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The Witch With No Name (The Hollows, #13)The Witch With No Name by Kim Harrison

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Welp. I stuck it out to the end. What do I win? Is the prize that I get back however many hours of my life I spent reading this series?

I kid! Mostly. This book qua book is kind of a disaster. It's indistinguishable from the last half dozen books, except that it has a "twenty five years later" epilogue to let you know that we're done. And it suffers from that worst of afflictions that a fantasy novel can contract: metaphysics. You know, the thing where the magic has become so high order that it all occurs within the mind or on a higher plane or whatever, and the writing about it becomes laughably bad.

But. This actually was a seminal text in the urban fantasy/paranormal romance genre (no, it really was). And I feel a grim accomplishment for having stuck with it. Because if nothing else, this series and it's perpetual sameness was an annual measuring stick for me. I came to consciousness as a reviewer – which for me, is almost synonymous with coming to consciousness as a reader – over the run of this series. So would I like those hours back? Would I happily scrub my brain of the enumerable "I shouted" and "I sobbed" dialogue tags (seriously, Rachel shouts and she sobs, she never . . . y'know . . . talks). Yes I would. But I also wouldn't, because this series didn't really get smaller, I got bigger. So now I know.




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The Undead Pool (The Hollows, #12)The Undead Pool by Kim Harrison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I was going to use this space to talk about how much I dislike Marguerite Gavin's reading of the commercial audio of this series, with a sidebar on human-voiced audio as transformative work and how I am still pissed about the whole thing where we're going to block an artificial text-to-speech capability on certain devices because having a computer read a book out loud to a print disabled person is copyright infringement – yep still pissed – because for real, guys, this series is pretty long and there's not much to say at this point, and also Marguerite Gavin delivers 75% of spoken dialogue as if the tag were "she sobbed."

But it turns out I have something else to say, which is OMG!!!11111!!!! <3!! Called it! Like a decade ago! And also those two or three days out of every year I spent shipping this hardcore have all paid off, aw yeah!*

Ahem. Carry on.

*Delivered, I must admit, while dead sober. But if you want to pretend I was drunk for this, I'd actually appreciate it.




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Ever After (The Hollows, #11)Ever After by Kim Harrison

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This might not be drunk reviewing, but it sure ain't sober reviewing either.

So it turns out this series only has two? Something like that – two books left. Which blows my mind, since I have been reading this off and on since 2005, and thinking back, it's like my relationship with this series encapsulates my relationship with new millennium paranormal fantasy. I was charmed by it; I was frustrated that it wasn't higher quality; I felt strangely guilty for liking it in all its embarrassments and silliness; I felt angry for feeling guilty for liking this explicitly women's literature; I constructed elaborate Doylist feminist theories; I nominated it for Yuletide; I was bored by it; I made scouring, screaming fun of it (extra! Vaginal! Muscles! Ahahaha); I came to associate it with a certain friend, and that tasted a little bitter; I gave up on it; I came back to it carelessly, because giving up meant I could thoughtlessly enjoy; I read it in sickness for comfort, in pain for help, in travel for distraction; I stopped tracking its publication dates and plot convolutions, and merely let the next book fall from the sky into my lap when it would; I began to care again, or to notice caring, like getting back with an ex and finding that all the cynicism has been pounded out of you in their absence; I knew what was going to happen 300 pages before it did, but still waited for it and, in the moment, exhaled softly; I let myself have whatever emotional reactions would come, unjudgingly, because they would come anyway; I heard it is coming to an end and thought, no, but I'm not done with you.



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A Perfect Blood (The Hollows, #10)A Perfect Blood by Kim Harrison

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Can I be fickle for a sec?

Or, no, actually, I'm not asking. I'm drinking wine at 10:00 on a Saturday morning while I start to wrap everything glass that I own and put it in boxes. And I'd turn this into another all-about-me review, except if I actually rattled off everything that's going down with my dying grandfather and the fertility clinic ridiculousness and my girlfriend's radiation treatments, no one would believe me because really

So I'm going to be fickle. Suck it up.

All of which is to say . . . um . . . I liked this. After having alternately sneered and bitched at the past four books. All Harrison's more obnoxious ticks are still present and accounted for (and why does she have to introduce a random new dude we don't care about yet again?) but somehow this still hit the sweet spot. It was distracting and comfily familiar and --

Okay, not just fickle. Totally honest.

The elf and the witch? I ship it. I ship it bad. And this book clearly set them up as the endgame so yeah, I dug it. Don't start with me.

And now I drink more wine.




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Pale Demon (Rachel Morgan/The Hollows #9)Pale Demon by Kim Harrison

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Ah, fuck, I don't know, I read this a month ago and five thousand miles away. When people ask me for urban fantasy series recs, I often don't give them this one, and when I do it's with a lot of caveats -- "she would be a much better writer if she wasn't pumping out two books a year" "there are a handful of sex scenes that are just embarrassing when you remember someone wrote them to be sexy" etc. I swore off this series, actually, on a surfeit of stupid. But swearing off a series means you have to totally unplug, abandon the early investment in the lives of made up people, back before it all went weird and sort of deflated. And so I unplugged, I stopped caring. And because I stopped caring, I could pick up the new book for airplane reading and go "huh, yeah, there it is" over it. Whereas if I still cared, I wouldn't come anywhere near this book. Shrug.



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First Truth (Truth, #1)First Truth by Dawn Cook

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


What Kim Harrison wrote before she was Kim Harrison: generic quest fantasy with cardboard worldbuilding and a paint-by-numbers romance. I was looking for something fluffy an stupid and I thought this might do it. Unfortunately, it was a bit fluffier and way stupider than anticipated.



The whole thing was not helped by Marguerite Gavin’s audio narration. She has this way of delivering dialogue with oversold! Quivering! Emotion! That did this book in particular no favors. I mean, a straight-faced scene where the villain trashes his tower room and shouts to himself about all his plans being for naught (no, seriously) is never going to impress me, but Gavin’s narration turned it into something that actually made me go “ow.”





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Black Magic Sanction (Rachel Morgan/The Hollows, #8) Black Magic Sanction by Kim Harrison


My rating: 2 of 5 stars
So there I was, innocently going about my day while listening to this book, and it’s all demon plot shenanigans and hilariously unintentionally awful pixie funeral poetry, and then bam, we get a casual aside about how female witches have extra vaginal muscles compared to human women, and there I am sitting on the curb in the middle of the block, laughing helplessly with my guide dog hovering over me doing “now what?” in Labrador (it’s all in the ears).

Extra vaginal muscles! The better the orgasm, the longer they clamp down and keep the participating penis in place! Ahahahahaha, oh God.

…Does anyone actually remember when this series was something I laughed with, not at? No? Yeah, me either.

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White Witch, Black Curse (Rachel Morgan/The Hollows, Book 7) White Witch, Black Curse by Kim Harrison


My review


rating: 3 of 5 stars
Okay, I think we've officially entered the extremely strange realm where a book outstrips its author. I can't count the number of times there was this cool visual image (gargoyle correcting his size by plinking out ice cubes) or interesting emotional moment (Rachel having a flashback) and I nearly missed it because of a clumsy phrase or an anvil to the head. And this book lost major points with me for ham-handed exploitation of terminally ill children for emotional juice that it didn't even need.



And yet . . .



And yet it's still on all dimensions better than any other paranormal-urban-romance-fantasy I've tried -- plotting, sexual politics, supporting cast. And yet I'd read the Rachel and Trent show until the cows come home. And yet there are clearly even more interesting things to come, and not every last one has been semaphored fifty pages ahead of time. And yet, the pixies!




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Sixth book in the Rachel Morgan series. Or possibly The Hollows series. Further adventures of our plucky witch as she faces down yet more demon trouble, resolves things a bit with her roommate, rescues an elf, and goes skating.

Okay, here's the thing. I like these books. They're fun, and they have a genuinely artless sort of appeal. The series started out really rough clay, if you know what I mean, so it was clear from day one that Harrison has an instinct for what will satisfy emotionally, if not always intellectually. That's still true, and the writing took an exponential curve up through the first four books. But now it seems to have levelled out, and I'm . . . frustrated. I like them, so I want them to be better than they are. Less transparent, for one -- Harrison telegraphs most surprises before she means to, and she has this really annoying way of coming down on the beat stomp thump crash when she should be tap rest tap. At least there is a beat though, which is more than can be said for a lot of urban fantasy marketed to women.

And still emotionally satisfying, even if yet again the person Rachel romantically dabbles with is epically less interesting than any other option on the table. The supporting cast is really great in a lot of dimensions, and the plot continues to clatter right along. I just wish Harrison would slow down, let her books mature longer, let herself start to think about things like rhythm and congruity and, you know, subtlety. Because I really think she could, and it's driving me a bit nuts.
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Fifth in her urban fantasy series (click the author tag to view them all) featuring Rachel Morgan, witch for hire. Harrison’s books have an awful lot of boom, and this one is no exception between the weres who keep turning up dead, a master vampire about to be released from jail, bloodshed over the ancient artifact Rachel is hiding, oh yeah and the demon crashing Trent’s wedding.

There are a lot of things I could say here. I could say that, while Harrison’s writing gets better and better with every book, she still has no discernible control over thematics. I could say that her worldbuilding ranges from the superb (the pixie culture is hilarious and original) to the mediocre (a demon who hasn’t interacted with humans in five hundred years should not explain an ancient magical communication network as having “registered users.” I mean, really). I could say that the plot, while fast and brilliant, still slips into contrivance sometimes. I could say that there’s a hell of an ending here, but that it could eventually play out as either extremely bold or a simple cop-out.

But the thing is, I could talk about all that, but I don’t really want to. Because these books, they really have something. Something of the compulsive page-turner, yes, but also something which works emotionally both for me and on me. Maybe it’s the power of the dominant female friendship (and the loyalty/sexuality/blood tangle between Ivy and Rachel is handled much more elegantly in this book). Maybe it’s the extent and reach of the community we’ve watched Rachel build. Maybe it’s the mix of high-octane and domesticity – the most intense scenes, physically and emotionally, seem to take place in the kitchen. I don’t really know what it is, but it’s definitely there and I’m all for it. I like these books. I like them a whole lot, and that response should and does trump my complaints. Of all the urban fantasy series I’m following, I’m glad this is the one to take off and do so extraordinarily well commercially. It’s well deserved, because vampire boyfriends aside (and seriously, check that ending) this is really good storytelling and I’m definitely here for the long haul.
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Fiction, urban fantasy. Just released fourth volume in her Rachel Morgan series. This is a road trip book, taking Rachel (witch), and eventually Ivy (living vampire), out of town with a newly reconciled Jencks (pixie) to chase after Nick (human) the ex boyfriend and thief, a potentially powerful artifact, and a lot of werewolves. It’s funny, because though things do happen here and the plot carries forward, I am left with the impression of a placeholder book. Which is still not a bad thing, mind you, and I think Harrison’s instinct to get the original three out of the Hollows for a while is a good one. She’s developing as a writer – the climax of this book has some lovely, aching thematic overtones as Rachel tries to save/kill a living vampire who is in constant, excruciating agony from an unnamed illness. I think this is the first time Harrison’s managed to weave plot and theme together so neatly – she’s getting the trick of letting the plot follow the heart of the story, rather than the other way around, I think. Also, the pixies are hilarious and fascinating – toothbrushes! Karaoke!

Still, I did miss the usual supporting cast, particularly Trent (please go there, you’d better go there) and I was not quite convinced by the evolution of Rachel and Ivy’s complicated relationship as friends/colleagues/potential lovers/savior and vampire supplicant. It’s one of those things that make sense on analysis, but which on reading is viscerally startling and out-of-left field. And I suppose that’s how it would feel, but in this case, my sense of literary form and my sense of how people operate were not both satisfied.

A good book, though, and I’m quite impatient for the next, which should plunge us solidly back into the Hollows and Rachel’s wider life there.
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Fiction. Science fiction/fantasy. The first three of a series. A generation ago, a bio-engineered plague swept around the world, decimating the human population but leaving witches, vampires, weres, and other species alone. In the aftermath, these groups made themselves known to humans. Decades later, Rachel Morgan, a witch, embarks on a career of freelance private investigating and general mayhem, against a backdrop of a world uncertain about the place of all its
peoples, tormented living vampires, uppity pixies, and a universal, crippling terror of bio-engineering and genetic manipulation. The first book is a bit of a popcorn read, though the touted resemblance to the Stephanie Plum novels fades after the first hundred pages. It's worth sticking out the airily skeletal world building to get to the second book, where Harrison finds her feet and really takes off with some seriously compelling long-range plotting, and a demonstrated commitment to playing out some of the moral ambiguities built into the universe (she's taking all the time she needs, with a nine book contract). Rachel is brash, kickass, and competent, and many of her relationships are intense and sweet, and occasionally sizzling (yay textual femslash and kinkiness!). I do have complaints -- Rachel is a bit too often the center of everyone's concerns, and there are still some sloppy sociological threads dangling -- but I like these a whole lot and I'm definitely sticking it out for the long haul.

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