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Stolen – Kelley Armstrong

Time Warner Paperbacks, 2003, 532pp, £6.99, ISBN:0-7515-3241-X

Once Bitten, twice… Stolen? Remember Elena, the only female werewolf in the world? Last time we met her she had been trying to break away from her lycanthrope existence in order to create a new, more ‘normal’ life for herself. But the Pack beckoned, she resumed her relationship with howling ex-lover (not to say origin of her affliction) Clay and settled down, happy with rediscovering herself. Naturally domestic, if somewhat canine, bliss was not going to last (frankly it’d be a pretty dull book if it did). No sooner has life become peachy than a dastardly team of scientists under the substantial financial assistance of computer mogul Ty Winsloe kidnap her, and lock her up with a assortment of witches, shamen and various supernatural creatures. Clearly they are there to serve some experimental purpose but is there another, more primal, reason for their incarceration? Somehow Elena has to break free from her high-tech surroundings and protect the anonymity and safety of not only her pack but the supernatural underworld as a whole.

Picking up from where the original left off, Kelley Armstrong returns to Elena’s story, but has chosen to broaden the remit to include other supernatural entities. This could easily have turned the book into a Buffyesque menagerie of disenfranchised “others” but actually broadens the story and extends the possibilities on offer. There was probably only a limited shelf-life in a purely werewolf-based series, after all there weren’t that many Pack members left after the shenanigans of the last novel. Naturally our sympathies still lie with the werewolves but also tentatively brings in witches for possible main character development – the series has now gained the title “Women of the Otherworld”, an indication perhaps of a broader base in future novels. The dynamics and politics between the various races develop as each begins to understand the others’ powers, needs, foibles, customs and capabilities. The werewolves particularly are aloof initially, having had no contact with or awareness of the other creatures out there, but eventually the dissident groups need to reconcile their differences if they are to defeat their new and deadly foe.

Elena is an extremely likeable character – she’s smart, brave and doesn’t feel the need to resort to girliness. Along with accepting her werewolf side she has also discarded ideas of fashion and ‘normal living’. Her relationship with Clay is passionate and loving, and once again the book doesn’t balk on the sex scenes. Indeed there are many strong female characters, both good and bad, throughout the story, and refreshingly they don’t seem laboured or merely male characters with female names. Stolen is what good, solid storytelling is all about; a quick read and heaps of fun, an ideal book for those times when you can’t face anything “worthy”. A second sequel, Dime Store Magic, is in the offing, and if the improvements over Bitten are repeated, it could well be worth the wait.