Really, what did I expect from the ninth book in a paranormal fantasy series about a werewolf deejay?
Unlike many other authors in the genre, Carrie Vaughn has never tried to structure her Kitty Norville novels as mysteries. Even the requisite love triangle was resolved early on. Kitty and her submissive packmate Ben have been together since book three, and he still follows her around the country to give her hugs when she gets into trouble. From the beginning, the series has always been a meandering contemporary fantasy, with Kitty exploring the hidden supernatural communities in her hometown of Denver and other cities ostensibly more interesting.
In the beginning, Vaughn’s approach was refreshing. Yes, Kitty’s radio call-in show, sort of a Loveline for the supernatural set, has always been grating. It’s obvious in these segments that rather than allow her characters to have conversations with each other, Vaughn tends to transcribe her own internal monologues and divvy them up among whoever’s in the room. Like other stories in the genre, it also suffers from creature creep. Everywhere she visits, Kitty is surprised to encounter a new type of monster, and her reaction is invariably, “I never thought that if werewolves were real, why not wereseals, too?” And of course there’s a centuries long “Long Game” of political chess played by vampires, who are always quick to remind you that if you think you know what they’re up to, you’ve been watching too many movies*.
But all that’s par for the course. What set Kitty’s adventures apart were the diverse locations and how they tied into the original plot arc, which involved Kitty coming to terms with a rape that literally took away her humanity. Despite the books’ light tone, they didn’t shy away the process of how Kitty went from being a victim to building her own safe haven. With that resolved, Vaughn settled into a pattern of publishing a book or two a year, each with a different high-concept premise.
These later books have been less interesting, but there’s always hope that after spending one outing as a participant in a reality show with an all supernatural cast, Vaughn might come up with something more fun next, like the time Kitty went up against sex-obsessed weretigers who were part of a Las Vegas stage show.
Unfortunately, rather than being a self-contained adventure set in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Kitty’s Big Trouble focuses on the Long Game. Vampires being what they are in these types of books–know-it-all jerks– this ongoing battle remains conveniently undefined, without stakes, rules, or history. The obfuscation, if not outright lack of imagination, continues in this novel. Kitty and her friends wander a maze of tunnels beneath Chinatown in search of, um, a magic pearl. Along the way, they meet Chinese gods and the bland vampires of the San Francisco Family. The head of the latter faction is so stereotypically recalcitrant that he won’t even give up his name, leading to awkward narrative passages where he’s referred to only as “Boss”**.
Kitty’s Big Trouble isn’t so much marking time in a larger metaplot than a reward for fans who hunger for more vampire backstory. Since the vampires in the series have always been more ill-defined than mysterious, there’s no satisfaction in learning what little Vaughn has made up in an attempt to finally give them depth. The only hope is that the tease at the end, which promises Kitty will be heading to London next, will take her someplace supernaturally more interesting than Chinatown. Which, three Gods and a vampire family aside, is a surprisingly bland place for a werewolf to visit.
* Curiously, no one ever says, “You’ve been watching too much Vampire Diaries.”
** “Hey, what’s up, Boss?”
Boss casually tilted the glass of red wine he did not… drink.
“Just chilling,” Boss said.
–This conversation is paraphrased and may not have actually taken place in Kitty’s Big Trouble