Yes, it’s a werewolf book. I think it’s good to put that out there. People who can’t handle books about the supernatural — move on. Those who can’t handle bad books about the supernatural — read on. Because despite the calculated similarity in cover treatment to Stephenie Meyer’s tortured saga of sparkly immortals (a strategy, which, as the series goes on, REALLY gets out of hand), Canadian author Kelley Armstrong’s books are a different beast entirely.
I’m not a Twilight hater, but I certainly recognize Meyer’s weaknesses as a writer. She’s got a good story, but the delivery tends to be loose, soft, and often repetitive. Armstrong is anything but. Her writing is sharp, sleek and biting, with a delightfully sharp-tongued protagonist, tight plotting, and no time for lovesick mooning. Reading Bitten is like running with the wolves as they tear through the forest — the prose is taut and muscular, the plot races, and on occasion, some animalistic desires bare their fangs. (Another difference: This isn’t a series for teens, or at least, not for good Mormon teens — self-control is not exactly the message here . . . and I don’t think anyone who reads it will complain.)
Bitten begins the story of Elena, the only female werewolf, who is making a go at a regular human life in Toronto, but has trouble ignoring the animal within, which may be closer to her human nature than she’d like. When her pack’s safety is threatened, Elena grudgingly returns to the world she’s been trying to forget. There she’s confronted with the most stable family she’s known, her ex-fiancé who she still loves, and a growing pile of human corpses to deal with. Armstrong goes deep into werewolf lore, dispensing with the fripperies of silver bullets and full moons, focusing on both the werewolf’s physical nature (complete with wolf-form scenes so meticulously depicted they should have been penned by a canine) and the moral dilemmas inherent in bridging the human and the animal world.
Often these kinds of books are categorized as light reading, as a sort of escapism between more serious literary pursuits. And maybe they are somewhat. But despite Bitten‘s unabashed violence, its lust, its plot-driven nature, I never felt like my brain was on vacation. In fact, it was actually an excellent article in the December 2009 Walrus that brought the books to the forefront of my attention, so if you remain unconvinced this isn’t pulpy escape, check out their review. I’m eager to read the next books in the series (there are 10) more, and I’ve already recommended Bitten to people inclined to similar subject matter.
Oh, and while Meyer definitely rules the roost in terms of supernatural sales, it’s worth noting, that published in 2001, Armstrong was there first.