Kim Harrison's urban fantasy series about the people of an area of Cincinatti known as The Hollows, featuring witch Rachel Morgan was not only one of the first series in this fantasy sub-genre but also one of the best. As this is the ninth book in the series I'm afraid it will be impossible to review the book without some spoilers, for which I apologise.
Rachel Morgan has been condemned by the Coven as a black witch and of consorting with demons for which she has been shunned by her community. She's been called before the Coven in San Francisco to answer these charges and if found guilty is likely to be condemned to life in the Ever After, the homeland of the demons. On this road trip with a difference, Rachel is accompanied by Trent Kalamack, leader of the Elven society, who has agreed to speak up on her behalf, as well as her friends Ivy, a vampire and Jenks, a pixie. But Trent, someone Rachel has known and disliked since childhood, seems to have an ulterior motive for joining their party and suddenly there are assassins on their tail though it's unclear whether they're after Rachel or Trent.
Price and availability:
This book is currently available in paperback for £4.89 or £4.99 for the Kindle version. There is an audio version, too, but at £21.92, it's a little steep!
For anybody who enjoys well written urban fantasy this is a must-read series. It's set in a time after 'the Turn' which was when paranormal beings came into their own, following a pandemic caused by genetically modified tomatoes which wiped out a large proportion of human life. (Don't laugh! It could happen!) Mainly these disparate beings rub along with each other quite well but there is an alternative world, the Ever After, which is a derelict and rotting version of reality and is where the demons, practitioners of black magic are condemned to live though some have managed to overcome this barrier.
Unlike many long running series which seem to eventually begin to run out of steam, every single book in the Hollows series has been better than the last and Kim Harrison has mastered the art of keeping the reader guessing and the twists and turns of her plots are every bit as unpredictable as her heroine, Rachel Morgan.
Rachel isn't a completely black witch, despite the Coven declaring her to be so, but it's true she's accumulated a fair bit of smut on her aura but she's only ever used the black magic she's been taught by the demon Algaliarept (affectionately known to Rachel as Al) to help others. The relationship between Rachel and Al is a complex one but there is an underlying respect between them if not outright affection. Al may outwardly be a bad boy but deep down he cares for his 'itchy witchy'.
As the series has progressed, we've learned more and more about Rachel and her gene pool is such that she's capable of bestriding both her own reality and that of the Ever After and her magical abilities are getting stronger and stronger now she's learned to use ley lines to harness her power. Rachel is feisty which sometimes makes her foolhardy and most of the situations she finds herself in come about through her own misguided sense of honour.
As the series has progressed, Al has been revealed as not being anywhere near the baddest demon that ever walked the face of the Ever After. That role is now reserved for Ku' Sox, referred to as Cool Socks by the ever irreverent Rachel, though that is more an act of bravado than anything else because Ku' Sox terrifies not only the people of Rachel's world but he scares the bejesus out of the demon world, too. Ku' Sox, the Pale Demon of the title, is a day-walking demon who feeds on the souls of others; a truly horrendous creation and it seems he's just about unstoppable.
When Rachel isn't trying to clear her name or put an end to Ku' Sox, much of the rest of the book concentrates on the changing relationship between Rachel and Trent, which hasn't always been cordial in the past. In fact, you could say that they've had something of a hate-hate relationship since childhood. Now Rachel is relying on Trent to put in a good word for her with the Coven and hopefully keep her out of jail but as the journey progresses, it becomes obvious that, true to type, Trent has an ulterior motive yet again but this time Rachel is seeing a more vulnerable side to her nemesis and she's actually beginning to like him!
This more vulnerable side to Trent Kalamack makes him much more attractive as previously he's come across as cold and unfeeling, Elf characteristics apparently, and under the deft hand of Kim Harrison, this slight personality change is perfectly acceptable. I even sense there may be far more to Rachel and Trent's relationship in the future, especially as he knows Rachel's true heritage, something she's only gradually discovering.
To the casual observer this book, and indeed the entire series, may come across as complete tosh given it's full of witches, weres, vampires, elves and the like, but this world is simply a different reality which functions pretty much as our own only with added spice and such is Kim Harrison's ability that the world she's created is totally believable. Doesn't everyone have a young gargoyle living with them? The spice I mentioned is not generally of the sexual variety, by the way, certainly not in this book though previous books have had their moments. Kim Harrison hasn't made the fatal mistake that Laurell K Hamilton and a few others have done by turning their heroines into sluts. Rachel though not exactly virginal, has a far stronger moral compass.
If I have a criticism of this book, it's that we don't get to see enough of Al. I know he's a demon and not to be trusted but Kim Harrison has made him a very appealing character, but then I've always been a sucker for a bad boy!
This book definitely moves the series forward and leaves the reader wanting to learn more of Rachel, her friends and her enemies, and I can't recommend it highly enough. Fans of the series won't be disappointed by this book but for new readers, it can't really be read in isolation. After eight previous books, there is a huge amount of back story and the series has moved at a tremendous pace. However, if you begin at the beginning, you'll be in for a wonderfully exciting journey of discovery full of unpredictable twists and turns and from which, refreshingly, Rachel doesn't always emerge exactly triumphant but at least she lives to fight another day. I, for one, can't wait for book 10, A Perfect Blood, due for release in February.
The series so far:
1. Dead Witch Walking
2. The Good, the Bad and the Undead
3. Every Which Way but Dead
4. A Fistful of Charms
5. For a Few Demons More
6. Where Demons Dare (aka The Outlaw Demon Wails)
7. White Witch, Black Curse
8. Black Magic Sanction
9. Pale Demon
10. A Perfect Blood (pub. Feb 2012)