The women of the Otherworld return in the second book of the series that began with Bitten. It’s time to steal a look at Stolen, by Kelley Armstrong.
It was in Bitten, Kelley Armstrong’s debut novel, that thirty-year-old Elena Michaels came to terms with her feral appetites and claimed the proud identity of a beautiful, successful woman and the only living female werewolf.
In Stolen, on a mission for her own elite pack, she is lured into the net of ruthless Internet billionaire Tyrone Winsloe, who has funded a bogus scientific investigation of the “other races” and their supernatural powers. Kidnapped and studied in his underground lab deep in the Maine woods, these paranormals – witches, vampires, shamans, werewolves – are then released and hunted to the death in a real-world video game. But when Winsloe captures Elena, he finally meets his match.
Stolen is, in my opinion, an improvement over Bitten. This is not to say that everything about it is perfect. For instance, there’s the presentation of the villain, Ty Winsloe. The moment he started describing his “Most Dangerous Game”-style hunting field as a real-life video game, my eyes started rolling. Are we really indulging in the cliche of the geeky gamer who conflates his violent video games with reality? For the record, I myself was once an avid player of Mario Kart, and yet I never developed the urge to fling turtle shells at people in real life.
The first major improvement it makes is to expand the world of the supernatural. In Bitten, there was no indication that anything supernatural other than werewolves existed. That’s common enough; while there are of course some literary universes where all sorts of creatures from folklore hobnob with one another, there are also plenty of books which are content to just be werewolf stories without feeling the need to include the existence of yetis, rakshasa, and whatnot. For a long ongoing series, however, I feel that a broader supernatural bestiary is preferable, as it opens up many more story possibilities. Allow me to once again compare Women of the Otherworld to Rachel Vincent’s Shifters series, which I feel makes a very useful contrast. Just as Bitten is about pack werewolves fighting rogue werewolves, Stray, first book of the Shifters series, is about pack werecats fighting rogue werecats. But the second book of the Shifters series is then also about pack werecats fighting rogue werecats. And the third book of the series? Once again, pack werecats fighting rogue werecats. What started as an interesting premise started getting old real fast once the same basic conflict was recycled for the third time. By introducing shamans, witches, vampires, sorcerers, half-demons, and so forth, Women of the Otherworld opens up a whole world of new possibilities to prevent its future installments from falling into a stale and repetitive rut.
The second improvement I feel Stolen made over Bitten is that there’s less moral dissonance. Yes, the werewolves kill humans. But unlike the first book, where Elena spoke with casual disinterest of Clay eating human children for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the kills in Stolen are all against members of an evil paramilitary organization which is abducting and murdering people – justifiable self-defense, in other words. It’s also portrays Cassandra, a vampire who necessarily kills humans to fulfill her dietary needs, as much more morally grey than the werewolves, who do not need to and attempt to avoid eating humans. It’s still not perfect – Elena’s horror and disgust at Bauer eating someone after becoming a werewolf comes off as a bit hypocritical considering that we know she did the same herself when she was newly infected. Winsloe even tries to call her on it – probably the only time in the novel he has anything even remotely approaching a valid point – only for her to dodge the question.
Winsloe: “You ever do stuff like that?”
Elena: “I’m a Pack werewolf.”
– Stolen, Chapter 33, “Rampage”
In case you’ve forgotten:
“Unable to reason, barely able to think, I was driven entirely by the needs of my stomach. The rabbits and raccoons weren’t enough. I killed people.”
– Bitten, Chapter 4, “Meet”
Still, even if it’s not perfect, an improvement is still an improvement; and Stolen represents a definite move in the right direction for the Women of the Otherworld series – and considering I already liked the first book despite its flaws, the result is a pretty enjoyable read.
Final Rating: 4/5