Review of “Bitten” by Kelley Armstrong

If you, like my husband, are appalled that I am reading a werewolf series and would never consider doing so yourself, I want to stress that you are thus depriving yourself of an excellent metaphorical plot device to explore the varied ways in which people reconcile themselves to their own animalistic tendencies, and to gain insights from a comparative behavioral study that illuminates human interactions.

Elena Michaels is a 32-year-old living with her boyfriend Philip in Toronto, and is the only female werewolf in existence.

She left her werewolf pack fourteen months earlier because she wanted a “normal” life, but it’s more difficult than she imagined; at least once a week, she needs to sneak out in order to “change” and go run. When Elena was twenty she was bitten by her former boyfriend, Clay, and resents him for it. It was Clay who first her brought her to the Pack which is led by Jeremy, Clay’s stepfather. Although Elena stayed with the pack for nine years, she longed to be part of the human world:

“I didn’t choose this life and I damn well wasn’t about to give into it, surrendering every dream of my future, ordinary, mediocre dreams of a home, a family, a career, and above all, stability. None of that was possible living as a werewolf.”

But when Jeremy calls her back for an emergency threat from non-Pack werewolves (known as “mutts”), Elena has to obey. She travels to the Pack’s estate at Stonehaven in remote upstate New York, where Clay – still in love with her – tries to renew their relationship. In the course of helping Jeremy fight the growing threat from without and fending off her attraction to Clay, Elena is forced to come to terms with her own nature, and make the choice between the two radically different societies that appeal to each part of her.

Discussion: First, why did I start this series? I loved the (human) mystery series by this author about Nadia Stafford, the resort owner who works as a hit woman on the side to earn extra money. This is an author who is innovative, who incorporates strong women into her plots without sacrificing softness and sex, and who is an entertaining writer. I wanted to see more of her work.

Further, this is not just another paranormal werewolf series. Armstrong is interested in interactions among wolves, but she also employs this theme to examine the question of what it means to be human. She uses the idea of the Pack to interrogate the nature of families, and compares the love and loyalty of the Pack to the abusive families that some of the wolves experienced as humans. Because the humans spend time as animals, they are also able to learn and appreciate the full use of the senses when in both forms, and of social hierarchies and how to respect them. The fact that Elena is a strong female is analyzed in all of its aspects, from the way it turns some men on and enrages others, to the way she gets consistently underestimated, to the sense of empowerment that it gives Elena, who spent so much of her early years being victimized. This really is an intelligent book, and as for hot sex? Armstrong could have written the book on it. Wait! She did!

Rating: 4/5

Published by Viking Adult, 2001


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25 Responses to Review of “Bitten” by Kelley Armstrong

  1. Julie P. says:

    I like the idea that this book brings up some complex social issues. I always think that I wouldn’t like a book about werewolves, but then I am pleasantly surprised. I guess it just depends on the writing.

  2. Sandy says:

    I remember your reviews about the Nadia hit-woman, and I thought it sounded like a great series. But oh Jill. I just don’t know. I almost choked when I saw the cover of this one! I would only read this for you.

  3. Kay says:

    OK, I want to say that the first sentence of this review is the most erudite and complex one that I have ever seen defending paranormal book reading! I almost choked on my coffee. And, Jill, I’m sure you meant every word. LOL

    I am glad that you ended the review by mentioning hot sex. Another coffee choke. LOL

    OK, got that out. I have heard good things about this series for a long time. I used to work with a lady who loved this author’s books. I read her YA trilogy about teens that were various paranormal creatures and it was really good. It was a teen version of this world I think. Very interesting. 🙂

  4. Barbara says:

    OK, who are you and what have you done with Jill?

    Love your first sentence. Was Jim sold? I doubt it, and actually neither am I. I can’t afford to get involved with another type of book. Mount TBR would certainly topple, in which case – we’re all doomed!

  5. zibilee says:

    This is a series that my mom has read and loved, and has been trying to get me to read forever. I do have the first book, and had thought it sounded fun, but your review and your enthusiasm make me a little more eager to read it than I had been before. I know that Armstrong is really good at the steamy scenes as well. Great review on this one! I also think it’s funny that your husband gave you a hard time about reading this!

  6. Wow, I’m not usually a paranormal type of gal but the way your review introduces this, you can just call me interested. Looks great!

  7. I have to say I’ve been holding the anti-paranormal banner pretty high. I’ve become something of a snob about it and this review put me in my place a little bit. I don’t know if I’m convinced to change my ways but at least I’m thinking about it with this series.

  8. Audra says:

    I loved this book — at the time I read it, I definitely wasn’t a paranormal fan, either. But as you pointed out, the discussion of what makes a person human was interesting to me — and the hot sex was a welcome bonus! 😉

  9. I really adore this series. I’ll have to try the Nadia Stafford books — thanks!

  10. softdrink says:

    If I remember correctly, Jim may or may not have had ulterior motives for liking Madre so much, so I think it’s only fair that he sucks it up and admits that werewolf books have a place in the literary canon.

  11. Alyce says:

    I have to admit that I just don’t like anything remotely resembling werewolf books. This is not just a paranormal prejudice, I don’t even like science fiction books where the characters morph into animals. Anne McCaffrey (one of my favorite authors of all time) has a series like that (sci-fi) and I had to force myself to read them. Maybe if the werewolves were time travelers. . . 😉

  12. Margot says:

    I had to read your first sentence twice. What? Is she serious? Yes, I guess you are. I bought the idea of the part-time hit-woman/part-time Inn keeper. I put those books oh my list. I’ll give them a try because you say the author’s writing is so good. But, I’m afraid I just can’t go for this one, hot sex or not. I’m with Alyce, I don’t care for the human-to-animal thing. (Speaking of sex, did Jeremy really bring back Elena to the pack because she could help them or because she’s the only remaining female? How are they going to keep the pack going without future generations?)

    • I’m afraid I can’t answer your question about the way the pack reproduces itself without spoiling it. Alas, you will have to read the book (not to mention, the sequel) to find the answer to this and other burning questions!

  13. Staci says:

    I loved your review of this one and will certainly try to get it into my reading for this year. Sounds pretty awesome!

  14. Omg I don’t think I could love you more. Your first sentence is pure gold!!!! I suddenly feel justified for my love of werewolves. 😛

    I’m behind in my own favorite werewolf series, the Kitty books, but I’ll have to add this to the wishlist.

  15. Belle Wong says:

    “an excellent metaphorical plot device to explore the varied ways in which people reconcile themselves to their own animalistic tendencies, and to gain insights from a comparative behavioral study that illuminates human interactions.” I LOVE this! And of course, Armstrong is a brilliant storyteller, and in the hands of a superb storyteller, you can get gold from just about any human or nonhuman condition. 🙂

  16. Ceri says:

    I read this about two years ago. My dad has the whole series and I borrowed the first book from him. I really enjoyed it and can’t wait to read more of it. 😀

  17. Jenners says:

    I don’t think you need to explain or justify reading this book!!! Tell your hubby to “suck it.”

  18. stacybuckeye says:

    Huh. I am not sure you’ve completely convinced me, but I’m always open to try a new genre.

  19. Bumbles says:

    You don’t need to give us a sociology thesis to rationalize your enjoyment of this genre you know – although I did enjoy the parallels you drew!

    I was fearful you would analyze the hot sex – glad you didn’t kiss and tell ;0)

    I love it when folks dive in to a genre outside their norm – labels – be they on books or on people – are more of a hindrance than a help.

  20. I am tempted to print your review and hand it to anyone who wonders why I read urban fantasy. At least in part. I think much of what you said applies to other authors’ books as well. Patricia Briggs comes to mind.

    Anyway, I really enjoy this series and am glad you are giving it a try. If you do decide to read more, I will be curious to know what you think of her other female leads. For your readers who are turned off by werewolves, perhaps they’d be more willing to stretch their minds with one of the books featuring a witch or a ghost? The Women of the Otherworld series isn’t your typical series. Although set in the same world with some crossover, many of the books feature different characters.

  21. book reviews says:

    I have to say first off that I am very impressed with how well written and thought out your reviews are. I definitely bookmarked this site to come back to later on when I am looking for a good book to read. Now getting back to the actual review I am commenting on. Normally I am against reading books about werewolves; I am more of a vampire fan myself; but I have to say that I am very tempted to pick the first book in this series. I love good supernatural books with a great plot that also have sensualness to them.

  22. Marie Malyon says:

    I love this series, and Bitten grabbed hold of me and I haven’t been able to stop loving it. I can’t wait for Thirteen to be released, funnily enough the thirteenth book in the series. Have you check out her free online fiction? You can read my post on them here:

  23. I absolutely love Kelley Armstrong’s work and I included “Bitten” as one of the key texts in a course I taught on werewolves at Trent University. Kelley shows an amazing ability to highlight the human experience by showing us the “other”. Somehow we see our humanity in a new light when it is seen through the perspective of a former human mourning for her lost humanity. Your review is fantastic. Thank you for posting.

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