Review: The 'Kitty Norville' series, by Carrie Vaughn
The paranormal romance genre has exploded since 2005. During the past three years practically every mass-market publisher has started one or more annual series with titles like Undead and Unwed; Tall, Dark & Dead; Bitten & Smitten; Love Bites; Sex and the Single Vampire; and How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire.
However, as you may guess from these titles, 90% of the paranormal romance series feature sexy vampire chicks. Others are about young witches or hunters of (handsome) demons. One of the few about werewolves and other shapeshifters is Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville series. This is also one of the earliest, going back to Vaughn’s first short story, “Dr. Kitty Solves All Your Love Problems”, in Weird Tales #324, Summer 2001 (integrated into Chapter 5 of Kitty and The Midnight Hour).
Kitty Norville starts out as a mid-twenties, blonde late-night DJ at radio station KNOB in Denver. (Vaughn lives in Boulder.) One night she starts chatting about a tabloid’s improbable stories about Bat Boy, and invites her listeners to call in if they have ever seen him. For the next few hours she gets callers who talk about vampires and werewolves; enough callers that the station manager reassigns her as a talk show hostess of a new weekly program, “The Midnight Hour”, offering frank advice to those who have problems because of their hidden vampire or werewolf lifestyles.
“Kitty and The Midnight Hour”, November 2005, paperback $7.99 (ix + 272 pages); Kindle $7.99.
“Kitty Goes to Washington”, July 2006, paperback $6.99 (x + 342 pages); Kindle $6.99.
“Kitty Takes a Holiday”, April 2007, paperback $6.99 (318 pages); Kindle $6.99.
“Kitty and the Silver Bullet”, January 2008, paperback $6.99 (approx. 352 pages); Kindle $6.99.
All by Carrie Vaughn, published by Warner Books of NYC.
What Kitty has not told anyone is that she is not just offering sympathetic psychological advice to kooky callers. She has been a werewolf for the past couple of years, so she can personally relate to their problems. Denver has both a vampire and a werewolf community that coexist in an uneasy truce, and the leaders of both are unhappy with “The Midnight Hour”. Arturo, the Master of Denver’s vampire Family, doesn’t like that vampires are calling Kitty for help instead of going to him. Carl, alpha of the local werewolf pack, takes it as rebellion against his authority that Kitty started her program without getting his permission first. Both believe in keeping as low a profile in human society as possible, and are afraid that “The Midnight Hour” will expose their existence. But it is a smash hit, radio stations across America want to syndicate it, and Kitty is the idol of KNOB. She is not about to give this up.
Six months later, a contract assassin comes to kill Kitty on the air. She talks her way out of that situation, but her identity as a genuine werewolf is exposed. This leads to conflict with a cult that claims to be able to cure lycanthropes and vampires, the Church of the Pure Faith; being drafted by the Denver Police as a consultant in a series of serial slaughters that look like a rogue werewolf’s work; and a deadly confrontation with Carl and his alpha bitch, Meg, the leaders of her own pack. As Kitty becomes more and more notorious as the only werewolf who has come out of the closet, more violent attempts on her life are made by known and unknown killers. Ironically, it seems that the only person she can really trust is Cormac, the handsome mercenary who had been hired to kill her.
Being a werewolf mostly means running with your pack and instinctually obeying lupine social order:
Holding her back felt a little like holding my breath. As soon as I thought of shifting to Wolf, the Change started, sensations coursing with my blood, waking those nerves and instincts that lay buried most of the time. Any time except full moon nights, I could hold it back. But if I wanted to shift, I just had to let that breath out, think of exhaling, and the next breath would belong to her.
My back bent, the first convulsion racking me. Think of water, let it slide, and fur sprouted in waves down my back and arms, needles piercing skin. I grunted, blocking the pain. Then claws, then teeth and bones and muscle –
What Kitty struggles to control are not the physical changes of lycanthropy but the instincts to submit to the dominance of those above her in the wolf pack’s hierarchy. By retaining her mental humanity, Kitty is able to make her own decisions when she disagrees with those above her in the pack. But this means both bloody fights in wolf form, and attempts to murder her in human form.
At the end of Kitty and The Midnight Hour, Kitty gives up her pack in Denver and becomes a rogue lone wolf, taking her program on tour to the stations around America that carry it. (One of her first callers in Kitty Goes to Washington, while broadcasting from Flagstaff, asks, “Well, I have sort of a question. Do you have any idea what kind of overlap there is between lycanthropes and the furry community?”)
In each book, Kitty meets and must decide whether handsome males and glamorous women are allies &/or romantic partners, or dangerous foes -- as she says about one in Kitty Takes a Holiday, “… I had trouble balancing both liking him and being scared of him.” Except for that, each novel is different with imaginative variations on the werewolf formula that will surprise the reader.
The Kitty Norville series is popular enough that Warner Books has been releasing them at approximately nine-month intervals. The fourth, Kitty and the Silver Bullet, due in January 2008, will be the first under Warner’s new imprint of Grand Central Publishing. Vaughn has contracts to write at least three more novels, and there have been several Kitty short stories.
Reprinted from “Renard’s Menagerie” #5, January 2008. Since these books were first published, Kindle versions have been added. The “Kitty Norville” series is currently up to ten novels (with one more announced), plus a "Greatest Hits" anthology.