Jul 29 2011 8:30pm

Something for Everyone: Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Underworld Series

Bitten by Kelley ArmstrongI’m a little bit embarrassed to admit that I didn’t cotton on to Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series for the longest time, because the thing is, I’m not really a big one for werewolves. I like witches and the fae and other kinds of shapeshifter—and, of course, vampires—in my Urban Fantasy, but werewolves are way down there on my scale of paranormal goodness. (Well, except for Kitty Norville. And Oz from Buffy. And I am kind of digging MTVs Teen Wolf at the moment, in a cringey kind of way. But these are merely the exceptions that prove the rule.)

It was only with the third novel in this New York Times best-selling series, 2004’s Dime Store Magic, that I decided to give this series a proper looking over. Because… magic? There was magic now? But… hadn’t the first book in the series been called Bitten? Had the blurb not promised unrelenting wolfiness? And wasn’t the second book in the series, Stolen, also narrated by one Elena Michaels, reluctant werewolf?

Stolen by Kelley ArmstrongYes, indeed. But there is a reason that Armstrong went with the name Women of the Otherworld as opposed to, say, Werewolves of the Otherworld: because her universe is much, much bigger than just one type of fantastical creature. And is given to us by more than one such narrator.

We do indeed kick things off with werewolf Elena in Bitten (2001), as she both glories in and rails against her two-naturedness, having been turned years earlier by someone she had loved and trusted. The only female werewolf in existence, she spends a good deal of the book desperately rebelling against her Pack, all the while solving a mystery and struggling with loss—of loved ones, of identity, of freedom—and having, y’know, sex.

Then 2003’s Stolen widens our focus considerably; instead of just the Pack, we’re now confronted with witches, dark sorcerers, demons (both good and bad), and sundry beings possessing other paranormal talents and powers; Elena is still our narrator, and she is so taken aback at the existence of other kinds of supposedly mythical creature that you just want to reach into the book, shake her, and yell: “You’re a werewolf, you dummy!”

But the book? So awesome.

Dime Store Magic by Kelley ArmstrongThe aforementioned Dime Store Magic is where we leave Elena, and head into the head of witch Paige Winterbourne. There follow full-length outings, now twelve in all (including this month’s release, Spell Bound), and a panoply of short stories featuring the first person accounts of clairvoyants and ghosts and necromancers and yet more demons—and yes, there are vampires—which makes this series very much a “something for everyone” proposition.

And which wouldn’t be worth a damn if the writing wasn’t as good as it is.

Whether in Elena’s head, or Paige’s, or even one of the compelling and studly suped-up men with whom Armstrong has such a deft hand, one can always hear the distinct voice of a distinctly fascinating person. Flawed and vulnerable, often maddening and occasionally straight-up stupid, they are nevertheless real-–or, at least, as real as they can be while becoming marauding beasts or casting impossible spells. My favorite is Savannah, a witch/sorcerer hybrid whom we first met as a pre-adolescent in Stolen and who has since come into her own as a sharp-tongued and quick-witted, if flawed, exponent of the magical arts, as star of the two latest Otherworld books, last year’s Waking the Witch and the aforementioned Spell Bound, which came out this week.

Spell Bound by Kelley ArmstrongOne thing you notice about these books, and contrary to many a series of likeminded egalitarian supernaturality (*cough*Anita Blake*cough*), is that while Bitten may have been very much about The Sex Stuff, as the series has progressed it has drawn away from its Paranormal Romance roots to become true Urban Fantasy. For example, it would be impossible to call Savannah’s books thus far even mildly erotic—which I, for one, applaud. Oh, there are touching, thrilling love stories aplenty in here, and you will certainly find a plethora of blush-worthy passages throughout the dodecalogy thus far, but Armstrong is clearly not afraid to let her tales play out minus the creative and multi-species coupling, if she feels it unnecessary. There’s no gratuitous naughtiness for its own sake; when there is sex, it’s essential to the plot, subtle and well-crafted, and while occasionally fetishistic and sometimes outright puzzling, it’s never…well…tacky.

All said, the Otherworld is just a really fun place to spend your time, should you happen to be at all paranormally inclined. Whether you’re into weres or witches, sorcerers or spirits, demons or the undead, you’ll find them here, along with a succession of clever mysteries, periodic and exhilarating chases, labyrinthine motivations, elaborate politicking and compelling relationships, both realistic and surreal.

Plus, oh! Did I mention Clay? I didn’t? Never mind. You’ll just have to discover him for yourself now, won’t you?


Rachel Hyland is the Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
Pamela Webb-Elliott
1. Spaz
I am JUST NOW starting this series! About half way thru BITTEN and I LOVE it. Nat has been trying to get me to read it forever and I'm dumb for holding off. CLAY! Freakin Clay! I am kicking myself for putting this series off for sooooooooo long because it really does contain everything I look for in a good series. Can't wait to get further along.
Carmen Pinzon
2. bungluna
I had the opposite reaction to this serie: I loved Bitten, didn't take too well to Stolen and hated Dime Store Magic. Armstrong's writing kept calling to me, though, and I just kept reading. Before I knew it, I was so deep in the series that I'd read even books that I normaly wouldn't touch, just to keep up with the world.
Brooke Billings
3. Sleepingdestiny
I absoulty loved Armstong. I wasn't always a werewolf fan. I used to read alot of vampire stories, but after a while vampire stories got a little old. So i switched to werewolves. I had a man point out her books to me at the store and fell in love. She made Bitten and Stolen so different then other books Ive read that I couldnt help but love them and each character.
5. Sighelle
See, now I'm the opposite. I love the werewolf plotlines, but am not a big fan of the witches, and really not a fan of Hope or Eve. I'm still reading the series and still hoping for some Savannah/Adam goodness, but Waking the Witch wasn't my favourite, but not my least favourite either. My favourites were Bitten, Stolen, Broken No Humans Allowed, and Frostbitten. I'd be more interested in reading the rebuilding of the Pack.
Robin Bradford
6. RobinBradford
I love it all. I'm a huge Clay fan, but even more than him do I love Lucas Cortez. Wowza! I love the worldbuilding she's done with the cabals. the only book in the series I truly didn't like was Stolen. Maybe I should try reading it again, but I was so disappointed by it the first time around. The rest of them were fantastic, though.
Heather Waters
7. HeatherWaters
A little off topic, but I just started reading the first book in her YA trilogy Darkest Powers and am really enjoying it. Will definitely check out this series afterward.
8. Lege Artis
Ah, Clay...::sigh:: Love him...
rachel sternberg
9. rae70
Jeremy is hot!) Love the series! But Dime Store Magic and the witches were not my fav..
10. Paoletta
When I read Bitten I fell in love immediately with Elena and Clay, I love all their stories, I read them all, even the novellas. I hope there will be more pack adventures, I never liked Dime Store Magic even after re-reading, but I love Savannah and the last 3 books about her. I really love when all the otherworlders are togethere...But still I'm partial to werewolf, I would like to read about Nick and I was really pleased about Karl Marsten developpement
Post a comment