TRIGGER WARNING: The following review contains discussion of rape/sexual assault and child molestation, please don’t read if those topics upset you or make you feel uncomfortable.
About The Author:
Kelley Armstrong has been telling stories since before she could write. Her earliest written efforts were disastrous. If asked for a story about girls and dolls, hers would invariably feature undead girls and evil dolls, much to her teachers’ dismay. All efforts to make her produce “normal” stories failed.
Today, she continues to spin tales of ghosts and demons and werewolves, while safely locked away in her basement writing dungeon. She’s the author of the NYT-bestselling “Women of the Otherworld” paranormal suspense series and “Darkest Powers” young adult urban fantasy trilogy, as well as the Nadia Stafford crime series. Armstrong lives in southwestern Ontario with her husband, kids and far too many pets.
About The Book:
“I’ve been fighting it all night.
I’m going to lose …Nature wins out.
It always does.”
Elena Michaels didn’t know that her lover Clay was a werewolf until he bit her, changing her life for ever. Betrayed and furious, she cannot accept her transformation, and wants nothing to do with her Pack – a charismatic group of fellow werewolves who say they want to help.
When a series of brutal murders threatens the Pack, Elena is forced to make an impossible choice. Abandon the only people who truly understand her new nature, or help them to save the lover who ruined her life, and who still wants her back at any cost.
Before I get into the review, I would like to post up a few links first:
Laci Green – Consent 101
Queer Without Gender – The Thing We Don’t Talk About: Sex
How Male Sexual Entitlement Hurts Everyone by Jarune Uwujaren
Please go check those out before you read this review
Problems I had with The Narrative Structure and/or Plot:
~Romantic Plot Tumor: The blurb presents the book as an interesting urban fantasy novel about werewolves with a possible romance side-plot, instead it is a shitty romance novel with a small badly written werewolf side-plot. The relationship isn’t even interesting, they spend the majority of their time yelling/snarking at each other, followed by badly written angry-sex, I have no idea what they see in each other and if a Writer is going to devote the vast majority of the book to establishing this relationship, then the MC’s romantic sub-plot needs to be compelling.
Also, Adultery, one of my major pet-hates in a narrative, Elena was clearly not as interested in the human boyfriend (she kept having to be reminded to call him for fuck sake). If she really loved the human boyfriend she had, she would never have cheated on him (not once but multiple times) with Clayton. Narrative-wise, I have no idea why the human boyfriend was even there, for all the romantic interaction the two of them had, the human boyfriend could have been replaced with a close female work colleague/room-mate (and it would have made more sense). Stupid Pointless Love Triangles are not entertaining for me, especially when the MC whines continuously about how hard she has it, which she doesn’t.
~Status Quo is God: The characters don’t change or grow in anyway, Elena returns to her toxic and abusive “family” environment, breaks up with her human boyfriend and re-establishes her previously abusive romantic attachment to Clayton, The Pack don’t change or learn anything from this experience. Also Kelley Armstrong isn’t contributing anything new or interesting to the Urban Fantasy genre or the Werewolf Mythos, if anything I would consider Bitten a detraction. There were no emotional stakes involved nor did this novel defy any stereotypical expectations of a Hetro-normative Romance Novel.
~Badly Written sex-scenes: The first sex scene was so bad, I honestly thought the main character Elena was being raped, I do not tolerate rape in my romance novel, and when I read this scene I had to put down my Kobo (all the while trying not to vomit) and leave it for a few days. My problem wasn’t that she had experienced rape, my problem was that I couldn’t tell if was meant to be taken as rape, I kept asking my self “Rape or Bad Sex Scene? And if it is a Bad Sex-Scene, do I want to keep reading?”.
I should not have ask myself if that was rape or consensual sex, the Author is not supposed to leave any doubt, I should fucking know. And yeah, it was a bad sex scene, Elena and Clayton pretty much treated it like a drunken hook-up with an ex-partner, which is understandable (if not morally problematic), but as I said I should not have to think about it. It doesn’t help that before the reader even meets Clayton, Elena has built up in the reader’s mind that he’s a sociopath, that he can’t be trusted, that he is abusive and with that kind of build up, what was I supposed to think?
~Designated Villains: The Bad guys consist of a Pedophile (turned werewolf), a misogynistic serial killer (turned werewolf), a born-werewolf misogynistic creep that kills human women for shits and giggles (his motives were never really clear), and a Jewelry Thief. The Jewelry thief character is pretty much the saving grace of this novel, as far as I’m concerned he’s the only compelling/interesting character with believable motives. He is presented to the reader as a pragmatic wild-card with intelligence, yet in the last scene, he throws away his gun (which was completely out of character) and attacks his opponent (misogynistic serial killer) with his hands. Why? So Elena would have one final confrontation with MSK and win, thus proving she wasn’t a helpless female after all. Also if you have to make your villains pedophiles and serial killers in order to make your MC’s look better in comparison or more sympathetic, then your MC’s have shitty personalities.
~Unfortunate Implications: There are a lot of ethical problems with Bitten such as Internalized Categorism and Fantastic Racism. In fact, I would argue that Elena displays more internalized sexism and more misogynistic attitudes against women than Bella (Twilight) and Katniss (The Hunger Games). Elena went to college, she experienced at least some of the world, she knows what an abusive relationship looks like, yet despite knowing better, Elena returns to the previous abusive situation. What’s is really disturbing is how popular this book is and while on TV Tropes there are links dedicated to misogynistic and problematic examples in Twilight and The Hunger Games (see above), there are no such mentions on the Women of The Otherworld TV Tropes page
Problems I had With Characters:
~Elena: There’s a long list of Female Protagonist Problems:
-Female Misogynist: I feel that the author mentioning the fact that she was molested as a child was less about creating genuine conflict that had relevancy to the plot and characters, more about establishing how and why Elena hates women so much (her foster mother’s often ignored the fact she was being molested and didn’t do anything about the sexual abuse she experienced, thus all women are weak and inferior, especially in comparison to her all-male wolf pack).
-Unreliable Narrator: As a reader, I pretty much couldn’t trust anything that Elena said, internally or externally. For example, the reason she thinks her relationship with her human boyfriend was never going to work out was because he was too much like her father figure Jeremy (because pursing a relationship with a man who isn’t abusive and makes you feel safe is awful and just should not be considered), and while that may be one slice of the problems, it’s by no means the whole pie. The reason why the relationship with the human boyfriend was never going to work out was mostly because Elena pretended to be someone she wasn’t, then began to resent to guy because he didn’t see through Elena’s bull-shit. The other reason is that if The Pack had found out that Elena had told her human boyfriend about werewolves, The Pack would have hunted him down and killed him, which means in order to continue the relationship, Elena was always going to have to keep lying and continuing to keep secretes from him. Then there’s the “epiphany” she has at the end of the book about how she was never a passive damsel, she was always a “strong independent woman”, the werewolf condition simply brought it to the surface, which I translated into “I was always a bitch, the difference is now that I have super-powers and money, I can lash out whenever I feel like it.”
-Center of Romantic/Sexual Attention, Acts Completely Oblivious: Elena has almost every male in the book panting after her (with the exception of two or three, mostly because their father figures) and yet Elena describes herself like this,
“Skimpy tops, stiletto heels, and barely there bottoms made me look like a coltish fourteen-year-old playing dress up. Nature didn’t bless me with curves and my lifestyle didn’t let me develop extra padding. I was too tall, too thin, and too athletic to be any guy’s idea of centerfold fodder.”
And yet, she is described as physically beautiful by other male characters (and through a painting), I cannot understand the appeal, she’s a terrible person. In her defense, Elena at least possesses enough self-awareness to establish the fact that the Villain only wants her because he perceives Clayton as possessing her.
-Faux Action Girl: Just because a character is Athletic or likes to go to the Gym is not enough of a qualifier to be considered an active character. Elena might be physically active in the story but she is a passive character, she has no agency through out the novel (from vital decisions that affect her life in the pack, to the decoration of her bedroom, to access to clothing) and she doesn’t contribute anything unique or vitally important to the narrative, everything Elena did for the pack could have been done by someone else.
-Special Snowflake Syndrome: I find it very difficult to believe that Elena is the only female werewolf in existence. If it can happen once, it can happen again.
-I Just Want To Be Normal: To Wangst level proportions
-Werewolf Condition as a metaphor for Rape: Kelley Armstrong uses the Werewolf condition as a metaphor for Rape, it’s not something I agree with, but I can understand it. Elena’s parents were killed in a car accident when she was six, she was adopted by various foster parents and was molested by her various foster fathers. Elena eventually grows up, becomes physically stronger than her abusers and goes to college.
While at college, she meets Clayton, Clayton lies to her, turns her into a werewolf against her will and Elena states repeatedly that she felt violated for being forced into becoming werewolf against her will (and Elena has every right to feel that way). However, an author can’t use the werewolf condition as a metaphor for rape and then have Elena get back to together with her rapist at the end of the novel, it just doesn’t work and it’s a fucking horrible message.
Honestly, I could go on about all the Unfortunate Implications of Clayton (as a character) and The Pack. I could write an essay about it (one could argue I already have) and give presentations about this book, such as “Internalized Misogyny 101” lectures or “How Not To Write an Urban Fantasy Romance Novel” lectures. However a part of me strongly feels as though I have dedicated far too much of my time to this book, this book that people have the nerve to declare “Feminist” or “Progressive”
This is “Better The Devil You Know” Anti-feminism, this is “an abusive but honest” policy with regard to romantic and family relationships, but this is NOT Feminist, This is NOT Progressive, this is Misogyny in a Mini-skirt, which makes it all the more dangerous.