Wednesday, 17 February 2010

‘Kitty’s House of Horrors’ – Carrie Vaughn (Gollancz)

Everyone has a guilty pleasure on their bookshelf and I’m not just talking about that bar of chocolate that you’re trying to hide from your partner (which, for the record, doesn’t work)! You know what I’m talking about. You’ve spent days slogging your way through a convoluted plot with a cast of hundreds that’s spread over a thousand or so pages; you want your next read to be a book that requires no mental effort whatsoever to enjoy. This probably means that you’re also after a book that you’ve read many times in the past and that’s where the guilty pleasure book comes in. I’ll quite happily admit to having my copies of the ‘Belgariad’ series on my shelf and picking them up every now and then. What’s your guilty pleasure read?
Certain types of Urban Fantasy are also a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine; once you get over the fact that one book can be very similar to another then what you’re left with is the simple business of various supernatural creatures laying the smack down on each other. It never gets old!
I’d never read any of Carrie Vaughn’s ‘Kitty Norville’ books but Pat likes them and that was recommendation enough for me to give ‘Kitty’s House of Horrors’ a go. I got what I came for but I found the similarities to another book a little too much to get my head round...

Kitty Norville is a werewolf with her very own radio talk show, something that can come in real handy when you’re trying to promote good relations between the human and supernatural community. With this in mind, when Kitty is asked to take part in a reality show about the supernatural she is sceptical but agrees to take part.
The show is in a remote location and everything is going well up until the morning they all wake up to find that the phone is dead, the power is out and the crew that aren’t dead have vanished. Then someone starts picking off the cast one by one.
Can Kitty marshal a dysfunctional set of starving vampires, psychics and were creatures (not forgetting the sceptic who doesn’t believe any of this) or will they all be killed by whoever is hiding in the woods...?

Apart from what I’ve heard about the books I’m completely new to this series and couldn’t even tell you how many books precede this one. That’s ok though, ‘Kitty’s House of Horrors’ stands perfectly well on it’s own and, if you’re anything like me, you won’t have to read the preceding books to get the most out of it. Vaughn doesn’t give herself a lot of room to play in (the book weighs in a slightly underweight two hundred and ninety two pages) but she uses what she has to good effect. Enough background information is sprinkled over the plot to ensure that the casual reader has enough to be going on with and won’t get lost in a sea of minutiae. At the same time, it’s all delivered in such a way that it doesn’t get in the way of the actual story (although maybe a little more meat on the bones would have been nice but that’s just me). Plot is important to Carrie Vaughn and that’s what she delivers.

‘Kitty’s House of Horrors’ is a tightly written tale that doesn’t hang around in it’s mission to get from A to B as quickly as possible. While I never got the impression that Kitty was in any real danger herself (which kind of took the sting out of things) Vaughn makes up for this by making the rest of the cast fair game for what’s lurking in the woods. Vaughn’s not afraid to draw a well rounded likeable character, have them get friendly with Kitty and then kill them off in any manner of ways. Like I said, I knew Kitty was going to make it through but I was surprised by the people who didn’t. There are a couple of shocks in store.

Kitty is also an interesting character to hang out with for the course of a book. Vaughn really captures what it’s like not only to be a werewolf but also what it’s like to experience that ongoing conflict between the werewolf and human parts of a person. If that wasn’t enough for you, Kitty is an engaging character in her own right; a person who’s not afraid to have an opinion and will mix it up with the best of them. She may not want to stand in the way of a vampire but if that’s what’s needed then that’s what you’ll find her doing; this not only makes for some interesting moments but also makes Kitty a character that I wanted to find out more about. I stuck around to do just that!

The only thing that blighted my enjoyment of the book was the fact that Kitty’s character kept reminding me of Kelley Armstrong’s Elena Michaels, another reluctant werewolf trying to make the best of a bad deal. In terms of the two characters, I could let this go (to an extent) as I guess there’s only so much you can write about a strong female werewolf before she becomes similar to strong female werewolves in other books. There’s bound to be some crossover.
What did stop me fully engaging with the book was when I realised it was very similar to Armstrong’s ‘Stolen’, a novel where Elena Michaels must rally a group of supernatural beings together to combat someone hunting them through the woods. Does that sound similar to you? It did to me and those similarities stopped me getting a feel for this book as a story in it’s own right.

Despite this though, ‘Kitty’s House of Horrors’ was a very entertaining read that was well worth an evening of my time. I’d certainly give the next one a go but I’d be looking for it to follow it’s own path, we’ll see if that happens...

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten


Celine said...

That actually sounds like a fun read! But I'm interested now, out of the two books which would you recommend more, this, or Stolen?

Graeme Flory said...

It's been a long time since I've read 'Stolen' but I think I'd still go for 'Stolen' over 'House of Horrors'. Maybe it's because I read 'Stolen' first and, as a result, Kitty feels like a copy of Elena. I also seem to remember there being a lot more to the plot in 'Stolen' too. They're both good though ;o)

Reuben said...

I'd say those 75000 word classics are my guilty pleasures, stuff by Edgar Rice Burroughs or Robert E. Howard, or for pure reading pleasure that will just take me away, I'll pick up a David Gemmel book. In terms of more modern writers, and to include a little sci fi on the list too, John Scalzi's always a quick, fun read.

Darla D said...

I read Stolen a few years ago, and never once did it come into my mind as I read this one. That may be because I have read this series from the start, but I only read the first two in Armstrong's series (and after that I kind of let it slide because I never felt much of a connection with the characters). This one had more of a horror-movie feel to me, with the characters getting picked off one by one, and Stolen seemed more a prison escape/thriller to me. But you are right - there is an interesting parallel there. Glad you enjoyed it, though. :-)