Bitten

by Kelley Armstrong

Cover image

Series: Otherworld #1
Publisher: Plume
Copyright: 2001
Printing: September 2004
ISBN: 0-452-28603-4
Format: Mass market
Pages: 436

Buy at Powell's Books

This is another book in the increasingly popular genre that Laurell K. Hamilton writes in. I'm not sure what to call the genre; it uses creatures that have historically been the material of horror — vampires, werewolves, and zombies — but instead writes those characters straight, looking at the world through their eyes and avoiding simple good humans and bad monsters (and most of the horror). Creature fantasy, perhaps. Whatever it is, I didn't expect to like it but have often been surprised, particularly when the focus is on more interesting (to me) creatures than vampires.

Bitten begs comparison to Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series in a few ways. The first-person protagonist is a strong female character, occasionally snarky, who is coming to terms with her feelings about the creatures. There is a murder mystery, although like the later Anita Blake books, the plot moves quickly away from the mystery aspects and towards inhuman politics and the complexities of romantic relationships. And the story, trappings aside, is really about what it means to be human, or inhuman, and coming to terms with who and what one truly is inside.

Armstrong's topic is werewolves, a creature less cliched and with more unexplored depth than vampires. This, combined with a favorable review by David Lanford, is why I picked up this book, and I wasn't disappointed. Armstrong strikes the right balance of carnivore cruelty, pack cooperation and loyalty, animal instincts, and human planning. I could believe in these werewolves. Hamilton's are merely workable for their place in the Anita Blake plot; Armstrong's have more subtlety and balance.

Over the course of the book, Elena's background and struggles with being a werewolf slowly evolve in a way that I found compelling. She rarely broods on her life for more than a paragraph or two, but between well-written bits of action, everything falls together and turns the book into a satisfying romance. The attraction of relationships mingles inseparably with the competing attractions of inhuman instincts and a normal human life, and while the outcome isn't horribly surprising, one is left feeling that Elena went through a realistic struggle to get there. I was impressed; it takes a deft touch to tell a complex story about strong emotions.

In the comparison to Laurell K. Hamilton, relationships are more realistic but the writing style isn't as much fun. Elena has some sarcasm and bite to her first-person narration, but it isn't as reliably amusing or as well-delivered as Hamilton's protagonists. The narration is a bit long-winded at times, mostly in descriptions and when recounting events. The prose is also a bit choppy, missing some polish and occasionally feeling mechanical and artificial.

That caveat aside, the story pulled me right in and kept me interested. It's a light, undemanding read, full of neat werewolf bits, plenty of action, and a good relationship story. Recommended, and if Armstrong can improve the polish and flow of her prose a few more notches, she'll be a writer I'll actively seek out.

Followed by Stolen.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2005-06-19

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21