Spoiler alert! This review reveals significant plot details.
I don’t like werewolves as much as I like vampires. (And I don’t like vampires all that much.) This is some kind of fictional monster prejudice of mine, and I’m a little ashamed of it and would welcome a twelve-step program to help me overcome it. For now, though, I prefer my monsters with a veneer of civility. And while a reviewer I know once made a good point about the problematic nature of having sex with vampires, the whole transforming-into-a-dog and then having sex thing is not much better. Despite these reservations, however, I tried to keep an open mind while reading this book.
Kitty and the Midnight Hour has a lot going for it. Squeezing in at a slim 259 pages, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. The pacing is tight, if somewhat linear, but it still allows the room necessary for Kitty to develop as a character. And to her credit, Carrie Vaughn doesn’t hit the reader over the head with the fact Kitty is a werewolf. She defers the origin story until the middle of the book, which keeps the exposition at the beginning light and allows us to get a sense of who Kitty is now. In fact, if one picked up this book and didn’t read the back cover, one wouldn’t even learn Kitty is a werewolf until page 8 or so. I have to commend Vaughn for not bludgeoning us to death with exposition in an eager attempt to showcase her wonderful urban fantasy world.
I also enjoyed the romance subplot—or lack thereof. Cormac is the dark and brooding antihero who waltzes into the book and could, if Vaughn so chose, become the dashing love interest of Kitty. Things could get hot and heavy fast. As it is, they share a kiss but go no further—not out of chastity so much as the fact that Kitty’s pretty shaken up from being attacked by another member of her pack. But that seems pretty realistic, because so often situations that could result in romance (or at least sex) get interrupted by more immediate and mundane concerns, like staunching the flow of blood from a wound. Such is life.
Vaughn lampshades Kitty and Cormac’s potential relationship on Kitty’s radio show, and if that kiss is any foreshadowing, then I suppose they develop it further in later books. That’s fine, though, because Vaughn is taking it gradually. Girl doesn’t just meet boy and fall automatically into his arms because that’s expected paranomal fantasy. And that made this book a lot more tolerable, especially when it came to Kitty’s other relationships.
Kitty’s situation in her werewolf pack is—and she admits this—abusive from the human perspective. As a junior member of her pack, she must defer to everyone and submit to the men who want her, unless she wants to fight about it, which is dangerous. In return for this submission (“loyalty”), the pack protects Kitty from external threats, such as the local vampire Family. It’s a twisted situation and very uncomfortable for the loss of agency it means for Kitty. As her radio show takes off and she uses it to explore her own feelings about being a monster, Kitty becomes more independent and strong-willed.
We are supposed to cheer her on in this, to recognize that she is breaking away from her abusive situation and celebrate this. And I do, because werewolves or not, it seems like what Vaughn is describing is, again, realistic. People in abusive situations often recognize the situation for what it is but still don’t (or can’t) take steps to leave. But Kitty’s situation is complicated by pack politics, by the fact that the alpha female has set up elaborate plots to get Kitty killed. It leaves the uncomfortable question lingering of what’s “acceptable” in a sane and stable pack—if your leaders aren’t trying to kill you, is it OK they still demand sex from you? I don’t know. This is where the whole humans turning into canines starts to freak me out.
So I’m glad that, in addition to the internal pack struggle, there are some external threats as well! Kitty’s radio show brings her into conflict with the local vampire Master, and she also learns about a faith healer who claims to be able to cure monster conditions. The nature of monstrosity—whether it’s a condition explainable by science and medicine or something wholly supernatural—is a motif that underlies Kitty and the Midnight Hour, and Vaughn mounts a very interesting investigation. I wish Vaughn had been more explicit about the status of the public’s belief in the existence of monsters in this world. At the beginning, it seems like everything is status quo: monsters aren’t real. But if that’s the case and Kitty’s revelation of being a werewolf changes everything, the amount of media fallout seems pretty tame. This should be a bigger deal than it seems, and that left me a little confused.
The end of the book is more of a cliffhanger than a resolution, for while it closes one chapter of Kitty’s life it still leaves many questions unanswered. It almost demands one read the sequel. This doesn’t bother me, because Vaughn carefully balances the need for resolution with her cliffhangers to set up the next book. The result isn’t perfect, namely when it comes to the loose ends about the state of Kitty’s world. Nevertheless, Kitty and the Midnight Hour is good. I won’t be shouting about it from the rooftops or rushing out to buy every book in the series, but I’ll read more if it.