Fully halfway there now!
Spoiler warning as always. More spoilers than usual!
One thing that I’ve been impressed with about this book series is that it never feels episodic. By episodic here I mean that it never feels like any of the books could be shifted around without affecting the coherence of the story, or that any book ends in the exact same place that it began. It is of course episodic in the sense that each story does stand alone to a large extent.
I did wonder if this was going to be the one that started the Monster of the Week. The campy title, the premise – various familiar faces and some new ones gathered in a sort of spooky Big Brother house – all of it seemed a little bit recappy.
But if Kitty’s House of Horrors starts much more fluffily than any of the previous books, it ends much more darkly.
Even though other books have involved deaths and killings before, I wouldn’t have classed them as having “body counts”. It’s usually just a case of “you can’t make a supernatural crime novel without breaking any eggs*”. This one has a body count. As the books in general are pretty light (even when they deal with serious issues like the domestic violence parallel of Kitty and the Silver Bullet they tend to take a generally optimistic view and wrap up quite neatly) I wasn’t really expecting it to go this way! I freely admit it – I thought the old favourites would be safe. Damn.
I’m not sure how I feel about the villain reveal. I mean, I assumed from the start of things going wrong that it was the execs behind everything, but I didn’t guess the motivation. I was expecting something supernatural, so it was a shock that it was so… mundane. A kind of “the most dangerous animal is Man” reveal. And I’m not sure if fundamentalist Christians are a bit fish-in-a-barrel as far as villains are concerned, but at the same time, the obvious real world parallel here was the LGBT community; their increasing visibility and the backlash from some quarters against that. So I feel like it would be disingenuous to claim unrealistic villains here. Worse things happen at sea**, etc. It was interesting to put Kitty and co on the same side as Conrad, the supernatural beings and the atheist who doesn’t believe in them. It would have been nice to see it explored more, but there wasn’t really time in the story by that point.
Sidenote: I was greatly pleased with the were-seal character.
There were a couple of other things I thought were a little under-explored. Firstly, Ariel deserved better! We hardly got to know her at all, and she felt a bit out of her depth in the house, which didn’t help. The other ~mortals~, Odysseus, Tina, Jeffrey, all had powers that have been explored in previous books, but Ariel basically had a bit of hedge magic and a sultry voice.
Secondly, I think Vaughn sort of half-arsed the cabin fevery tension of the first half of the book. Part of it’s because the books, as I’ve said, are generally so light and fun. When a new old vampire is introduced and Kitty is hedging on whether to trust them or not, you can generally tell from the first whether they’ll be a good’un or a bad’un. The only actual surprise has been Mercedes Cook. I was never in doubt that Anastasia would turn out to be on the side of good/common sense. Equally, I was never in doubt that Odysseus was anything other than weird but good. I wondered for a while if anyone in the house would turn out to be a traitor or snap in any way, but… nope. Everyone was pretty straightforward. I think this should either have really been ramped up, or left out completely. As it was, it was just a bit unconvincing.
I would love to see the vampires in particular be a bit more… above normal morality? I know about the Long Game, but I’d like to see it in vampires we already know a bit more. Like, day to day amorality.
Anyway, don’t think that straightforward supernatural beings mean they’re fluffy and friendly. Vaughn’s supernatural creatures are often just people who want to live their lives, but they are capable of monstrous things, and they aren’t fully human. And we get to see that in this book – Anastasia, Odysseus and Kitty have moments where they have to show their true colours. Kitty at this point feels pretty comfortable with vampires, but I think watching Anastasia do what she does best, with a toothy smile, will make her see them differently. That was a pretty dark scene…
Odysseus as well, the standoffish magician with his Cthulhu box and dry sense of humour, shows a glimpse of his true power, and the things he is willing to do when he has to. She won’t look at him the same.
Kitty herself ends up in these ethically grey, muddy waters when she accidentally makes a new werewolf. No one who was there will look at her in the same way either.
Maybe it was a bit of a cop-out to end the new werewolf in the way he is ended? Kitty maybe gets off a little lightly on this one, but at the same time she didn’t do it deliberately, and she doesn’t get out of any of this unscathed. I might be just being sadistic here.
I wonder if it’s my tastes that are changing, if I want something deeper than the series is promising to give, or if it’s just that stage of the story where things have to get real. Either way, I’m in it for the long haul, and am interested to see where it’s going to lead.
**in the real world