HelenKay: In this second book in the series that started with Kitty and the Midnight Hour and is already slated to run for two more adventures in 2007, Vaughn proves one thing: politics can suck the life out of anything and anyone.
Kitty Norville is a popular late night talkshow host and all-around postergirl for werewolf acceptance – her being one and a celebrity one at that. Difficulties in Denver (see: Kitty and the Midnight Hour) left her good friend dead and her pack in shambles. Rather than stick around and face additional fallout, Kitty takes to the road. Kitty Goes to Washington picks up with Kitty’s travels around the country as she brings her show to the airwaves via remote.
Thanks to Kitty’s straightforward attitude and no-nonsense talk, vampires and werewolves have a forum to ask questions. Those who believe in life other than human-DNA-only life also have a place to discuss issues. And now Congress wants answers. The U.S. Senate subpoenas Kitty to appear before a committee convened to investigate the issue of vampires and werewolves in relation to government funding for the Center for the Study of Parnatural Biology and its founder Dr. Paul Flemming.
From here Kitty enjoys the hospitality of the town’s vampire mistress, gets personal with a Brazilian jaguar named Luis, fights off her unwanted guard Leo, runs from a nasty tabloid reporter and comes back into contact with vampire hunter Cormac. Senator Duke, the stereotypical religious wacko in charge of the Committee, who is set on destroying Kitty rounds out the cast.
A lot of characters. Not much action.
This Kitty, like the first Kitty, can be fun and funny, fast and enjoyable. Unfortunately, this Kitty also suffers from a deficit of plot. Much of the first 140 pages are spent on set-up and following Kitty through her daily routine and D.C. tourist activities. Despite the charming writing and likeable heroine, the plot not so much drags, as it isn’t present. The real meat of the book comes mid-book. Much of the conflict then depends on hidden agendas and people being other than what they seem. Some plot strings tie up early and their inclusion isn’t clear to the overall story, but Vaughn’s strong voice and witty style carry the book.
Kitty Goes To Washington stands alone even though it is the secod book in a series. However, readers would benefit from picking up Kitty and the MIdnight Hour. This is true not because one book depends on the other. Rather, it’s true because Kitty and the MIdnight Hour is stronger in terms of being a fully formed and more coherent story. Kitty Goes To Washington has many strengths including a new twist on a paranormal theme, compelling voice, entertaining style, quick wit and an engaging tone. Where the book falters is in making the switch from Kitty as narrator to Kitty as an integral part of the plot. The transition takes more pages and time than it should. The result is a uneven storyline that lacks the depth and pulse of its headlining heroine.
Wendy: Expectation plays a role in fiction that cannot be qualified or quantified as concepts like conflict, plot, and conclusion can. What the reader expects from fiction is the most elusive element in the relationship between authors and readers. It starts with a glance at the cover, builds with a connection to the jacket copy, and reaches its zenith in waiting for the continuation of a multi-book series. The down time between series installments allows for overwhelming anticipation: What will be the same? What will be different? What will a favorite character do next? There is always the risk of disappointment if a protagonist were to zig, when the hope is that they will zag. What isn’t projected in the wait between books is that a series will falter not with choices that don’t live up to expectation, but that the series will come to a grinding halt on fundamental flaws like lack of conflict.
Kitty and The Midnight Hour, with its crisp, clear writing, strong protagonist, and fresh take on some very old folklore, sets up great expectations for Kitty’s continuing story. Now, Carrie Vaughn’s sophomore effort, Kitty Goes to Washington, sees the return of late-night radio D.J. and werewolf Kitty Norville; unfortunately the return doesn’t bring along all the basics that made the series’ opener so compelling and engaging.
For this story, Kitty goes to Washington, she befriends the city’s head vampire, gets cozy with a Brazilian were-jaguar, and spends a lot of time waiting to be called to testify in front of a Senate committee. What she doesn’t do is encounter the sort of book-length sustainable conflict that Kitty and The Midnight Hour had in abundance. Gone are Kitty’s pack conflicts. She’s a lone wolf now, a rogue, and, as such, the constant strife between being her own person and being part of a pack are over with little in the way of internal conflict to replace what had been a large plot point.
While the transition from underling pup to lone wolf is a logical step in Kitty’s journey, Vaughn flounders with how to handle the journey. Kitty moves through situations, like encountering Washington’s were-population–which acts as the non-pack pack–taking note, assessing, but with little action. The prose reinforces this less-than-active feeling as Vaughn’s narrative settles into dialog (both with Kitty’s radio show and the Senate hearings) that amounts to being told what is going versus being shown the action.
Kitty’s radio show acts as a connective thread bridging Kitty’s debut with this continuing story, but its purpose beyond that is limited. Where previously Kitty’s story was integrated through her show, the forward momentum of her story was tied to the show’s success and subplots were launched as outgrowths of the callers, this time The Midnight Hour is a backdrop, a follow through for Kitty’s life, but in no way integral for the story.
What remains the most interesting dynamic in Kitty’s story is the near relationship she has with bounty-hunter/werewolf hit man, Cormac. Despite their almost flirtation and Kitty’s understanding that Cormac is someone who can help when she most needs it, Kitty remains genuinely leery of Cormac. Their introduction in Kitty and The Midnight Hour was strained, at best (Cormac was hired to kill Kitty), so Kitty’s reaction is more than reasonable, but Vaughn is stingy with Cormac’s presence on the page, which is too bad. Had time been given to Kitty and Cormac, the natural conflict between a werewolf and a werewolf hunter would have bolstered the story in a way that testifying before a Senate hearing simply could not.
So much of what made Kitty and The Midnight Hour engaging and fresh is missing from Kitty Goes to Washington. Perhaps it is a sophomore stumble, perhaps Kitty’s arc is now being curved to accommodate a long series of books, or perhaps Kitty’s original appeal was sustainable for only one book.
HelenKay’s Question: When you read the first book in a new series and like it, then read the second and aren’t as impressed, how do you decide if you give the third book a try?
Wendy’s Response: Answering very specifically to this series, I’ll likely not read it. In terms of storyline and character growth, where does Kitty have left to go? What must happen to this character? What we see here with Kitty is, that as compelling and engaging a character as she was in Kitty and The Midnight Hour, without a storyline around her to match her, to keep her in conflict, she looses much of her appeal. As much as I’d like to see the Cormac storyline play out to its natural conclusion, that is the only element that would bring me back, and at this point, it doesn’t seem worth the investment.
HelenKay’s Final Thoughts: Uneven plot distracts from a strong voice and promising heroine.
Wendy’s Final Thoughts: Kitty Goes to Washington would have a difficult enough time succeeding as a stand alone title because of the lack of conflict, but coupled with what is expected after the first in this series, it disappoints.
You can visit Carrie Vaughn here and buy this book here or here.