Reviewed: December 28, 2009
By: Kelley Armstrong
Publisher: Seal Books
576 pages, $10.99
Some years ago Elena Michaels had managed to leave her abused foster home childhood
behind her and had begun to make something of herself. She’d even found
a wonderful boyfriend named Clay and was thinking about marriage. That was when
he turned into a wolf and bit her. Never mind that he figured the only way she’d
ever understand the other side of his life was to make her into a werewolf too,
Eleana has never forgiven him for that, and no matter how attracted she is to
him in both of her bodily forms, she figures she never will.
In this version of the mythology, most werewolves are born (all male) and come
into their abilities sometime during puberty. There’s nothing mystical
about it as far as this first book is concerned. It’s a genetic mutation,
but it can be passed by a bite that somehow rewrites the DNA of the victim.
Few of those who are transformed by being bitten survive the change without
going mad. Eleana is, as far as she knows, the only living female werewolf.
In fact, since gaining control of her new abilities - a process that took some
years - she has left the security of the pack compound in upstate New York and
returned to Toronto to pursue a flourishing career in journalism, something
for which her years as chief researcher, tracker and record keeper for the pack
had helped to prepare her.
She’s even found a human mate (who has no idea about her dual nature)
who is giving serious thoughts to marriage, although she’s not sure she
can go that far. She’s restricts herself to a regular regimen of changes
and, as long as she goes for a good run, stalks a few people and kills the odd
animal (preferably wild animal) she’s under control. She does have a killer
appetite in either form, but just eating a lot helps her restrain other urges.
All this is going well when she receives a call from her former alpha pack leader,
Jeremy. Some non-pack werewolves - they call them mutts - have intruded into
the pack’s peaceful domain and are killing people, stirring up local talk
about large, dangerous dogs. As one of the best former trackers, Eleana is needed
to help the pack cope.
It emerges that several mutts (one of whom is a former pack member) are converting
convicted criminals, rapists and child molesters in a bid to form their own
pack and drive out Jeremy’s group. The situation turns out to be much
more dire than anyone thought it would be, and Eleana, as the only female werewolf,
is considered to be part of the spoils of the war.
Armstrong is a Canadian writer, recently profiled in Walrus magazine, and the
author of ten novels in what her publisher likes to call the Women of the Otherworld
series. Seeking to avoid total stereotyping, she switches narrators and types
of powers on a regular basis. Some of the novels are about Eleana and her pack;
others are about a coven of witches; still others involve demons and another
series of young adult novels deals with young people just discovering a variety
of abilities while going to school at Lyle House.
I had previously read Dimestore Magic, which is the third book of the Otherworld
series. It was one of the witch themed books - witches in suburbia, to be precise.
I found it just a little too Desperate Housewives for my taste.
Bitten, the first book, was more interesting, an exploration of a different
culture and a different way of looking at the world. It was also an examination
of one woman’s internal conflict and that made it more intense even than
the murder and mayhem that ensues as the book goes on.
I expect I’ll download another of these. I read it as an e-book but it
is available in the paper format listed at the top of this column as well.