Review: Dead Witch Walking (Rachel Morgan/The Hollows series novel #1), by Kim Harrison
Rachel Morgan is a dead witch walking, seeing as how her old boss has put a price on her head to cover the losses he took when she ended her contract early. Witches, warlocks, fairies, and demons all make a go at her as she tries to prove the guilt of Councilman Trent Kalamack, a well-respected businessman and suspected drug lord. Luckily for Rachel, she has a few faithful sidekicks- a “living” vampire, a spirited pixy, and a nebulously artless human- to keep her out of trouble.
- Title: Dead Witch Walking
- Series: Rachel Morgan – book #1
- Author: Kim Harrison
- Prominent Characters: Rachel, Ivy, Jenks, Nick
- Recommended reader age: 14+
- Sexual content level: Virtually none to very low
After half the world’s human population is killed by an accidental rogue bio-virus, magic users (called Inderlanders) make their secret existence known to human society and jump in to fill the void. Speeding ahead 50 years, with human vs. Inderlander segregation still prevalent, we meet our plucky heroine and her pixy and vampire sidekicks. Rachel has a price on her head and spends most of her time avoiding assassination attempts while trying to gather enough evidence on a suspected black-market drug lord to buy off her contract.
This book had the unfortunate disadvantage of having to follow Lover Mine (Black Dagger Brotherhood book #8) in my reading list, which is only the second novel to date that I have given a full 5-Fang rating to. Needless to say it was a hell of a book and a very hard act to follow, so even though I tried to remain unbiased, there’s a possibility this book got the same treatment as Nancy Kerrigan when Oksana Baiul skated a near perfect and crowd-pleasing routine before the U. S. Skater’s set in the ’94 Olympics. For those of you who just went “huh?!” and scratched your head, basically it’s really hard to follow a gold-medal performance… or book… and be judged impartially.
That said, this book did start out strong, and I had visions of a new potential Cat & Bones (Night Huntress series) to obsess myself with. The first chapter immediately immerses the reader in The Hollows, the magical (primarily non-human) side of the tracks, and Rachel shows she has a campy sense of humor. However, the initial momentum didn’t last through even the first chapter, when the story starts to become bogged down in a few too many unfamiliar terms and references. Now normally, I’d say that practice (of tossing the reader in head-first and using references and implications to describe the story’s culture) is an effective and enjoyable tool for an author to use, but in this book it just fell flat and left me somewhat confused (and with a meandering attention span). It does get a little better, but not fast enough for me to really latch on to either the characters or the “universe”.
The “universe” concept for this book/series is an interesting (and fairly original) concept. Something like half of the world’s human population was wiped out nearly overnight by a mutated bio-virus that managed to hide itself inside a bio-engineered tomato. This leads to some of the more campy humor of the book, with humans (including Nick) having a serious aversion to tomatoes and using tomato-inspired references as swear words.
The Vampire: Ivy is a “living vamp”, who can walk in daylight and choose not to consume human blood, while still retaining some of the speed and strength of the soulless “dead vamps” who must consume human blood to continue existing. Ivy is a frustrating quandary. I think the author’s intent was to make her mysterious and brooding with implied secrets about her abilities. To me, however, she just comes across as moody and annoying.
The Human: Nick is a seemingly harmless human with a murky background, lax morals, a sweet disposition, and no as-yet-known special abilities. He has an uncanny knack for making things happen and finding solutions quickly and efficiently, and it seems as though he is being set up as Rachel’s love interest, although nothing really seems to come of that. While it is somewhat alluring to be teased with hints about Nick’s potential for some kind of hidden power, there is just not enough substance to him to make me care what happens next. His chemistry with Rachel is hazy at best, making it difficult to root for them as a couple.
The Pixy: Jenks is a witty, fierce, clever, & efficient little winged warrior, who doubles as Rachel’s spy and bodyguard. This little fireball of a pixy is by far my favorite character in the book, which is a little disturbing considering he’s not the main character and the story is not told in his voice. The book isn’t called “Dead Pixy Flitting”, although that might have actually been a more amusing story to tell. His humor, competence, situational awareness, fighting prowess, and larger-than-Tink personality really make him shine. Without Jenks, I probably wouldn’t have rated this book as high as I did (which isn’t saying much).
The Witch: Rachel Morgan is the main character and narrator for the story. She’s a witch, but she almost exclusively uses charms to cast her magic, which seems a pretty cumbersome way of going about things since they have to be pre-enchanted then carried around and physically activated with a time delay. While I think Rachel has some potential to grow into a strong and likable heroine, in this book she tends to hover somewhere between being a careless liability and a spunky rogue with a one-track brain.
About Inderlanders & the Hollows…
The Hollows have become a bastion of Inderland life, comfortable and casual on the surface, with its potential problems carefully hidden. Most humans are surprised at how normal the Hollows appear, which, when you stop to think about it, makes sense. Our history is that of humanity’s. We didn’t just drop out of the sky in ’66; we emigrated in through Ellis Island. We fought in the Civil War, World War One, and World War Two – some of us in all three. We suffered in the Depression, and we waited like everyone else to find out who shot JR.
On pint-sized sidekicks…
I’d found Jenks to be a pretentious snot with a bad attitude and a temper to match. But he knew what side of the garden his nectar came from. And apparently pixies were the best they’d let me take out since the frog incident. I would have sworn fairies were too big to fit into a frog’s mouth.
See, chocolate IS medicinal!
It was nerves that made me stop at the sweet shop. Everyone knows chocolate soothes the jitters; I think they did a study on it. And for five glorious minutes, Jenks stopped talking while he ate the caramel I bought him.
If you like…
If you like Dead Witch Walking and other books in the Rachel Morgan series, you may like the Cassie Palmer series by Karen Chance. It has a similar competent-yet-disaster-prone female lead and is told from the same first-person viewpoint. They also both feature vampires, wizards, fairies, demons, and humans. In my opinion, the Cassie Palmer series has more momentum & wit, and a clever, more complex plot. I also enjoy the interactions between the main and secondary characters much more, and the pace of the story is much, much faster. You may also like the Night Huntress (Cat & Bones) series by Jeaniene Frost, which is told with the same first-person-spunky-heroine style, but focuses almost exclusively on vampires and ghouls.
I really wanted to like this book a lot. I need a new series to keep me occupied between the Night Huntress, Black Dagger Brotherhood, Anita Blake/Meredeth Gentry, Cassie Palmer, Guild Hunter, and Sookie Stackhouse novel releases. That might sound like a lot of series to keep track of, but when they average 1-2 book releases a year per series (some even less) and I read 1-2 books a week, that leaves me with a lot of free reading time and there’s only so many times I can re-read these series before I have them committed to memory! *grin*
I was hoping Dead Witch Walking would draw me in enough to want to read the second one, but I just wasn’t invested enough in it at the end of the story. The ending sequence of events is so predictable it’s almost depressing to read it play out when you know what’s coming. I know a lot of people like this series and this book. Maybe it gets better as it goes along. Maybe I’ll come back to it later. Obviously everyone has different tastes, so if you disagree with many of my review ratings, then you will probably enjoy this book!
|3.75 fangs: BITE IT, but beware splinters…|
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