Monday, September 29, 2008

Broken by Kelley Armstrong

I realise that this isn't exactly a new release, but I have decided to start reviewing some of my own most recent reads, regardless of their release date. It will keep me busy and get me to think critically about what I think 'works' in fiction and what doesn't, which should help with my own writing. Besides, a good book is a good book, no matter when it was published.

Title: Broken
Author: Kelley Armstrong
Published by: Orbit Books, 2006
Length: Novel
Rating (out of five): 4
Photo of the lady herself by Curtis Lantinga

Broken is the seventh of the Otherworld books, a series of urban fantasy novels which feature strong, usually female main characters of various supernatural 'races' (werewolves, witches, necromancers, sorcerers, vampires, ghosts and half-demons). This book is the third to feature Elena, the world's only female werewolf, as the narrator (the books in between being narrated by other characters). Having enjoyed the previous two Elena books (Bitten and Stolen) so much I confess that I skipped straight to Broken without reading any of the books in between. However, one of the great things about this series is that the books stand alone as novels, so that the reader can skip books or read them out of chronological order and not feel confused about the overall plot of the series.

Elena is an attractive blond freelance journalist with a secret- every now and then she likes to run around outdoors naked chasing rabbits with her lover, Clay. Bitten was the tale of how Elena became a werewolf, and of the beginning of her relationship with Clay, the taciturn, sexy bodyguard of the werewolf pack's leader. Stolen continues this story, introducing new threats to the pack's safety, as well as new allies, such as the witch Paige, who becomes the narrator of later books in the series.

In Broken, Elena has decided not only to stay with Clay, but to have a child with him. She is anxious about the pregnancy, wondering what effect her regular changes into wolf form will have on her developing child. Partly to take her mind off things, she returns to her old stomping grounds in Toronto to fulfil a bargain with the half demon Xavier. She agrees to steal the From Hell letter, allegedly written by Jack the Ripper, in exchange for some information important to the pack. However, things go horribly wrong when Elena's handling of the letter accidentally opens a portal to Victorian London, bringing with it disease, killer rats, restless souls and possibly the Ripper himself.

Reading another book about Elena was like catching up with an old friend and hearing what she has been up to since you saw her last. It is always a pleasure to read about her because she is a strong and independant female who holds her own in a male dominated society, both as a wolf and as a woman. It is easy to be carried along with her hopes and fears regarding impending motherhood. Clay is also an interesting and engaging character, probably more so in this book than in Bitten. Over the course of the three books his motivations have become a bit clearer. His being an anthropologist adds an interesting dimension to him as a person. He is at once fascinated by the human race and apart from it. Jaime, the necromancer, who appears late in this book, also caught my interest. I will now have to go back and read the intervening books to find out more about her.

The werewolf element in the story works well, avoiding making werewolves simply seem superior to humans in every way, as werewolves, vampires and other supernatural creatures are often depicted in fiction. Instead, in Armstrong's books, being a werewolf has a definate downside. The fact that being a werewolf is shown to be extremely inconvenient at times, particularly for Elena, makes the books seem more balanced and realistic.

The plot of this book, throwing together as it does disparate elements such as werewolves, sorcerors and Jack the Ripper, is a bit bizarre, but it works. You just have to suspend disbelief, sit back and enjoy the ride. My only criticism regarding Broken is that I found the plot a little difficult to follow in the last third or so of the book. This could just be me, as I was reading the book late at night after long days at work. A reread may be in order. The conclusion, which I won't spoil for you, has the same kind of realism I have come to expect from Armstrong. The characters don't get let off too easily, and nothing comes without a price.

Broken is a quick read, but its characters will stay with you for quite a while. I recommend it.

The first two chapters of Broken are available for free online at the author's webpage, along with heaps of bonus material, such as the author's commentary on the series, deleted scenes, online novellas and free bookmarks and wallpapers.

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