Friday 27 October 2017

#CBR9 Books 93-97: "Black Magic Sanction", "Pale Demon", "Ever After", "The Undead Pool" and "The Witch with No Name" by Kim Harrison re-read

So I've been doing a re-read of all of Kim Harrison's The Hollows books in audio since March this year. This is my review for the latter part of the series (with the exception of book 10, A Perfect Blood, which seems impossible to get in audio book format, either on Audible or in any library I've got access to. So with that one, I skim-read the relevant Rachel and Trent parts and moved quickly on to the next in the series. I have reviewed all of these books before, so if you want plot summaries, you can find my original reviews by searching my blog or Goodreads. These will be my observations from my revisiting of the books. Also, there will be spoilers!

Black Magic Sanction
Page count: 546 pages
Audio book length: 19 hrs 6 mins
Rating: 3 stars

This book is pretty much the definition of bridging or filler book. I started listening to the audio book in May and finished it in September. The plot just isn't all that engaging or exciting, hence my decision, upon which I clearly got distracted by other things and just forgot about it for a few months. Even when I picked it back up and managed to finish it, I was surprised at just how inconsequential the story was. Yes, we're introduced to the Coven of Ethical and Moral Standards, who seem hell bent on locking Rachel up and lobotomising her, so she can't do magic anymore. Nick shows up and is untrustworthy and becomes even more weaselly with each new appearance. Trent acts like he knows better than anyone else. Al wants Rachel to come live with him and the demons in the Ever After, since the humans don't appreciate her.

The only major thing that happens is the death of an important supporting character, which has an impact on several of the main cast and was still very sad to read about. But on the whole, there was nothing very memorable about this book (I'd forgotten most of the plot and was surprised when it ended without anything major really happening over the course of the book. Having now re-read the whole series, this is by far the weakest book.

Judging a book by its cover: Well, there's no doubt that this is an urban/paranormal fantasy book, is there? Full moon, gargoyle, lady who's likely wearing leather and holding a dagger. There is ominous mist obscuring the face of the cover model, probably so readers won't have to have their mental image of Rachel disturbed. The book isn't all that exciting, neither is the cover.

Pale Demon
Page count: 496 pages
Audio book length: 17 hrs 54 mins
Rating: 5 stars

What a delightful change this book is from the last one. Probably helped massively that some of the things that play out in this book were set up in the previous, not very exciting one (one book is all set up, this is pretty much all satisfying pay-off). Rachel has to get to the West Coast for her brother's wedding and Coven trial. Trent has to get to the West Coast for...reasons. Reasons he won't tell anyone the details of. Except Quen can't come with him, and wants Rachel to be his security. Rachel isn't allowed to fly, so they have to go on a road trip. They have three days to cross the country. Ivy and Jenks are along for the ride (because what would be the fun if the whole gang wasn't there? Partway through their journey, they are joined by Vivian, one of the Coven witches, and Pierce, sent by the demons to babysit Rachel and keep her safe. Let's just say, the car gets pretty crowded.

I don't know what it is about road trip stories, but they always tend to work out well and be very entertaining. It's probably putting people in close quarters in what is generally a rather tiresome and rather stressful way to travel, forcing them to spend time together and bond, sometimes against their will. This is the book where Harrison is clearly starting to map out her end game with regards to Rachel's happy ending. Only a few books earlier, she loathed Trent and wanted him locked up forever. Being forced to drive cross country with him, chased by elven assassins, hunted by a crazy demon and generally facing a number of challenges together, makes her see him in a new light and starts to trust him for the first time.

This book introduces Ku'Sox, the completely unhinged super-demon, who can walk in the sun and generally be controlled by no one, and while I don't like him much (he's just too over the top crazy), he makes for a good antagonist for a book or two. I love the reason for Trent's quest, I love that he and Jenks decide to work together and do it well. I like Rachel and Trent's changing perception of one another. It was especially fun re-reading this book, knowing where they would eventually end up. While Rachel's mum isn't in the book much, she's always a delight, as well.

Judging a book by its cover: The white leather dress the cover model is wearing is actually a match to one that Rachel wears in the book, while fighting a demon, so kudos to the cover designers for going with something less generic and more specific for this book. I'm not a huge fan of any of the covers in this series, they get a bit too "genre typical" for me, but in the grand scheme of things, this is probably one of the best.

Ever After
Page count: 516 pages
Audio book length: 18 hrs 36 mins
Rating: 5 stars

Two excellent books in a row, so while I might not like Ku'Sox as a character much, he certainly brings out the best in my other favourites, when they have to work together to deal with him. The Ever After is shrinking and all the lay lines have been corrupted somehow. Rachel is being blamed for it and Ku'Sox is trying to convince the other demons that the only way to fix their own lay lines and stop the shrinking is by killing Rachel. There is also someone kidnapping babies with the Rosewood syndrome, and it's highly likely that the cases are connected. When Rachel's friend and goddaughter are kidnapped to emotionally blackmail Rachel into giving herself up, things take a turn from very bad to pretty much disastrous. While she normally has many people to turn to for help, in this book, she's more or less on her own, with the few demons on her side being either incapable or unwilling to help her, Trent neutralised because his daughter is in danger and there being very few other magic users powerful enough to assist her, as she fights for her own life and to rescue innocent babies, on top of everything.

There is so much going on in this book, and pretty much all of it is gold. After their road trip, and the conclusion of the last novel, Trent and Rachel are now in a place where they trust one another and that builds in this story, as Trent's daughter is kidnapped and he has to rely on Rachel to make sure he gets her back safe. Since Rachel has to spend quite a bit of time in the Ever After, and do lay line magic, Jenks and Ivy are not the best people to help her, and subsequently take a bit more of a back seat. Not that they both don't get a few memorable scenes. We find out more about gargoyles, and after barely being present in the last book, Al returns with a vengeance when someone is framing his itchy witch. Not that he, or even Newt, are able to do all that much to help Rachel, it seems. She's short on time, and allies, but has come such a long way from the slightly klutzy, fly by the seat of her pants ex-runner she was in the beginning of the series. This Rachel is a force to be reckoned with, but she doesn't triumph without some casualties along the way. There is more than one death in this book and things get pretty dark and desperate for our heroine before they start getting better.

Judging a book by its cover: In all the early books in the series, the cover model's face was obscured, letting the reader make up their own mind about what Rachel looked like. Here we see her facing forward, and I'm not sure I'm a big fan. While the colour scheme of the cover is nice, the main image is rather generic and a book as action packed and exciting as this deserves a better cover design.

The Undead Pool
Page count: 528 pages
Audio book length: 16 hrs 13 mins
Rating: 4 stars

Magic is behaving unpredictably and even causing dangerous accidents all over Cincinnati. The undead vampire masters are all falling asleep, and leaving their living vampire charges unattended and unchecked. Things are getting chaotic pretty fast. Rachel has been acting as Trent's main security, and spending a lot of time with him. She's not looking forward to Ellasbeth, his soon to be fiancee, returning from the West Coast. Neither the elves nor demons want Rachel and Trent together and it would be both politically and financially damaging for Trent to reject the alliance with the West Coast elves that marrying Ellasbeth would provide. When Rachel unwillingly becomes a focus for a lot of the uncontrolled elven magic that is causing all the chaos in the city, and as a result becomes a desirable target for those plotting to kill all the master vampires and create a war with the elves, Trent needs to really take a long, hard look at his priorities and plans for the future.

Harrison's world building, creating an alternate US timeline in a world where supernatural creatures exist, and eventually learn to live more or less peacefully side by side with humanity, has always fascinated me. In earlier books in the series, we've seen more of the internal power structures of the werewolves and vampires, we've seen how pixy families can grow and thrive and how demon society is structured. In this penultimate book, we get a closer look at the elven power hierarchies, and while Trent is well on his way to becoming a decent person (with a lot of help from his friends), a lot of the other elves don't seem all that sympathetic.

Judging a book by its cover: On this book, we not only see a female model portraying Rachel, but a male one portraying Trent. Firstly, I really hate the outfit given to Rachel, which in no way reflects on anything she wears over the course of the story. Secondly, see my complaint above about seeing the characters' faces. I like being able to make up my own mind. That is not at all what Trent and Rachel look like to me.

The Witch with No Name
Page count: 510 pages
Audio book length: 17 hrs 28 mins
Rating: 4 stars

Considering this is the final book in the series, I really wish Ms. Harrison had written a more engaging, and less messy plot. Much of the main story is head vampire of Cincinnati, Rynn Cormel, threatening Ivy's life because he wants Rachel to figure out a way to save the vampires' souls when they die. Working with Trent and with some help from the demons, Rachel finds out where vampire souls go when they die, and there's a whole load of magical complications where undead vampires are reunited with their souls, but kind of go crazy with the guilt of all the bad stuff they did as soulless bloodsucking creatures.

Landon the weaselly elf priest makes his return and is no less unpleasant in this book. Ellasbeth is trying to ruin Trent financially and destroying his remaining political power, so she can get sole custody of the little girls and Rachel spends much of the book being convinced that Trent's going to dump her at any and go off and make some sort of marriage of convenience. This keeps on at tedious length, despite him clearly having already risked his name, fortune and reputation to be with her, and it's obvious to anyone that he's so much happier not being under public scrutiny with some sort of grand elven crown prince legacy.

The epilogue of the book, set about twenty-something years later is very sweet and closes off the series in a lovely way. I still wish less of the actual book had been about boring vampire stuff.

Judging a book by its cover: The white, gold, black and red colour scheme is pretty good. The cover designers still insist on dressing Rachel in corsets and mini skirts, despite the fact that she barely ever wears such things over the course of the series. Leather pants or jacket, yes. Thigh-high mini skirts and bustiers - no. At least she's facing away on this cover, no full frontal view (possibly because they got a different female model again).

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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