If you have Netflix, you’ve probably been prompted to watch Bitten. You might have tried it. You might have been ambivalent about it. You mighta hated it, mocked it, etc. As someone else said, it’s perhaps more of a “noflix” than anything else. I, however, easy prey that I am, watched the first two seasons and, more importantly, I’ve read the book series from author Kelley Armstrong, which began with Bitten and became the Women of the Otherworld.
Having just finished the final, thirteenth book in the series, I wanted to reflect a bit on at least one aspect of the books. (If it’s not clear by now, sometimes I compulsively read all the books in a lengthy series.) The final book in the series (straightforwardly titled, wait for it, Thirteen) included a note from the author, which I found interesting as it reflects a bit on her planning (or lack thereof) for the series.
So, in 2001, Kelley Armstrong published Bitten, a fantasy novel complete unto itself featuring a female werewolf (Elena), her wolf ex-lover responsible for turning her (Clay) and the members of her erst-while pack (the alpha Jeremy and a few others with varying levels of important roles). In some ways, it’s a relatively straight forward story. You have a reluctant female hero trying to start over away from home who is nonetheless pulled back by loyalties and threatened by enemies, etc., etc., who struggles to accept her life. My least favorite dynamic in this book is the whole “only female werewolf” aspect. I understand how it worked to provide further tension as she is further objectified by the other wolves and also struggles intensely with feelings of loneliness, isolation, and acceptance with herself. What I liked was the emphasis on how Elena struggles with violence and how she struggles with forgiveness toward others (and, again, with herself).
(Anyways, my intent here was not to review the first book, or, heaven forbid, all thirteen books. Smart Bitches, Trash Books has a review of Bitten you can check out, and which I thought was pretty accurate, though I was surprised at its “A” grade, which was a bit high in my opinion. This wasn’t my favorite series. Though, it’s definitely on my mind… so, I obviously struggling with evaluating my true feelings.)
In 2003, Armstrong published a sequel, Stolen, featuring the same cohort of werewolves. As such, it’s a fairly straightforward start to a series. After that, however, when Armstrong decided to continue the series, she felt she didn’t want to have the same wolf group fight a different “big bad” every book and, at that time, didn’t have any plans for an overarching big bad either. At this point, planning for a third book, she decided to focus on different characters. In Armstrong’s words (which can be found in her note to the reader before Thirteen): “Not only would I bring in other supernatural types, but I’d spin off to new narrators, weaving a world that widened with every book.”
Let’s think about this for a second. You’re an author and you’ve convinced at least some people to commit to your characters and follow them through two books. Then, you take the risk to shift the story pretty dramatically. Returning to Armstrong, she wrote: “Little did I realize that by the time Stolen came out, my readers would be happily settled in, wanting to follow Elena Michaels and her Pack on countless more adventures.” Yes, a character from the second book, Paige, is the one to become the next protagonist, but she really was a fairly minor (and somewhat abrasive) character. And—and—she isn’t even a werewolf! We’re talking a species-switch! Whoa. That’s right. This is kind of a significant switch for the reader! This change was, Armstrong acknowledged, an act that resulted in a “bumpy start” to a third book, but it resulted in what became her Otherworld series.
So, while books 1 and 2 feature Elena as the primary female protagonist (with Clay as main love interest), books 3 and 4 feature the witch Paige as the female protagonist (with sorcerer Lucas Cortez as her love interest). Book 5 is led by… wait for it… a deceased witch, Eve Levine, (who is also mother to the young witch Savannah who was adopted and raised by Paige)—with, of course, a male romantic interest, as well. So, we’ve had three consecutive books focused largely on the witch community, though never ignoring the wolves entirely.
Then, book 6 features the return of Elena as the narrator! By this point, I was entirely committed to the alternating, and unexpected, stories. I was on board to return to the wolves as they had a new, and legitimate storyline. You know? We kept up with them, seeing them briefly or not-so-briefly through books 3, 4, and 5—but it felt natural to return to them, because, duh, it seems plausible (yes, plausible… fantasy can be plausible) that they would have new problems and adventures. I found it interesting to note that it is at this point in the series, almost half way through the series, that, according to Armstrong, she could see where she wanted the series to go, and, most critically, end. When you think about fantasy authors who map out epic series before writing the first book, well, this series is not that. It definitely starts as an episodic series, not a plotted epic.
So, perhaps the series will be focusing on witches and wolves! Makes sense. They’ve started to work together on a sort of magical council, and they’re friends, though they live in different states. But, cool. Hold up! Not so fast, dear reader. Book 7 stars a necromancer (Jaime Vegas) front and center (again, featuring our former female protagonists Eve, Paige, and Elena in varying degrees that seemed to make sense to this universe).
By Book 8, we start having more than one narrator, though this one is led by the half-demon Hope Adams; the same holds true for book 9 with Hope rounding out three other narrators. Book 10 returns to Elena (and Clay) again for a story focused on them (though not entirely). Books 11 and 12 are narrated by Savannah Levine, a young witch (who first appeared in the second book as a twelve-year-old). Finally, the last book is again mostly narrated by Savannah, though with the other women each taking a chapter to narrate, as well. Here, according to Armstrong, she made the conscious decision to forego returning to Elena (which might make sense given that she began the series), and instead felt that it was the witch Savannah, who began the series at age twelve, who grew up with, and in, the series, and who, at age 20 or so, could end the series, though it’s really beginning her journey as a “true woman” (slight cringe) of the Otherworld. (Although, she did throw us a bone and finish with an epilogue devoted to Elena.) I liked it.
Whew! I wonder if everyone stopped reading that recitation… it’s a bit staid to simply list that many books, I understand, and, yet, I find it so interesting because I’ve read so many lengthy series and most stick with one narrator/protagonist, or, there are the series that are only loosely affiliated. You know, the “related” genre romances that you can read in order (I do) but you also don’t have to. Or, the other way this often occurs, is that you have a series featuring one main character (or a couple) and they are well-established, and, then, all of a sudden, there’s a break off and related series. I’m thinking here of, for instance, Jeaniene Frost’s “Night Huntress” Series, which was firmly established with four books focusing on the main couple before she published the first in her “Night Huntress World” Series, and then proceeded to jump back and forth, returning to her Night Huntress couple (Cat and Bones), but also developing the other characters and couples, so the reading order became a bit mixed.
Or, perhaps a better comparison would be Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling Series. This is also an ensemble series, with varying degrees of cross-over from former main characters. Again, the series becomes more and more entangled as there are increasingly more characters that the reader knows intimately. I’ve read the first 11 books she’s published in that series (I think she’s at 14?),and each book focuses largely on one couple (they’re paranormal romances, folks, there’s always going to be a couple), though many have a secondary, or even a tertiary, couple that will play important roles and develop their relationship further, as well. In comparison to Frost, which felt more like one epic having run its course, and thus expanding to flesh out and follow other characters, Armstrong definitely kept readers guessing for the first few books, and then set the stage for a series that would, eventually, come to a close. Singh has also set up an overarching and chaotic world that moves closer and closer to something big, but she also has an ever-expanding cast of characters with whom to play. Armstrong’s cast expanded to a particular (and still somewhat small and insular) range and then no further. The “Women of the Otherworld” became more and more cohesive as an ensemble series. Our main women have multiple commitments and relationships to one another (mother/daughter, caregiver/adopted, colleagues, friends, supernat’ lover to a packmate, spirit guide and necromancer, etc.) and convincing, intersecting story lines.
The main thing I wanted to say, then, is kudos to Armstrong for being bold enough to fuck with her readers like that and take the risk to develop various character, leave them, and return to them, whenever she pleased.
We fantasy readers are a rabid lot; switch narrators after two books and we might just cut a mofo. Switch narrators again after two more books, and sleep with one eye open. But, she pulled it off with aplomb, in my opinion.
Finally, a few thoughts on the series. I actually don’t like putting negative reviews out into the ether, but it’s not the best show. And, yet, I watched it, so, I’m not the best either, you know? In fact, I suck just about as much, or more, than the show! I also have a soft spot for Canadian shows (hello, Lost Girl and Rookie Blue).
Christina critiqued the actress for being a bit wooden (or was it dead behind the eyes?), which is fair. My only defense would be that, delving deeper, Laura Vandervoort’s Elena is pretending to be human at the start and she’s unhappy throughout much of the first season. Thus, because her character is forced to repress her true self, it would make a certain amount of sense if she appeared somewhat stiff around those she purports to love and around those who she doesn’t want to love. But, maybe that’s giving her too much credit? Idk.
Ah, yes, we have the classic “woe is me” hero’s lament. Everybody just wants to be normal! And normals just want to be special!
(You guys, lupine and canine jokes are real. You either love them or loathe them. I must confess that I am susceptible to their questionable charm.)
Then we have Clay. Not an easy character to get a handle on, in the books or in the show. (To like him, you have to be okay with his use of darling each episode.)
Anyways. I liked Elena more and more the second season. Plus, she does one of those great emotional hair cuts where she simply starts hacking off her long tresses on screen and, poof! #flawless lob!
Let’s just say this: I would not watch the first season unless you love relatively light-hearted fantasy dramas, and/or you’re sick and/or have watched everything else and/or have already read the book. In fact, if you’ve read the book, it’s a nice background somewhat entertaining show. I thought the second season was better, as mentioned. And, to be honest, I’m going to watch the third season when it ends up on Netflix eventually. What can I say? Sub-zero standards, my friends.