The book I’ve been reading this week is personal favourite of mine. It’s one that I have read countless times over the past 10 years or so and it the first in a series of equally remarkable books. In fact, it’s hard for me to write about this book without discussing elements of the series so please bear with me if I accidentally go off on a bit of a tangent. This week, I have been reading Bitten by Kelley Armstrong.
Bitten is the first in the ‘Women of the Otherworld Series’; although I believe it was originally meant to be a stand alone novel. It tells the story of Elena Michaels, the only female werewolf in the world, who is trying to live as a human undetected and away from the American Werewolf Pack (of which, she used to belong). When the Pack leader calls regarding a potential uprising of non-pack werewolves, Elena is thrown back into a world that she would rather leave behind her.
The way the ‘The Women of the Otherworld’ series works is that each book has a different narrator but you will generally run into the same characters, or at least a selection of the same characters in each book. It also means that while it makes the most sense to read them in order, it isn’t strictly neccessary. I, for example, started with the third book in the series (Dime Store Magic) because the main character was a witch and I do like a good witch story. As I mentioned before, Bitten wasn’t originally going to be part of a series so this does mean that you won’t meet any of the non-werewolf characters.
When I first discovered Bitten, as well as the other books in the series, the book shop originally had them shelved in the Horror section. These days they tend to be found in the Paranormal Romance section. Unfortunately, I don’t think either of these do justice here. Bitten is about werewolves, so it is going to be gory and there are parts of the story that are written to creep you out or make you start to feel on edge but I wouldn’t describe it as a horror story. It’s the same with paranormal romance, yes there is a lot in there about relationships and romance, but at most its one of a couple of main themes and is central and important to the plot without being the reason for the plot. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with these genres – I would just be sad if it turned out people discover Bitten because it might not be in their usual section of the book shop.
One of the things that I love about this book is the way that it makes one themes seem new. We all know the concept and mythology around werewolves: you have to be bitten, you change at the full moon, you can only be killed with a silver bullet. Armstrong, takes these familiar themes and puts new spins on them and makes them much more interesting. These new concepts also make some areas of the story more believable and part of the real world. For example, the a werewolf in wolf form looks like a normal wolf, only larger rather than some crazy human/animal hybrid. When in human form, they age slower and are stronger and have more enhanced senses of smell and hearing. However, they can be killed in most normal ways and they don’t necessarily change at the full moon. While these are still obviously supernatural feats, to me at least, it makes it easier to accept that these characters could actually exist which adds to some of the suspense and makes it all the more captivating.
The characters themselves are interesting and well developed. (Each character has their own history and back story. These may not be mentioned in this book but they are either in other novels or on the author’s website and are worth a read.) They each seem unique in their own way and each manage to provide something to the story. The protagonist, Elena in particular has a very detailed past and you can fully see and understand why she is the way she is – even if occasionally you still want to shake her and ask her what the hell she is doing. The story itself has good pacing, and even after all these years and numerous rereads, I always find myself wanting to just sit for hours and hours and read it all in one sitting.
I should probably note though, that I personally wouldn’t recommend Bitten to anyone particularly squeamish or faint-hearted. People do die and not in the nicest of ways, there are also some discussions or at least mentions of topics that some people may find slightly disturbing or uncomfortable. Nothing too bad or heavy and I’m sure that most would be fine but I do know people who’s temperament maybe meant that they wouldn’t enjoy the book or the series.
I’m finding it surprisingly difficult to put into words just how much I love Bitten and the world that it starts to create. It does a fantastic job of building the foundations of a world of supernatural creatures living within our own and feels so immersive that it will take you a while to realign yourself to the real world when you’ve finished it. You find yourself caring so much about the characters and it is immensely satisfying watching as they grow and develop within their own stories and over the decade that the series covers. I think that the only thing left to say is that if you like books about the supernatural then this series really is a must.