Once Bitten by Kate Owen
Series: Once Bitten, Book #1
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Release Date: 8 February 2017
Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars
Izzy Konnig has everything: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a house in the trendy part of town, and Emma, a beautiful girlfriend who requires no commitment.
Then one night Emma accidentally bites her, and Izzy Konnig finds herself turning into a werewolf. Panicked, Izzy bolts, only to be grabbed by a gang of rival wolves and forced into an underground fighting ring. If she wants to return to the life she loves, it’s going to take everything she’s got—and more.
Please note that this review contains spoilers for the novel.
At first this review was going to turn into a DNF, or a did not finish, but I’m so happy that I preserved. Not necessarily because the book got better, but because finishing it allowed me to see all the the other glaring issues with the novel.
One of the reasons why I stopped reading novels by and for white people was due to the utter erasure of people of color, or their tendency to be cast as convenient villains. Once Bitten is no different; the main characters are two conventionally attractive white women who are surrounded by their gaggle of white werewolf cohorts (as well as their white counterparts – all the other creatures, except demons, are white people). And our first introduction to a non-white person is in the form of a Latinx gang member who immediately abducts our white heroine because she wandered into their territory.
And while the treatment of the Latinx antagonists doesn’t descend completely into trope-y (or utter racist) chaos, there’s an overwhelming silence in regards to what these characters look like, whereas two other POC are outright called “Black” or “Asian” (because all Asian people?). The POC are given very little screen time, and at one point, a character is merely described as Black before having about a line or two of dialogue.
So, if at the very least, you’re looking for a diverse racial cast of characters, Once Bitten is not for you.
On the other end of the spectrum, Once Bitten has almost no other major lesbian characters (just Emma’s ex), and the only other queer character is a gay guy named Shawn (who isn’t described as being Black at all, but called himself “brother”, which also struck me as dated AAVE – another issue I’ve taken with the novel).
While Shawn’s sexuality is strongly enforced by relying on tropes about gay men, his treatment in Once Bitten is worse once I took his (potential) race into account; he’s careless, passive and weak (both physically and emotionally).Shawn’s role in the novel is premised almost exclusively on how sassy he is, but his contributions are so finite and useless, I’m not sure if he’s a major or minor character.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the convoluted issue of a cis woman who becomes a cis male Werewolf; after Izzy is turned by Emma, she transforms only to discover that she has a penis because she’s “dominant” (which is supposedly rare). This struck me as a extremely problematic; why does she need to change genders as a wolf, and why is this simply left to the wayside and never really explored in the novel (it’s merely used a plot device for later on). Additionally, considering how the main characters are cis women, this pseudo-exploration of gender rang hollow, was extremely unnecessary and doesn’t add to the character’s development in any tangible way.
And even if I was willing to overlook the issues of race, gender and lack of capable queer characters, the writing was abysmal. The book immediately pushes us into the supposed main conflict of the story, which feels rushed, and we literally spend about 70% of the novel focused on Izzy’s imprisonment after the rival gang finds her on the street.
Not only did about her captivity drag on, we have the overwhelming issue of a near rape scene in a final fight scene. Amidst all the homophobia (predominantly from the male characters), the author throws in a potential corrective rape scene (in fact, rape is used as a threat a few other times later). For me, rape is never a good plot device – it doesn’t serve anyone (either reader or character) for someone to become traumatized through sexual violence. And although Izzy is able to escape unharmed, this doesn’t change the fact that author found this as an acceptable thing to almost happen.
My grievances with the book continue to pile up: Izzy’s sudden role as the new Alpha, the barrage of never ending conflict, none of the characters are introspective and no one stops to process what’s happening (they just do things), the Werewolves’ near indestructibility (which makes everything feel fantastical).
Atop all of this, the world-building leaves much to be desired; for example, you don’t even learn what state the book takes place in until mid-way through the novel, and even then, the description of the setting is vague. You never feel like you’re there, it’s just a background to all the action and drama.
Ultimately, I felt the writing did the bare minimum, and not enough to help me enjoy the characters or take interest in their struggles.
The overall treatment of the two female leads was extremely discouraging; there were no moments in the novel where being a lesbian was good or celebrated. Even the main characters themselves bemoaned homophobic treatment from society at large and their gayness is highlighted by how little people around them accepted their queerness.
I can’t say that I enjoyed this book, or that I would recommend it. Perhaps there is someone who would find Once Bitten extremely thrilling, but that person isn’t me. If you’re looking for more POC-friendly, and queer positive genre fiction, I would look elsewhere.
Kate Owen, writer and chai tea addict, was born and raised in the Lone Star state (but has only ridden a horse once with disastrous results). She’s lived all over the US and even spent some time studying in Italy, but she came back to settle down in Dallas a few years ago. Kate has been writing since she was a kid, and has always enjoyed telling stories to entertain anyone she can coerce into listening.
By day, she works as a teacher for kids with special needs and writes. By night she is at the beck and call of two awesome dogs, eats out at gastropubs, enjoys craft cocktails, catches live music at various Dallas venues, and writes more. She loves playing guitar, hanging out on the lake, and watching movies that make her laugh.
She’s out to everyone but her grandmother, so don’t tell her.
You can purchase Once Bitten from:
Barnes & Noble
I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.