Friday, October 3, 2014

Renee's Reading: The Witch with No Name, by Kim Harrision

Buckle up, boys and girls, I've got a doozy of a review for you today. I just had so many thoughts about this one that I couldn't contain them all.

And this is the short version.

The Witch with No Name, by Kim Harrison
Rachel Morgan's come a long way from the clutzy runner of Dead Witch Walking. She's faced vampires and werewolves, banshees, witches, and soul-eating demons. She's crossed worlds, channeled gods, and accepted her place as a day-walking demon. She's lost friends and lovers and family, and an old enemy has become something much more.

But power demands responsibility, and world-changers must always pay a price. That time is now.

To save Ivy's soul and the rest of the living vampires, to keep the demonic ever after and our own world from destruction, Rachel Morgan will risk everything.

Whenever I read the last book in a series, I can't help comparing it to the first book. How far have the characters come? Are the bad guys still bad? Are the good guys still good? And is the world a bigger place than it used to be? Smaller? Just the same as it ever was? Where is the moral center of the story? Has it shifted into a grey area, or are black and white still running the show?

The Hollows series was just change all over the place. I saw an interesting post on Ms. Harrison's blog where she talked about the thought process that went into designing the cover for this latest and final installment, and one of the things she mentioned was that Rachel's posture on this cover mirrors the cover of the first book. (For that post, click here.) But other than the way she's standing, pretty much everything about Rachel and her world has changed.

I mean, here are the two covers side by side:

In many ways, they're very similar. After all, both have Rachel standing there, hip cocked, with a magical weapon near at hand, facing down a semi-obscured background structure. But the original Rachel's magical weapon is a comical-looking pair of charmed handcuffs, her hair looks kinda like she dyed is with a crayon or something and it's flying all over the place, and the background structure is a creepy church that's mostly hidden by black shadows and fog. In contrast, the current Rachel is holding gold and white power like a sword that comes from her own hand, her appearance is decidedly more smooth and controlled, and the background image is a bridge covered in magic and white light. Plus, she's not alone.

Hello, Symbolism; look at you just all over everything. Seriously, I could write pages and pages just analyzing these covers. Heck, I could probably pages and pages just on the bridge alone, before I even got rolling on all the other stuff.

And the contrast is a very good representation of the progress the series has made. I remember reading the first book and really loving the way Rachel got all fired up and huffy because she wasn't being treated like the rock star she thought she was, and, with the typical arrogance of any reasonably talented young person, she went off on her own, bit off way the heck more than she could chew, and got her ass thoroughly handed to her. What a great starting point for a character!

Thirteen books later, I really feel like Harrison delivered on the potential of that opening book. There are a lot of parallels here, but we're dealing with a totally different Rachel Morgan these days. She still does ridiculous things sometimes, especially to protect those she loves, but she does them knowing and accepting the possible consequences. She's still demanding respect from the authority figures in her life, but she's doing it from a place of actual power now, rather than just a perceived one. And she's still working with a strange collection of grudging allies, but by this point she's the one drawing them in and leading, rather than keeping everyone at arm's length and trying to run off on her own. There has been so much great character growth here.

This series has done a great job of using every installment to build the characters up a little bit more, so that when you come to the finale, you really feel like they've been heading to this point all along. Yes, there were some characters that seemed to have come and gone without much impact, but even they served their purpose, opening up doors on their way in and out. When taken as a whole, there really is a very impressively built arc to this series.

Specific to this book itself, I really liked this story. There was a lot of the great action and humor and sass that have come to be staples of the series. I have been waiting for them to deal with the vampire issue for several books now and I figured Cormel had to be growing just as impatient. And I liked how the situation with Ivy specifically drove the bigger storyline of the showdown between the elves and the demons, grounding the whole adventure and keeping it from getting too steeped in end-of-the-world, for-the-fate-of-us-all grandiosity.

I've seen some complaints online about the continued presence and increasing importance of Nina. People really don't like her. She's not my particular cup of tea either, but I remind myself that Rachel can be an unreliable narrator at times and we've only seen Nina and Ivy's relationship through her eyes. Rachel doesn't like her, so of course she doesn't come across to the reader as likeable. But there were some very strong moments, both good and bad, between her and Ivy and I enjoyed seeing that.

There were some really high quality emotional moments for Rachel too, both with Ivy and Jenks, and with Al, and especially Trent. I didn't think I would, but I do like the way Rachel and Trent fit together, even if Rachel's constant inadequacy issues have started to wear a bit thin.

(Speaking of characters who've evolved over the course of the series. . . anyone remember how Al and Trent were the big monsters in book 1?)

There's a lot of action in this book, a lot of crazy people doing crazy things because they think it's the best way to get what they want, and somehow Rachel is the one who has to be the voice of reason and hold the whole thing together. Thirteen books ago I know I certainly wouldn't have trusted her with something like the fates of every species in this world and the Ever-After, but now it seems like she's the best possible choice.

A spectacular finale to a very enjoyable series. I loved the way Harrision wrote this book and this series and I'm very glad to have read along.

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