Review: Kitty and the Midnight Hour, by Carrie Vaughn

Kitty and the Midnight Hour, published in 2005, has all the hallmarks of its time: cover (tough girl pose, tramp stamp, ready-for-action braid, black leather), setting (a city, but not New York or LA), protagonist (middle class young white heterosexual female), plot (human woman faces tragedy and encounters supernatural beings), to subplot (romance with a mysterious guy who may be bad for her). It seems to be a very popular series, if the number of Goodreads reviews is any indication. This summer the tenth installment will be published.

Kitty is a Denver DJ who happens to be a werewolf. She was turned against her will not long ago, and is not fully reconciled to her fate. Kitty’s radio show, “The Midnight Hour”, accidentally becomes a talk show with a focus on werewolves and vampires after she takes a few strange calls on air. While her boss at the station loves the higher ratings, Carl, the alpha of Kitty’s pack, is unhappy with the attention Kitty is bringing to their community. Also displeased is the head of the local vampire clan. The existence of werewolves and vampires (who have worked out a détente) is an emerging secret (the NIH has even written a report on them) and Kitty’s show pushes Denver over the edge and into awareness.

Specially interested is a local police detective who is trying to solve a string of grisly murders that may be werewolf related. Kitty ends up helping her, which further antagonizes her alpha and the vampire leader, the latter of whom hires a bounty hunter to kill her on air. This scene, in which the assassin calls in to Kitty’s show as he enters the building and tells her exactly what he plans to do, was the best in the book: suspenseful and funny.

Kitty’s trying to find her place in the human world (improve her economic and employment situation) and the pack (move up from being on the bottom), and the book is strongest when focused on her journey. I’ve read a number of UF series with werewolves and I thought Vaughn did the best job I’ve read of portraying what it feels like to be a human in a wolf’s body and a wolf in a human’s body. Many readers put the book down in the early scenes because Kitty is so subservient to Carl (including sexually), which is a mistake in my opinion, because the point of the book is Kitty’s journey to higher status in both the human and werewolf worlds.

I did have some problems with the book, which I’ll list here:

(1) The gay best friend whose purpose in life is to serve Kitty and has no identity outside of Kitty’s needs.

(2) The only other female character who gets any development is a jealous scheming bitch who manipulates men and hates Kitty.

(3) Kitty is TSTL on at least two occasions. Sometimes I think the “Female Protagonist Meter” has two settings: (1) PASSIVE and (10) RASH.

(4) The subplot of a mysterious preacher who recruits vampires and is said to have supernatural powers is underdeveloped. Worse, it is highly derivative of the Fellowship of the Sun subplot in Charlaine Harris’s Living Dead in Dallas, published three years prior (fun fact: Harris blurbed it).

(5) Kitty is working on dealing with her werewolf life, true, but she doesn’t seem to have a trauma to overcome. Yet, in a brutal series of events, narrated dispassionately by Kitty, she was raped and later turned into a werewolf (a second invasion of her bodily integrity). Is sexual assault just so par for the course in UF that it doesn’t have any effect on characters who experience it?

(6) Kitty’s love interest has a mustache.*

*Ok, this is not technically a problem with the book, but it affected my enjoyment of it. Perhaps she’ll get him a razor in book 2.

I enjoyed reading Kitty and the Midnight Hour, although I felt nothing new here to anyone who has read Charlaine Harris, Patricia Briggs, Kelly Armstrong, and any number of other UF series with werewolves.  In sum, despite some problems, which emerged with greater clarity as I was writing this review, this book worked for me as a quick enjoyable read: I liked the author’s voice, the main character, and the portrayal of lycanthropy. I plan to read more in the series.

You can read an excerpt here.

8 responses

  1. Nothing puts me off a book so much as a character who is TSTL and it really was a barrier to me enjoying this. her decisions! They make no sense!

    And I do loathe the habit of giving Urban Fantasy protagonists tragic, awful, painful pasts – but them carrying nothing from that. They’ve faced horrible circumstances, even rape, and it has no ripples in their lives. They could be describing going shopping and the bad splitting spilling their groceries – that’s the tone used.

    Her wolf in human body though is really well done – and contines throughout the series

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  2. I like the premise of the book and you gave a very thoughtful review. There’s a lot of books out there with the personality flaws that don’t always make sense (I’m in the middle of a series right now and the main character bothers me sometimes). But I’d still read this–it’s sounds interesting!

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  3. Excellent take on it – that’s pretty much why I got out of (or else never really got into) Urban Fantasy. All those wise-cracking ladies all seem to run together. Plus I’m not really a fan of series that have no determined end point. I don’t want to see my characters suffer for 18 books! Just three books and a solid conclusion would be fine, thank you!

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  4. I’m glad you picked up the series. A lot of the flaws that you mention get further developed/addressed a little later down the road. This was Vaughn’s first major publication, and that definitely shows at points.

    It is interesting that you pointed out the similarity between the traveling preacher and Harris’s Fellowship of the Sun. I’m wondering now if this might be read as some sort of a trope of the genre, because Laurell K. Hamilton ALSO has a subplot involving a church organization built around/because of the supernatural. Hers is run by a vamp promising, and delivering, eternal life. Though the details of the premise are different, this one also functions as a weird conservative social element in the Anita Blake novels.

    (Though, frankly, in Vaughn’s case, this particular subplot does not get resolved satisfactorily for me, and never really feels like it is an integral part of the series. Fortunately it is only in the first few books.)

    That said, this is three series that I’m aware of that are utilizing this supernatural church motif. How often does it have to happen before it is a relevant pattern?

    I’ve consistently found that UF novels tend to be slow to get off the ground in some ways. Most of the “first” novels in UF series have some pretty glaring problems, and that is unfortunate because the story arcs span multiple books, so starting in the middle of a series when the action is picking up and the characters have been developing for 5 books is feasible, but not advisable. This fact makes reading them a little rough because it is difficult to commit to reading 3-4 novels before making a decision about whether or not they are for you. 😦

    On the female character development thing, the Kitty series deals with this pretty well after this book (for UF, so much of UF is female characters negotiating masculine spaces which doesn’t excuse the lack of f-f interaction, but might be part of the reason). You’ll meet Alette in the next novel, and I would really like to hear your thoughts on her.

    The Anita Blake novels are awful about f-f interaction, something that Hamilton is trying to rectify because of the feedback she’s gotten from her fanbase. Her efforts were a little ham-fisted in Hit List, I have higher hopes for Kiss the Dead coming out next month.

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  5. I enjoyed this series quite a bit when I read it though I am now about three books behind it would seem. I liked this book, but enjoyed the series more as it progressed. I should say I haven’t read much UF just the occasional book that crosses my path, or in this case, the publisher had sent me the series to date at the time which made it easy to read.

    I’m embarrassed to say I already forget a lot of the plot and details, though, lol. Oh well.

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  6. I keep thinking I might check check this series out, but sometimes when I read a book description and feel like I’ve already read three versions of the same story it makes me hesitant although I usually wind up caving in and trying things out (otherwise I would not have read all those vampire series.)
    I wonder if it can possibly measure up to Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files” or Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels books. Both those series started with a less than spectacular opening book and from there on started getting better and better with each sequel. (That must be a UF thing!)
    Right now I’m gobbling up Darynda Jones’s Charley Davidson books which are remarkably funny and entertaining, but have the disadvantage of being only 3 books in with book 4 not due out till October. I much prefer “discovering” these series when they are several books in. 🙂

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  7. This one has been sitting on my shelves for years now; I’ve made a couple of feeble attempts and can see reflections of my (admittedly, limited) experience in your response. But I’m pleased to see, in the comments, that this isn’t necessarily true for the rest of the series. I know there are other series that are slow to start, too, so if that’s the case with this one, I’m more interested in settling in and giving it a go. Maybe for summer reading when it’s almost too hot to think anyway!

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  8. interesting review! I’ve put off reading this one for the same reason a previous poster mentioned – it feels by the description that I’ve read it already. I guess it was more original when it was published, and it’s unfair of me to deem it cliche based on what came after the book. Still, I can do without the obligatory rape-for-character-sympathy trope. I think tragic pasts are fine, especially in the UF genre but I wish it wasn’t so standard to make it rape. I think Seanan McGuire’s Toby Daye series and Nicole Peeler’s Jane True series are good examples of using tragic backstories well to create sympathy and explain a character’s personality, while being entirely original.

    That being said, I’ll probably pick this one up at some point since I like series that I can glom onto without having to wait for a new release.

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