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Once Bitten by Kalayna Price

November 30, 2010

Publishers: Belle Bridge Books

Publication Date: January 9, 2009

Format: Review Galley

Status: First in Price’s Haven Series, which feature heroine Kita Nekai, her vampire sire, Nathaniel, Gil, the mage and Bobby, her shifter ex.

Source: Received review copy from the publisher.

Genre: Dark Urban Fantasy

Other Info: Book two, Twice Dead will be reviewed later this week. Book three, Third Blood will be published in February 2011. I already can’t wait.

Description: (From Goodreads):

Kita Nekai, on the run and the smallest of her shifter clan-a calico cat among lions and tigers-is being hunted. She was expected to accept her role as her father’s successor whether or not her cat was up to the task of leading the clan. She disagreed. Now she’s less than a step ahead of the hunters, bone-tired, cold, and living hand-to-mouth in the city of Haven. And that’s the high point of her day. She’s also drugged, “accidently” turned into a vampire, and sentenced to death for recklessly creating a rogue shifter who tortures its human prey. She’s got seventy-two hours to find the rogue, evade a city full of hunters, prove she’s not responsible for the rogue, and keep the vampire council from killing her. All while sorting out an apprentice mage, a married ex-boyfriend shifter-hunter, and the vampire who made her.

Grave Witch was the first Kalayna Price novel I read and I greatly enjoyed it. So, when Deb Smith at Belle Bridge Books contacted me to see if I would be interested in reviewing the first two books in Price’s Haven series, I jumped at the chance. Thanks, Deb! I’m very, very grateful. This is a series I’m skipping over. As in, it adds a bounce to my step, not that I’m avoiding it. Although the Haven books cover well-worn territory in Urban Fantasy these days: shapeshifters and vampires, this series isn’t a retread. Once Bitten is a frantic, fun, exhilarating read.

Once Bitten tells the story of Kita, kitten shifter. She’s been on the run from her clan for five years, ever since her father made it clear to her that she would never be able to marry her childhood sweetheart. And, to keep them apart, Kita’s father made Kita’s ex marry another woman. Kita’s been running ever since. Only, it’s not that easy to escape. Kita’s shapeshifter royalty. She’s the Dyre, set to inherit the rule of her father’s clan after his death. The only problem? Kita’s shapeshifter form is the common house cat. Not exactly the top of the scratching post in the cat-eat-cat world of the Firth. Kita can’t win. She can’t run away; she’s the future of her clan. Yet, if she stays, her size makes her vulnerable. And, basically, she’ll have to marry a man who shifts into a form that can defend her (i.e., tiger, lion, mountain lion). But being constantly on the run isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, either.

The story opens with Kita on the run from a hunter, a shifter whose job is tracking down strays. Kita escapes, but stumbles into another danger. Without giving away too much, I’ll just say that Kita ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time and ends up a vampire. Too bad that drinking blood is a complete and utter no-no in the shifter world. Kita doesn’t take well to her new existence, especially when she discovers that she is unable to shift. To make matters worse, her married ex (who has cubs on the way) has been sent by her father to take her back to Firth. But that’s not the end of Kita’s bad luck: she’s being blamed for a series of murders in Haven that appear to have been committed by a rogue shifter. A rogue Kita might have been responsible for creating. In order to prove her innocence (maybe) and save her life (definitely), Kita must bring the rogue shifter to justice. Luckily, she has help: Nathaniel (aka the Hermit), the vampire who turned her, Bobby, who remains loyal despite everything, and Gil, a scholar-happy mage.

I absolute adored this story. It takes place in a matter of two days, but boy are they long ones. Kita has a lot to deal with and she’s understandably having trouble dealing with all of her problems. She has to deal with the fact that she’s now a vampire and that might mean that her whole self is destroyed. She has to deal with blood lust and uncontrollable sleepiness, come dawn. She has to deal with the fact that she can longer shift, but mysteriously she’s still allergic to silver, like all shifters. Then Bobby keeps hanging around despite the fact that he and his wife are expecting. Also, there’s her bizarre bond/attraction to her sire, Nathaniel. Oh, and the mage, Gil, treats her like a lab rat to be studied. Finally, there’s the possibility of dying if she can’t find the murderer. And did I mention that she could be guilty after all?

Because of the fast and furious pace, Kita never has time to panic. She doesn’t have time for anything except investigating. She reacts impulsively and primarily in accordance with her emotions. The story is told in first person, so the events are told entirely from Kita’s perspective. But we learn pretty quickly that there’s a gap in Kita’s understanding of the world. We know this because Nathaniel hints pretty broadly at it. And Nathaniel should know because he drank so much of Kita’s blood that he has a great many of her memories, too. Often times Nathaniel knows things about Kita that she doesn’t even know about herself, a fact that she greatly resents. It’s a refreshing spin on the “he knows me better than I know myself” argument for love and romance. Kita doesn’t like how well Nathaniel knows her. You get the sense that she doesn’t want anyone to know her like that. Not even Bobby.

Speaking of Bobby, he was my greatest niggle with this book. I really, really wanted him to take a hike. Before the story began, when Kita’s father made it clear the two of them were never going to be allowed to mate, Bobby agreed to marry someone else. Then he got that someone pregnant. I don’t care about the rules of shifter society. I can’t stomach a potential love interest who would marry someone else, start a family with them, and remain hung up on his ex. How unfair to his mate? How unfair to Kita? I couldn’t like Bobby and I thought he made a crappy third point on this series’ love triangle and I’ll be sorely disappointed if Kita chooses him in the end. Please, no!

Perhaps Bobby’s crumminess made it ridiculously easy to like Nathaniel. But, then again, I like powerful loner heroes a lot. Plus there’s always a ton of mystery when the hero is a vampire. You know he’s probably been alive for, like, ever, and who knows what he’s been doing all those years? But Nathaniel’s sensitive, too. I don’t mean he cries all the time and is easily wounded. But, his connection with Kita is made strong by his status as her sire. Which brings me to my next point. I mentioned that I liked Kita, too. However, there were times when I kind of wanted to kick her. She takes denial to a whole new level and she basically doesn’t listen to a word Nathaniel says about being a new vampire. While she’s understandably upset, I don’t know why Nathaniel doesn’t just knock her about the face and neck a bit so she’ll see sense. Though, that would probably just make things worse for her. Anyway, Nathaniel gets credit for allowing Kita to learn her lessons the hard way. He definitely doesn’t subscribe to the alpha male failing of making the heroine do things she doesn’t want to do “for her own good.” But he’s a lot more patient with her than I was. I suppose that sharing her memories probably makes him plenty sympathetic.

All in all, I can’t wait to get to the next book in the series. I loved the first installment and I know I’m going to be howling with impatience by the time I finish Twice Dead.

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