Series: Women of the Otherworld #1
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Published by Plume on 1 October 2001
This is probably the hardest book to rate as it pulls me in two completely different directions. On the one hand we have the strong, Elena Michaels with a tragic past. She is the first female werewolf yet has gone to extreme lengths to try and live a ‘normal life’. She is a complex character and grabs your attention no matter if she is in her human or wolf form. On the other hand we have creepy Clay, the werewolf who bit her. He is part sociopath, part child and part academic but all of his parts are in love with Elena. He embodies the Byronic hero and only thing missing from the book was “Clay! Clay!” being shouted over the moors by Elena.
We open our tale (see what I did there?) with Elena working as a journalist in Toronto with her boyfriend Philip and trying to deny her inner wolf. She delays Changing for as long as possible, stalks security guards and eats out during the day to hide her massive appetite. All of this takes a huge toll on Elena but she seems to think it is worth it. Her previous life collides with her current one when the Pack Alpha, Jeremy, asks for her help. A mutt (non-Pack) werewolf has been gnawing on locals and disposing of the remains on Pack property. Elena keeps trying to imagine what a human would think and then acts accordingly. By actively trying to align herself with human attitudes and values, all she is doing is showing how non-human she really is. She’s not perfect by a long shot and the disintegration of her relationship with Phillip is not pleasant to see. I get that she just can’t muster up the energy to care about him any more but cut the guy a little slack and let him know. Clay doesn’t mind the bitchiness, the long internal monologues where I imagine Elena is just staring off into space or the stubborn attitude. As long as he can have her, he’s happy. The frequent sex would seem to support this view.
Clay, like Elena, is the product of a tortured past. He is more wolf-like than the rest of the pack – he sees Elena, he likes Elena so he bites Elena in order to keep Elena. He can’t understand why she might object to her free will being taken away. If Clay was purely human and exhibited the same kind of behaviour as he does in this book, you would probably kick him in the groin and slap a restraining order on him. In the urban fantasy and paranormal books I have read, authors give a little more leeway to the paranormal beings. You work out what actions are appropriate for a human, what is appropriate for a wolf (or any other animal for that matter) and then try and find some middle ground. Armstrong veers at times too far to the animal for me and some of the scenes made me cringe.
Working out whodunit was enjoyable though as everyone seemed to have an angle and want a piece of the Pack. Armstrong isn’t afraid to kill off some important characters and the denouement was staged well. Fleeing to Toronto seemed nonsensical as I didn’t really get a sense though that Elena was in any real danger – her position as the only female werewolf made her a valuable commodity. That alone turned down the suspense dial a bit. The start of the novel was quite slow as we had serious info dumping occur. I didn’t mind too much as Armstrong’s world and Pack politics were fascinating but if that sort of thing bothers you, consider yourself warned.
Bitten is a highly unusual novel. I didn’t love all the characters but the fact I had such strong reactions to them shows Armstrong’s skill as a writer. The world building is exceptional and there are lots of Elena-like copies out there trying to capitalise on what Armstrong has done.