Tuesday, 5 December 2006

Kelley Armstrong: Broken (2006)

Published: Orbit, 2006

The sixth of Armstrong's supernatural thrillers in the Otherworld series, Broken again centres on werewolf Elena (the novels alternate main characters). Though pregnant, she agrees to undertake the theft of the famous "From Hell" letter associated with Jack the Ripper from the grandson of the magician who stole it from the Metropolitan Police Ripper files. However, an accident leads to the establishment of a dimensional portal in Toronto by a spell set up to protect the letter, through which come Victorian zombies and various nasty nineteenth century diseases. The bulk of the novel describes the efforts made by Elena and the werewolf pack to close the portal.

This is apparently the last of Armstrong's supernatural novels for a while; judging by the preview of her next one which appears at the end. (This seems to be an obligatory part of American genre novels nowadays.) Armstrong's official site lists another Otherworld novel, but that is also a bit different, as it has a different central character from any of the earlier ones.

It is probably a good thing to make changes like this. The author with whom Armstrong is most likely to be compared, Laurell K. Hamilton, wrote about eight of the Anita Blake novels without such a change, all concentrating on and narrated by Anita, and after about six the quality starts to drop, descending into self parody. The novels now consist almost entirely of Anita finding some amazing new power, and having some violent sex - and it is a fairly good rule that any novel where there are sex scenes over a hundred pages long has something wrong with it. However, it has always been true for me that Hamilton is a guilty addiction, while Armstrong is more of a pleasure to read: better written, but not as intense an experience.

The Ripper connections are interesting, if not really deep - and Armstrong doesn't trawl through the more macabre details in the way that some writers about the killer do. Most readers are going to know something about history's most infamous serial killer, so reminders of the specific details needed in the plot are all that are needed, and are all that we get. This is still a novel drawing strongly on the horror genre, though perhaps "supernatural thriller" would be a better category for it: there are more scary episodes of Buffy. In fact, this whole seriesou would probably be enjoyed by any fan of that show; it is definitely better written than any of the Buffy tie-in novels (not that that would be hard).

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