Why I Read It: After finishing Every Which Way But Dead, I decided to go ahead and finish out the rest of the series that I currently own (which is only through book five, so one more to go!). Also, I’d heard just enough about this particular title that I was curious beyond measure, so I looked forward to the story and looked forward to seeing how the series would develop.
The premise: ganked from BN.com: The evil night things that prowl Cincinnati despise witch and bounty hunter Rachel Morgan. Her new reputation for the dark arts is turning human and undead heads alike with the intent to possess, bed, and kill her — not necessarily in that order.
Now a mortal lover who abandoned Rachel has returned, haunted by his secret past. And there are those who covet what Nick possesses — savage beasts willing to destroy the Hollows and everyone in it if necessary.
Forced to keep a low profile or eternally suffer the wrath of a vengeful demon, Rachel must nevertheless act quickly. For the pack is gathering for the first time in millennia to ravage and to rule. And suddenly more than Rachel’s soul is at stake.
Spoilers, yay or nay?: Yay. Lots of spoilers actually, so if you’re not caught up through this sucker (which is book four in the series), skip to “My Rating” and you’ll be just fine. Everyone else, onward!
Discussion: It feels like forever since I finished this book, even though it wasn’t quite a week ago, but it took me nearly that long to get through the volume, something that I’m not fond of when it comes to urban fantasies (of this particular sort). I want these books to be fast, to keep me at the edge of my seat, and noting that this one nearly took me a read makes it a good time to bring up something that rather bugs me about Harrison’s novels as a whole.
They’re too damn long.
Dead Witch Walking: 416 pages
The Good, the Bad, and the Undead: 453 pages
Every Which Way But Dead: 501 pages
A Fistful of Charms: 510 pages
And that’s just what I’ve already read. The next book is 512 pages, and that’s subtracting the tacked on pages at the end that advertise other books in the series (as does the page count for the above-mentioned titles).
Compare this to other urban fantasies getting published. Most hit the 300 page mark and tend to go a bit beyond that. Here’s the recent urban fantasies I’ve read this year, minus the Harrison:
Ann Aguirre’s Devil’s Punch: 326 pages
Patricia Briggs’ River Marked: 291 pages (her books tend to always be short)
Seanan McGuire’s Discount Armageddon: 352 pages
M.L.N. Hanover’s Killing Rites: 367 pages
Look, bitching about page count is a petty thing. And I’ll grant this: Kim Harrison better be writing something substantial to justify hardcover prices, since all of her new releases are hardcovers first. That’s been one of my complaints about Briggs’ work being released in hardcover first, because her page counts don’t warrant the price tag. So whatever.
No, this is a me-thing. When I sit down with an urban fantasy that I know is full of kick-assitude, I expect a story to grab me and go. I expect that I’ll finish that story in two to three days, maybe four tops if I’ve got a particularly busy week. This is important for me personally, because I tend to juggle my reading schedule based on how quickly I can get through certain books, and as it stood, A Fistful of Charms took me too long to read when I had my book club selection coming right after (I’ll talk more about that in that review), and then there’s the Hugo reading to consider. I’m feeling rather pressed for time, which makes me resent books that don’t meet my expectations when it comes to reading time. Not fair, no, but seriously, in comparison, Harrison’s books are abnormally long for the sub-genre.
Does this mean I marked a billion sections that should have been tightened up or cut? No, I didn’t. I’m not saying there aren’t places that couldn’t be tightened without sacrificing the quality of world-building or mood-building or what-have-you. Wow, triple negative! Let’s try that again:
This book could be tightened without sacrificing the world-building/mood-building, etc.
Much better! The trick with these books, for me, is that unless there’s just breathless action that has you on the edge of your seat (Every Which Way But Dead did this wonderfully), then the length and weight of the book wears on me, usually because we’re getting Rachel’s inner litany of complaints that we’ve heard a billion times already, and it’s just getting reinforced over and over again.
Still, you can’t complain that Harrison skimps on anything. Her world is fully realized, which isn’t something you can say for a lot of other urban fantasy writers. I just wish the fully realized worlds were a wee bit shorter in page count.
Now, before you all start complaining that this review is getting TOO LONG, let’s talk about specifics, of which I have few:
I already knew that one of the big surprises (har-har) of this book was Jenks turning full-sized, and while I could’ve done without Rachel lusting after him and then mentally smacking herself for doing so, I’m super-duper glad Harrison didn’t do what OTHER urban fantasy authors would’ve done in her place and had Rachel and Jenks sleep together. Thank GOD that didn’t happen. Full-size Jenks provided plenty of entertainment too, and more important, it was good to see Rachel and Jenks heal their relationship and know the motivations behind his cold shoulder.
And of course, there was always entertainment. Jenks’ reaction to getting one-upped by Ivy has him flipping out (page 415):
“Rache, take this sword and stick it in me. Just go and stick it in me. I’m a back-drafted, crumpled-winged, dust-caked, dew-assed excuse of a backup. Worthless as a pixy condom. Taken down by my own partner. Just tape my ass shut and let me fart out of my mouth.”
Ivy, the aforementioned partner, had some serious developments in this book. Rather, the whole Ivy/Rachel storyline. After Ivy gets Rachel to understand the root of her (meaning Rachel’s) actions, Rachel decides to let Ivy bite her. It’s a great, fascinating scene that goes wrong when Rachel explains she doesn’t want the sex, so Ivy, who can’t divorce sex from love, turns off the love and nearly kills her. It’s an exciting development, yet we’re still left with Rachel “unclaimed” by a vampire, which means anyone can make her scar zing with passion, which means anyone can claim her. It also nearly happens, until Ivy distracts the vamp in question, which opens up a whole other can of worms.
I’ll admit, I’m a little tired of the vulnerability the scar leaves Rachel with. To me, it’s not an interesting vulnerability, and while it could most certainly hamper Rachel’s ability to work, I wish it wasn’t so sexual in nature. That being said, I’m glad to see that steps were taken in the Rachel/Ivy relationship, even though Ivy was so mortified she’s decided to never bite Rachel again, ever, despite Rachel actually wanting to find a blood balance. I’m really starting to think that despite all of Rachel’s protests that she’s straight, she’s going to at least try to find out what a sexual relationship with Ivy would be like. Whether that means she’s bi or just curious, I don’t know, but once more I’m thinking that Rachel/Ivy may be the OTP of the series, which would be a brave and wonderful thing for Harrison to do, especially since heterosexual pairings are pretty much the norm in this genre.
However, I may change my mind. This was the first book in the series where Trent and Rachel didn’t play off of each other, so we’ll see where all of this goes.
What worries me, though, is the sense of finality with the ending of Rachel’s relationship with Nick. That whole subplot was tough, not because it was bad, but because I didn’t realize just how toxic that relationship was until this book. Nick’s an addict, willing to put so many others in danger in order to get what he wants, and when we learned he’d been selling information about Rachel to Big Al? Yikes. Even more worrisome is that despite the harmless nature of the information, what was Nick selling when he was convinced Rachel was dead? Scarier still was Nick’s inability to realize any of this was wrong.
I seriously doubt that Nick’s going to be anything more than a nemesis in this series from this point forward, and that worries me. Way back, and I don’t know how I heard it, but I learned of a MAJOR SPOILER for Rachel’s unnamed boyfriend. Because I’d only read book one, I’d assumed that boyfriend was Nick. Now that I know that’s not the case, I’m concerned for these characters, and it’s the kind of concern that makes me both want to read forward and NOT want to read forward, just to see how things end.
Rachel’s use of magic is also an interesting point of focus. She keeps justifying the use of “bad” magic, which I can’t say I mind, though her inability to understand that demon magic is inherently bad was pretty frustrating. Her assumption that as long as it didn’t require any bad ingredients, it wasn’t a bad spell was mind-blowing. Of course, while I’ve not been spoiled in this regard, I know that this is just the beginning. The titles of the rest of the books in the series give this much away, so at this point, it’ll be interesting to see just how far Rachel can push it and still remain good and pure.
One worry I had: during the feeding scene with Ivy, we learn that it’s not just blood the vampires take, but auras as well. Rachel never once wonders if perhaps Ivy took part of Rachel’s black, demon-coated aura, and I personally think that this happened. We learned early on that others could be convinced to take it, and what better way than to pass it off to a vamp who supposedly doesn’t have a soul to begin with? At any rate, I hope this is addressed, and addressed soon.
Let’s see… I was really, really sad to see that Jax was so devoted to Nick. That part was pretty heartbreaking. Rachel turning into a red wolf was kind of cool, though I got a bit confused about her ability to speak and some others to understand her. The big artifact? Kind of neat, given what we learn of werewolf mythology, and I wonder if it’s going to come back into play in later books. It should. I also wonder if we’re going to see Rachel were into a wolf once more, especially since the book opened with her title as alpha being challenged.
My Rating: 6 – Worth Reading, with Reservations
It may have been me, but this book was a slower read. Part of it was, like I said, me: lots of stuff going on and not enough time to read. Yet certain sections felt like they were dragged out slightly longer than necessary, and when it comes to Rachel ruminated over the same facts or fears over and over and over, I could always use less of that. Still though, some pretty big things happen in this book, and I suspect Harrison’s setting up for something much bigger. What, I’m not sure, but I know I’ll be finding out soon enough.
That being said, I’m taking a brief break from the series before moving on to book five, which is the last book in the series that I own. I think part of the slowness was the simple fact that I’m feeling overly familiar with the world and characters, so I wasn’t as eager as I could’ve been to find out what happened next. Still, with the exception of book two, which really wore on my nerves, the series has been pretty enjoyable. Not perfect by any means, but interesting with an ever-expanding cast of characters who are increasingly enjoyable. I definitely look forward to continuing, but right now, I need a slight break.
Cover Commentary: I’ve always liked the charm bracelet featured on the cover, which has more meaning now that I know where it comes from, and the gold coloring in the design isn’t one often featured in urban fantasy, so it does stand out. I also liked how this one had less of an urban feel to the cover, thanks to the island in the background, but it’s quite appropriate for the story.