I reread this book because it’s one of my favorites, but I didn’t question whether or not I’d enjoy it. I knew I would, and I did, and I’ll probably reread it again soon, even though I’ll remember what happens.
This was the book that hooked me on the paranormal romance, and rocked my world when I read it. I had no idea romance could be like this, that heroines could be angry and violent, that exploring the rage-filled and violent side of humans could be so fascinating. I think it’s because of this book that I have such a love for werewolf romance fiction.
If you’re not familiar with this book, go read it now. I’ll give the briefest plot synopsis possible. Elena Michaels is living in Toronto, desperate to have a normal life. She can’t. She’s a werewolf.
The story opens with Elena trying to find a safe place to shift. Because she’s put it off for so long, she can’t stop herself. When she’s called back to her Pack in upstate New York, she tries to resist going, but she can’t avoid that, either. Irritated that she’s being commanded by so many forces in her life, she leaves her boyfriend and their apartment under some really flimsy excuses, and heads south.
When she returns to the Pack, there are major problems she has to face, not the least of which is Clay. It would be too mild to say he has it bad for her. It’s more like he has it worst for her, and Elena finds herself torn between the world she’s carefully built for herself, and the life she keeps trying to leave, but can’t.
I don’t know if it’s possible to describe how much I love this book. Even after multiple readings, the minute I pick it up, I’m done. Call in for takeout and ignore the woman drooling in the corner. That’s just Sarah, reading “Bitten.”
This last reread was brought about when I started wondering why it was that I was drawn to wolf shifter books but not much else in the shifty universe (except were-koalas. I’m telling you. Next big thing: sleepy and cute, with BIG ASS CLAWS OMG. Were-Phascolarctos. Trust me on this).
I hold this book entirely responsible for my love of shifter wolf romance, even bad shifter wolf romance. It’s hard for any book to measure up to this one. The story is told from Elena’s point of view, in first person, and even though the reader spends the entirety of the story in her head and viewing things from her perspective, it doesn’t get old. She’s the relative newcomer to the wolf world, and through her the reader gets a thorough education in their hierarchy.
The story has three main threads: Elena vs. Clay, Elena vs. her life in Toronto or with the Pack, and Elena vs. herself. That last one informs the other two and is the most powerful with each subsequent reread.
The focus on Jeremy made me want his story more, though I’m hesitant to pick up the sequels for fear I won’t enjoy them as much. I read the prequels to Bitten when they were available online, and having that additional backstory has made re-reads of the novel more powerful. Everything that happens in the book is more significant. As a result, I genuinely miss the characters and the world when I’m done.
My favorite part of this novel is the complexity of what is revealed as Elena learns to accept herself. The book’s exploration of a female werewolf – the only one of her kind – reframes and creates a new arena for fictional exploration of female violence. Elena herself is part horrified and part fascinated by her own capacity for killing, either as a human or as a wolf, and that struggle, which is both internal and external in the story, is the aspect that remains with me after I finish the book. Elena is both violent and vulnerable, fearless and yet afraid to love and accept anyone, even herself. The ways in which Armstrong peels away Elena’s defenses is chilling, and a lesson in the art of not revealing too much, but revealing plenty at the same time.
There are so many scenes that get me, like when Elena allows one of the wolves to lean on her while making it seem like she’s leaning on him, or when she finds a secret hidden in a closet that tell her something that should have been painfully obvious to her. The scene where Clay comes toward her in the lamplight. Or, when Elena has dinner with Phillip’s sisters and mother, and watches family interactions from a distance, even while she’s right there among them. Later, Elena finds herself with her Pack family – and is part of the group, though she struggles to hold herself apart as she did before. The power of this book is in the sneaky emotion and the pain of it, and in the depth of possibly limitless loyalty and violence Elena and the other characters possess.
Reading it makes me wonder about the role of violence in shaping the popularity of paranormals and urban fantasy in romance, and the ways in which violence and vulnerability coexist in romance heroines. Elena was one of the first characters I read in a paranormal setting who was both fragile and forged with otherworldly strength. She’s angry and full of latent rage – and has an outlet for it that human women do not have access to, one that romance readers read about repeatedly. She can and does become the violent, raging, instinctively vengeful animal that we are told is unacceptable behavior for women.
I never tire of revisiting with her, and learning something new from her story.