HelenKay: No lions. No tigers. No bears. Just one pretty kitty – Kitty Norville, to be exact. She’s a D.J., host of the wildly successful The Midnight Hour radio show and a werewolf. A submissive in her pack, Kitty leads the show in this smart and snappy fantasy by Carrie Vaughn.
One boring night during her midnight music show, Kitty turns off the music and asks her audience to weigh in on whether or not vampires and werewolves really exist. The switchboard lights up. From that night forward, the supernatural world calls Kitty with a list of questions and problems. The popularity of the show leads to syndication offers and a whole host of trouble for Kitty. Kitty tries to hide her secret – her four-legged furry side. When a hired assassin attempts to kill her during her live show, Kitty ends up revealing that she is, indeed, a werewolf.
With her secret now in the open, Kitty’s life begins to spin out of control. Carl, the leader of her pack, and his mate Meg do not approve of Kitty’s very public coming-out or the threat her notoriety is to their power. The local vampire leader Arturo isn’t too pleased with her either. With everyone turning against her and trying to convince her to give up her show, and the assassin Cormac still hanging around, things only get worse. A series of brutal murders suggest a rogue werewolf is in the area and possibly out of his mind. The police, armed with a new belief in the supernatural world, enlist Kitty’s help to track down the killer.
Along with all this activity is a mysterious religious leader who insists he can cure whatever makes a vampire a vampire and werewolf a werewolf, as well as a battle for power within the pack which carries with it a sexual twinge. Somehow Vaughn manages to weave all these threads together without tying up the plot in an overly simplistic bow. She lets the subplots unfold with slow precision even as the pacing clicks away in a steady almost hypnotic rhythm.
Vaughn’s success here is due, in large part, to the strength and realism of Kitty. She may be part wolf, but she is all woman in her mixture of insecurities, fears and hopes. The focus of the book is Kitty and the subplots winding around her. Kitty views herself as physically weak in relation to other werewolves, but the truth is that she holds her own against every other character in the book. She doesn’t back down or capitulate to what everyone else wants for her. Her submission in wolf form plays as realistic and true to character in the clever world Vaughn has created.
While the novel lacks any of the hallmarks of a romance, there is a sexual vibe that underscores Kitty’s relationship with Carl. This strange association does slip into an uncomfortable squirm-in-your-seat zone, but the scenes with them together work in the overall setting of the pack as the pack mentality is defined in the book. Kitty’s attraction to Cormac is a bit harder to understand in light of the way they met and the relatively light character development of Cormac, but the flaw is forgivable and easy to overlook in comparison to the remainder of the book.
The tone of the books isn’t light, but it isn’t heavy either. The voice is easy to connect to and very endearing. Despite the murders and pack problems, there is an underlying charm. The radio show excerpts range from funny to poignant, and the mix of radio callers and other subplots strikes a perfect balance.
There are some negatives here, including society’s instantaneous and unexplained acceptance of Kitty as a werewolf, secondary characters that lack depth and subplots that serve only to set up future books in the series. All of these weaknesses, while noticeable, are easy to dismiss thanks to skillful writing and a relatable heroine. This may be the first in a series, but you’ll be wanting more.
Wendy: The trouble with werewolves, in addition to the bothersome transformation and killing people, is they don’t often make for great fiction. In the pantheon of paranormal creatures and things that go bump in the night, werewolves have never had the sexiness of vampires or the cachet of poltergeists. Warren Zevon gentrified werewolves when he noted that they often find themselves drinking at Trader Vic’s, their hair perfect, the world oblivious to the beast sitting just adjacent to them. John Landis humanized werewolves with the perfect balance of humor and horror in the moors of England. But Zevon did that in song and Landis on film; so, what of fiction? The werewolf legend is ripe with conflict, sex and violence and the beast within the man metaphor is so easily accessible, it would seem even the most paint-by-numbers writer could work magic with it. Frustratingly, that magic happens infrequently. But, when a fresh voice and a creative recasting of the werewolf does come along, it seem nothing short of remarkable.
Carrie Vaughn is such a fresh voice and her debut, Kitty and The Midnight Hour, is a clever and engaging werewolf tale that envelops with a subtle seduction. On the surface, it is the story of a woman adrift, coming into her own…who is also a pup of a werewolf growing up and finding her footing. Underneath, Vaughn employs the werewolf metaphor as a not-so-understated cover for social commentary on bigotry, religion and government.
Kitty Norville comes to host The Midnight Hour, a late night call-in radio show, quite by accident. A DJ at Denver’s KNOB, Kitty arrives at a midnight shift ready to play The Clash and Concrete Blonde, but also bored. She asks her listeners what they think the real story is behind tabloid darling Bat Boy. The phone lines light up with callers eager to talk about vampires and werewolves. And there it begins, a radio show unlike any other, with a host unlike any other. Of course, only Kitty, her werewolf pack and the local Family of vampires know just how unlike any other host Kitty is.
As interesting a conceit as a werewolf hosting a radio call-in talk show is, the meat of Kitty’s story is the fallout from the show’s rising popularity. After the success of the impromptu first show, The Midnight Hour is born and is soon in syndication, giving humans who would like to speculate about what goes bump in the night a forum, as well as the creatures who make the bumps. Off the air, Kitty is no lone wolf, nor does she exist in a vacuum. In her pack, Kitty is a lowly pup in the hierarchy. Her Alpha, Carl, and his mate, Meg, protect Kitty from the rival Family of vampires and the other werewolves in the pack. Carl keeps Kitty as a pretty play thing: he’ll feed her, he’ll care for her, he’ll protect her and in turn she’ll follow his orders. With the show’s success, Kitty gains confidence that manifests even in her Wolf form and the role of submissive begins to chafe and eventually becomes intolerable.
Vaughn gives Kitty plenty of conflict and action to work through with subplots that fold nicely back into one another. When Kitty ignores both the vampires’ warnings and Carl’s demands that she give up the show (the vampires don’t like the publicity and Carl wants to control Kitty completely), a silver bullet shooting werewolf hunter, Cormac, shows up in Kitty’s radio booth ready to hold up his end of the contract on Kitty’s life. Cormac is a man of few words, but clear-headed enough to investigate Kitty’s claim that, perhaps, he’s been double crossed by whoever hired him for the job. It is a tenuous start for any relationship, not that Kitty and Cormac’s is a romance (the possibility of one sweetens the plot), but rather a mutually beneficial “I owe you one,” acquaintance. As Kitty breaks with her pack and Carl, it is Cormac to whom she turns for help when one of her own pack attacks her and again when a rouge werewolf turns serial killer.
Kitty and The Midnight is the beginning of Kitty’s adventures. As such, some characters and conflicts introduced and lightly brushed up against are left unresolved in this first installment. Through a vampire friend, Rick, Kitty learns of a Reverend Elijah Smith who travels with a tent revival and claims to cure vampirism and lycanthropes. The Reverend, while interesting, amounts to groundwork laid in this book to be, hopefully, built upon in the next. With the large cast of characters and numerous subplots, the preview of the Revered and a hint of the mystery surrounding him are all that this story can bare.
Kitty’s first person narration connects, save for a stumble as Vaughn attempts an action scene that Kitty is not present for and only hears over the phone. And, at times the narrative is more stage direction than free flowing prose. Even still, Vaughn has created a world – and a character– as compelling as either Landis’ or Zevon’s and one that promises a series of books with potential to engage in a way few sequels ever do.
Wendy’s Question: Sections of chapters 5 and 8 originally appeared in short stories. That makes for an interesting story-behind-the-story regarding Kitty and The Midnight Hour’s evolution and road to publication. However, knowing this made me hyper aware of those chapters: was the tone consistent, were the seams apparent, did they have a place in the story as a whole? Were you likewise affected? Did knowing these scenes had a life before this book enter into your reading experience?
HelenKay’s response: I did know this book arose out of a series of short stories. I wasn’t sure of the chapters and actually had to go back and review the parts of the books you referred to in the question. I’m guessing since I had to look, the chapters didn’t hit me as different or out of place at the time. In hindsight, these chapter relate mostly to the assassination attempt and deal more with the radio calls. But, I think they fit. Everything fits. Vaughn took many subplots and twisted them together. She did so with an expert hand. While a few seemed superfluous, it all worked for me.
HelenKay’s Final Thoughts: Not a romance, but this Kitty’s got bite. Run and get this one.
Wendy’s Final Thoughts: Kitty and The Midnight Hour stands out from the pack.