physiologically makes you happy when he has his way with you?! And they think wrestling with the wolf-mind about hunting deer is bad?!

Now, I'm not completely excusing it, because there's no confirmation or denial that this is how it works in all packs, nor that this is how it worked with anyone other than Kitty, who is still fairly new and, frankly, has some extenuating circumstances, but... I think Kitty's acceptance of her treatment was understandable and actually well-intentioned.

I know, I know, but hear me out. You can see her struggling against the constraints of the alpha (and her other superiors) throughout the book. It doesn't make sense that an independent, strong-willed fighter like Kitty would willingly subjugate herself to the alpha's will just because this wolf-mind told her to. And, granted I haven't studied these things, but I doubt even the wolf would instantly be completely subservient to an alpha even under normal circumstances. But Kitty's life changed that fateful night not only because of becoming a werewolf. Compiled with the sudden lycanthropic change, it's obvious that there was a lot of emotional scarring. And when told that the pack provides protection in exchange for subservience, it's only natural that in her traumatized state, and in the following months, she would agree to anything for that protection. And the wolf, not having the same value system, would surely see even sex as an agreeable (if not welcome) exchange.

I could be way off base here. I haven't read the rest of the series yet, so I don't know if this is an isolated incident, or if the whoring of female werewolves (Kitty in particular) is repeated. But this was the only way I could understand 1) how Kitty's attitude would have allowed her to be subjugated for any length of time and 2) how Kitty and the two women of power (Meg and Detective Hardin) could exist in the same book. So I don't think the author is in any way advocating for aggressive male-dominated relationships, supernatural or otherwise, but was instead showing the beginning of a victim's journey towards healing and self-empowerment.

Best segue into the romantic elements, eh? The cover summary mentions a sexy werewolf hunter. Cormac may end up being a romantic interest down the line, but there was relatively little of any genuine romance here. Kitty's still going through some healing and growth, so she's not very practiced in picking up guys. It also doesn't help that their introduction to each other was him trying to kill her. But there's some good foundation being laid here for trust and perhaps a more intimate relationship. I saw the possibility for some other romantic interests/conflicts in a couple vampire characters, but hopefully it won't re-tread over what the Mercy Thompson books have already attempted (not sure which came first...).

There was one last nitpick I wanted to address. In the course of the story it comes out on-air that Kitty is an actual werewolf, which leads to perhaps my biggest issue with the plot. Most of what Kitty says is, smartly, ambiguous as to whether or not she is a werewolf. But even when shit starts getting real, would the normal world really jump to the conclusion that the whole bit was real? I mean, radio has always been the least reliable form of documentation because you can't see what's happening. Why would the masses instantly believe that Kitty was a werewolf instead of it being a promotional stunt? In this age of cynicism and conspiracy theories I thought the sudden and overwhelming acceptance of the supernatural, truth or not, was a bit unbelievably convenient.

Believe it or not, I'd actually describe this as a new-adult book. It's never stated (and I can't find anything online) what age Kitty is, but based on her lack of job history, yet still having a bachelor's degree, I'd say mid-to-late 20's. Combine that with the journey towards self-discovery and strength, and it seems to fit the bill. Can't say what the rest of the series will hold, but I enjoyed this origin story and series start. I've made some assumptions and wishes for what might come in the future, and I can only hope I'm not completely off base.

Overall, Kitty and the Midnight Hour was a compelling introduction to a new world of the paranormal. I'd recommend it for those who enjoy the paranormal, supernatural, or urban fantasy genres and are looking for a young, sassy heroine to show them the ropes. It contains strong language, briefly described rape and sex, and more graphically depicted violence, so please take that into consideration before diving in. But if you ever wondered what the supernatural would say if they had their own talk-show, you'd best give Kitty and the Midnight Hour a taste.

Approximate Reading Time: 3.5 hours

Audiobook Review
Read by Marguerite Gavin
Length: 7 Hours
Listened at 2x Speed

Not bad, but nothing I'd write home about either. Ms. Gavin made an okay voice for Kitty, but there was never much emotion in the performance. Any of the performances. The voices were distinct, I'll grant her that, but I couldn't really understand why Carl and Meg had British/New England accents. Maybe I missed something, but I found them both a bit laughable among the other completely normal (the book takes place in Denver, CO) characters. Even the vampires didn't seem as over the top, and they were supposed to be ancient!

Ultimately, after coming from some absolutely stellar audiobooks, this was severely lacking. There were a few lines missing here and there, but nothing glaring. The production was fine for what it was, but I don't think I'll remember it for anything down the line. I can only hope that something changes in the rest of the series, or this is going to be one bland read-through.