Women of the Underworld Re-Read

Bitten - Kelley Armstrong

I "discovered" this  series returning from Kentucky.  My friend and I stopped at a bookstore and three volumes of this series were on the sale table. Those books were 3, 4, and 5 so I didn't read this, the first book, until later.


Bitten was Armstrong's first published book and in some ways, it shows.  The writing and pacing could be smoother.  There are some bit too repetitious details, and when two characters die, the emotional impact is lacking because while the heroine, Elena, is close to them, the reader has been told this and not shown.  And one of the sex scenes is a bit creepy.  Secondary characters are not as developed as they will be in later books (this is true about Clay who changes slightly).


But, it is a cut above most Urban Fantasy, and the creepy sex scene is one of the reasons why.


Bitten is about Elena Michaels, the Otherworld's only female werewolf (supposedly.  At least the only one anyone knows about).  In Armstrong's books, you can become a werewolf by birth, but only if your father was one and if you are boy; or you can become a werewolf by getting bitten by one - something that kills most people.  Elena became a werewolf because her boyfriend, in wolf form, nipped her and drew blood (She did not know he was a werewolf at the time).  Elena, therefore and with good reason, blames her boyfriend, Clay, for her change in life.  What makes it worse is the question of whether it was intentional or not.  At the start of the book, Elena has left the pack, mostly because of her anger and conflicted feelings, and lives in Toronto.  She has a human job and boyfriend.  She gets along well with his family.  The late night walks need some excuses, but so far so good.  She gets called back when dead bodies get left on pack land.  Needless to say, this causes issues.


The creepy sex scene occurs when Clay looses binds her arms.  He points out that if Elena says no, he will stop.  The way Clay is drawn by Armstrong as well as the sitution make it quite clear that this is true. Elena doesn't say no, but the whole binding her arms without permission is a bit well .  . creepy.  Clay is also a bit pushy.  He borders on stalkish.  He never followed her to Toronto, but he does invade her space.  He's charming but a bit much.  You can understand the attraction, but like Elena, you are conflicted.


Or you should be.


Many reviews of this book and the second in series, say that Elena was too tough on Clay, that she needs to get over it.  But, I think that is the point.  What would you do if the man you loved and thought you were going to marry, changed your life by making you something other than you were?  You have to give up everything - the job you wanted, the life you wanted.  You become stronger and special, but also bloodthirsty.  And if the bite was intentional?  Too often in Urban Romance the romantic lead does something suspect to the heroine - think Jean Claude who forces Anita Blake to date him by threatening to kill her boyfriend.  How is that charming?  It's not.  It seems that Armstrong is trying to explore a complicted issue.  To be fair, I think she doesn't pull off entirely, but at least she is trying to explore those issues of consent and stalking that other Urban Fantasy takes as a trophe of romance.


Elena is a fresh breath not just because of her confliced feelings (which are beautifully illustrated and totally human) but because she is realstic about her looks.  She is wanted by other werewolves not because she is stunning (she's not) but because she is the only female wolf and to male werewolves she smells like heat.  She  is insecure and messy.  She tries her best, but is far from perfect.  And when characters call her upon her behavior, she, like most of us, gets defensive but then thinks about it.