This is the tenth entry in Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville series, and Kitty is visiting London this time to take part in the first International Conference on Paranormal Studies where she is supposed to deliver the keynote speech. To sum it up in advance, it’s a solid, quite entertaining entry in the series but nowhere as good as some previous volumes.
That is partly due to a lack in local colour – you’d expect the author to evoke some London atmosphere and give the readers a sense of place if she goes to the trouble to move her protagonists all the way across the Atlantic. Unfortunately, however, the novel falls short on that account, for all practical purposes it could have taken place in any major American city (although there are some amusing bits about werewolves and plane travel…). Of course, one might argue (and it might even be what Carrie Vaughn had in mind) that you don’t really gather much local colour during International Conferences as you won’t get to see much beyond hotels and conference centres – but even so, it seems a bit of a missed chance.
This is a comparatively minor niggle, though – more serious is that Carrie Vaughn here puts the series’ Big Apocalyptic Masterplot (or BAM, for short) into full throttle, and that I am not particularly impressed by the direction into which it is heading. It seems to be de rigeur for Paranormal Fantasy series these series to have some kind of BAM, and not always to their advantage – I already found it irritating and distracting from what constitues the fun of the series in the final volumes of Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series, and the same happens here.
The strength of this series, in my opinion, has always been in its realism or (maybe a better term, seeing how we’re talking about a Fantasy series here) its down-to-earth-ness, the way Carrie Vaughn’s characters react plausibly to all the supernatural stuff popping up around them, and still go on with their lives in the midst of it. As such, the novels are at their best and most entertaining when they are dealing with small-scale conflicts, when things happen at a personal level that the characters relate to immediately. And the whole apocalyptic setup just does not work very well in this framework. To put it bluntly: Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files do BAM way better than Carrie Vaughn, because the villians in his world are big and mean and scary and generally way over the top. The apocalyptic villains in Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville series come across as mostly… petty. They are working on a supposedly century-long conspiracy to destroy and/or take over the world, but the the way their utter, dastardly evilness shows most prominently is that they bear a grudge against Kitty.
Which again illustrates that the series just is not made for a large-scale canvas but excels where it sticks with intimate portraits, and thankfully Kitty Steals the Show has some of that to offer as well – there are many familiar faces who also happen to attend the Conferences (maybe even too many – I for one would have liked to get to spend some more time with most of them) and some new ones, most remarkably the Vampire Master of London who turns out to be… well, it’s told quite early in the novel, but I still do not want to spoil it – suffice it to say that every lover of Elizabethean drama will give a small squee when his identity is revealed (and no, it’s not Shakespeare). And Kitty as gushing fangirl is just hilarious.