Thoughts: Kitty Takes a Holiday by Carrie Vaughan

Oh, you thought I only read fancy books?

The Kitty Norville series by Carrie Vaughan first crossed my path last year, when Spuggy, best of husbands, bought me the second in the series (Kitty Goes to Washington) for Christmas, after finding it in a bargain bucket in the train station. He quite correctly surmised that a werewolf talk radio host and super-hot Brazilian were-jaguar (literally from the blurb) would be right up my alley.

Spoiler alert, by the way.

I found the first one (after having read and loved the second one) on holiday last year, following my usual book series rule (all same format), but it turns out there are like fourteen books so I decided we just don’t have the space, and Kindle it is!

In a way this makes my life easier, because the reason I spent years reading the Shardlake series (C.J. Sansom) is because I wanted them all in pretty, pretty physical form. If anything, the Kitty Norville series, of which the first one was published in 2005, is going to be harder to find. I read somewhere that the general in-shop shelf life of new published books is about six weeks (I can’t find for the life of me where this number comes from though, so take me with a pinch of salt!) and I’ve not seen any of them around except for the first one (as I wasn’t there when Spuggy made his truly inspired purchase).

Anyway, so, the Kitty Norville series is going to be this year’s series. I try to read a series of something every year, alternating series books with my formal list. I started it like this because I wanted to read Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time without burning myself out, and it worked so well that I thought it would be fun to continue. Most series aren’t as long as WoT, so what usually ends up happening is that I read a series in the first half of the year and spend the second half furiously reading through the list until November, when everything goes on hold for NaNoWriMo. And depending on how the story goes, it’s sheer chance whether I get anything else read through December either…

OK, so no one cares about my reading habits and routines. What we care about is Kitty Norville, werewolf radio DJ.

I enjoy this series so much. I said in my thoughts on C.J. Sansom’s Lamentation that I’m into books I can live in, and I find these books fit the bill. They’re not as intricately detailed as Shardlake’s London or Crabb’s America or Nan King’s theatrical world, but Kitty’s voice is so grounded and her character so well written. The series follows her from her beginnings as a werewolf, so you get to see her come to terms with it and learn to live with it, and she really does grow and learn and change. She becomes more assertive and confident, and not just as a trite episodic ending. She learns to live packless in Kitty Goes to Washington and here in Kitty Takes a Holiday she takes on the responsibility of pack again, but instead of the unhealthy co-dependence of her own first pack experience she finds herself becoming an alpha. OK, that’s not particularly fair. She doesn’t “find herself” an alpha, she chooses to become an alpha, though she still sometimes wants nothing more than to be taken care of herself.

As in the best stories of the supernatural, there are a lot of elements with parallels (though necessarily imperfect) to real world issues – Kitty’s previous pack was led by an alpha who abused his power, often sexually, and would play mind games to pit his members against each other. She left that pack at great cost to herself (the pack’s territory contains her home, where she can now not return) and still sometimes looks back on the things she liked about it – the comfort of numbers, the good times, the attention and affection of her alpha, however wrong and unhealthy it was. Kitty lives with her lycanthropy as though it’s a chronic illness. She has coping mechanisms and knows her triggers. In this book she ends up dealing with small-town prejudice and harassment as well, a natural follow-up to the last book’s supernatural outing shenanigans.

The writing isn’t breathtaking but it gets the job done, and it’s definitely getting better as the books go on. What I found myself wanting in the previous two was more radio banter. I wanted some really sharp, witty, easy radio banter, and sometimes it felt a bit abrupt. There’s no radio talk in this one (at least not from Kitty) so I can’t judge whether that’s going to improve yet. One thing I wanted to see more in this one was Kitty calling out Ben for his werewolf-feelings. I was getting annoyed on her behalf. Every time he was like “omg how am I going to LIVE with this TRAGEDY” I wanted her to point out to him that this was her life, and was he saying her life wasn’t worth living? Come on, Ben, tell us how you really feel. When he expressed frustration with his inability to control himself, I wanted her to go further than telling him she was the same. I wanted her to tell him to look at her now, and he would be as strong as her with time. But these are good frustrations for a reader to have – the issue was complicated and the characters doing what they could.

The rest of the writing contained some really nice sections and is definitely better than the first book – the creepy Wilson family was a particular highlight, something out of a proper dark American gothic.

Now I’ve mentioned the Wilsons, a Native American family whose members are all living under the shadows of traditional magic and their own darkness and secrets, I should probably talk about race in the book. I find that urban fantasy novels set in the US tend to at least touch on Native American and South/Central American magical traditions and legends, and I can see why. They’re fascinating, and the fact that they’re (often) someone else’s traditions makes them more interesting, as I think all humans find things that aren’t of their own culture. As always, I’m not American and still white, so my opinion counts for pretty much nothing, so I’ll stick to the facts. The book features Tony, a Hispanic man and curandero, who’s a friend of the werewolf hunter and supernatural-specialist lawyer. He’s a good guy. He knows his stuff, and he has an ability to make people be reasonable, almost. People trust him and tell him the truth. It also features the Native American Wilson family, who, spoiler spoiler spoiler, dabble in skinwalking and the really dark, dangerous stuff. They are for the most part a pretty screwed up family. They live in utter poverty out in the middle of nowhere (I’m not sure if it’s a reservation or tribal lands, but it’s implied that it’s an area where at least most of the population are Native American), and the neighbours, what few there are, don’t miss them when they die or go missing, because they generally mean violence and trouble for the people around them (except for the one daughter who’s trying to wrestle with the light side of magic). I’ve said that I thought this section was done effectively from a horror point of view and I stand by that.

I’m not sure if the Wilsons will show up again but I sort of hope they do. I don’t know if I feel like we got enough closure on the reveal. As a series it sometimes feels more like instalments of one long story, so maybe they’ll come back.

And the ending! And the shipping! I’m used to these books ending on at least a vaguely hopeful note so the ending of this one was a real surprise. And don’t even get me started on the shipping. Kitty has to be with Cormac, but now Ben’s in the way and I can’t for the life of me work out how to easily nudge him out of the way. …OT3?

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