Monday, August 16, 2010

Kitty Goes to War by Carrie Vaughn

Kitty Norville is a werewolf. Thanks to a disastrously bad date in college, she wound up fluffy and lupine every month. Worse for her was the fact that the Alpha of Denver, and his mate were really bad people that kept the wolves under them scared and submissive by torturing them mentally and putting the beatdown on them physically if they stepped out of line.

It got so bad that Kitty left, and her job, as the moderator of a late-night radio talk show called "The Midnight Hour" gave her an out. Once she started taking calls from other supernaturals, it became so popular that she was able to take it on the road. But it wasn't all good. Kitty was outed as a werewolf to the nation by a scientist with some serious hardons against Weres, and actually showed people that werewolves weren't savage, bloodthirsty beasts, but normal humans with a virulently contagious disease.

Since then, she got married, returned to Denver, defeated her old Alpha and his wife, and took over the pack, running it in a saner and more humane way. Her mate, Ben, is a contract lawyer who supports her completely, and is brother to Cormac, a former hunter who used to hunt Supernatural creatures. He once tried to kill Kitty, but she ended up befriending him. That, in fact, was how she met Ben. After Ben was bitten, Kitty helped him through the change, and fell in love with him.

However, on her latest show, Kitty spoke of the convenience store chain known as Speedy Mart. Strange things have been happening at or very near their locations. Kitty opens up her lines to callers and hears plenty about strange things that happened at or near Speedy-Mart stores. One caller in particular accuses the CEO of Speedy Mart, Harold Franklin of... causing storms? He's been tracking Franklin's visits to particular Speedy Marts and realizes that every time there has been some major weather event in a city- a hurricane, blizzard or whatnot, Franklin has made a recent visit to every Speedy Mart in that city.

Kitty is intrigued by the story, and wants more information, but the man cuts off and leaves at the end of the show. When Kitty tries to contact him afterwards, she discovers that he is dead. Killed by... lightning? A very strange death. But Kitty doesn't have time to ponder this for long, because she is contacted by a scientist who works with the military, Dr. Schumacher. She asks Kitty to meet with her at the local military base, because the army has a problem and needs Kitty's advice. Kitty agrees. But soon after her show on Speedy Mart, she is served. Speedy Mart is suing her for libel because of her show on them.

Kitty barely has time to wonder about that when its time to go meet with Dr. Schumacher. Schumacher introduces her to the local commander, Colonel Stafford. There, he tells her about an officer in the Iraq war who was special. He was a werewolf. And he'd been introduced to the man who once held Schumacher's position, Dr. Flemming, who had been obsessed with creating special "werewolf commando units" to fight in war for the US. This soldier was going to be recruited by Dr. Flemming, but Flemming died before they could do anything more than meet a few times. However, Captain Cameron Gordon was already a werewolf, and he apparently liked the idea of America having its own supernatural commando force, and decided to go ahead and create one on his own.

He gathered together men who were orphans or had no close family and infected them, then inducted them into his pack. None of them had close family ties, so the unit became their family as well as their pack. And it worked. They became the army's most effective unit in Iraq and Afghanistan, doing jobs others had failed at. The men worked together and fought together... until Gordon was killed by a bomb, beheaded by shrapnel- one of the few ways to kill a werewolf. With the death of Gordon, who had been the unit's sole Alpha, the unit went to pieces, almost literally. The men within started killing each other, until a new leader emerged, a man by the name of Vanderman. Now, out of the eight men of the unit, only three are left, and Vanderman is not being a good Alpha for them- he's leading by fear and intimidation.

The army, and Kitty herself, hope that she can reach out to these men and bring them back into normal society- human and werewolf. And it has just become more important than ever- because Vanderman and his two other weres have escaped from the compound, and the military needs the help of Kitty and her pack to track them down and bring them back in. Kitty wants to help the men, so she agrees and calls her pack, including her husband, Ben. She decides to lure the men herself, thinking that they will never have seen or smelled another female werewolf before and be intrigued. In addition to herself, she takes Becky, another female member of her pack and one of the strongest werewolves.

But the team Vanderman still leads are battle-hardened soldiers, while Kitty, even though she's the Alpha of her own pack, is not a soldier, nor someone used to a lot of combat. Being an Alpha, however, Kitty knows how to speak to the wolf inside Vanderman and his men. It's too bad that Vanderman isn't buying any of it. Even though Kitty and her pack capture Vanderman and his fellow soldiers, Vanderman is too busy trying to be and stay leader to really help them to adjust to life outside the army and outside Gordon's command. Having met him, Kitty knows that Vanderman is a lost cause. She might, though, be able to help the other soldiers, Sergeants Joseph Tyler and Ethan Walters.

Colonel Stafford is happy about that, but Dr. Schumacher isn't so sure. Kitty wonders why Schumacher is so negative when it comes to the chance of rehabilitation for the two soldiers, and slowly comes to realize that Schumacher doesn't believe it is possible for the men. But Kitty is determined to try. And she's nothing else if not optimistic when it comes to her ability to solve the problems of these men. But first, they must be separated from Vanderman. He's the man they look to as an Alpha, and he can drag them all down.

So as Kitty tries to draw them out, bringing real food (mostly meat) to the two men, she also has to deal with Harold Franklin, who shows up at her office to try and get her to apologize for what she said about his stores. But Kitty doesn't think she has anything to apologize for. It isn't like she directly accused him or Speedy Marts of anything- most of it was speculation from others. So she declines to apologize, and he basically tells her she'll see him in court. Or rather, his lawyers.

But Kitty has detected a strange smell about him, one she can't quite put her finger on. She sets Ben's brother Cormac, the former Supernatural hunter, to follow Franklin and discover exactly what he is doing in Denver. And Cormac discovers that Franklin is visiting each Speedy Mart in Denver, supposedly as he does in every city. But he doesn't go inside or check the books or anything- he just opens a small box located on the side or back of the store and leaves something inside. Something that looks very much like a charm. A charm to control the weather, maybe?

Kitty has time to be concerned about Cormac as well. He doesn't seem quite like himself since he got out of jail. He's been morose and preoccupied, and often seems to drift off into la-la land. And his apartment is littered with books on magic and arcane traditions, that when he is asked about, he says he is researching. But what gives with that? That isn't exactly what Cormac has ever been interested in before. And he's been burning herbs like sage. What exactly is going on with Cormac, and why does he suddenly know so much about magic?

Meanwhile, one of the Werewolves Kitty is rehabilitating, Ethan Walters, escapes after a full moon night of shifting with Kitty and her pack, and decides to go back and try to free Vanderman, equating it to leaving no buddy behind. But as a massive winter snowstorm rolls into Denver, Kitty, Ben, Tyler and her pack must recapture Walters before he can find and free Vanderman, and deal with the massive storm that seems to have been brought in by the actions of Speedy Mart CEO Harold Franklin. But can Kitty and her pack do all that and save Joseph Tyler from the resulting fallout, and let him return home to Seattle, where his mother still lives? Or will they all fall to the cold weather and massive snow blanketing the area? How can you fight a snowstorm, anyway?

I love the Kitty Norville books, and this one was no exception. Kitty has come through a lot since her early days as a frightened and cowed female werewolf whose only escape was her job in radio. Now, she still works in radio, but it's no longer really an escape for her. Not only is she married to a man she loves, who is also a werewolf, but she's the Alpha of her pack, and she tries to lead in a more cooperative fashion than her old Alpha.

Not that this has ended her problems. Even though she's defeated a demon, made friends with mages and other werewolves, and even vampires and other supernatural creatures, Kitty, because of her position as head of her pack, must deal with the stuff that threatens her home city of Denver. Because of her job and her proactive disposition in dealing with other people, Kitty is often one of the first lines of defense for supernatural threats to her city. And here, we see her step up and deal with one that she may not understand, but which she must deal with nonetheless.

I liked this book. I really liked it a lot. The narrative skillfully interwove the three threads of the threat to the city from Franklin, the threat to the city and her pack imposed by the three army werewolves, and the mystery of what is happening with Cormac that made it one hugely enjoyable story that wove out of those three major, and some minor threads. What's best about it are that all three are handled in a way in which they dovetail beautifully by the end of the story- Denver is saved, we find out what happened to Cormac- and he was instrumental in saving the city, and the single Werewolf that Kitty manages to rehabilitate helps save the city and ends up being able to find a happy ending- and all because of Kitty.

It's not as obvious if Franklin came to Denver to set the storm because of Kitty, or if he was setting out to do something bad to Denver and Kitty's profiling of his business was simply icing on the cake, providing him with an extra reason to be there. But in the end, it didn't really matter. This was a kick-ass story, and another perfect book in a kick-ass series. Highly recommended.

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