Monday, March 2, 2009

The Hollows - Kim Harrison - Series Review

I'm reading as fast as I can!


I got to go to a signing tonight to see Kim Harrison (damn, that woman is GORGEOUS) and got a shiny new copy of White Witch, Black Curse. Since most signings I've been to have the author reading a little blurb, I've been doing my best all week to get caught up on the series. At the moment I'm about halfway through the sixth book, The Outlaw Demon Wails. I kind of wanted to finish that and WWBC before doing a review but I just can't wait that long.

I'd read the first one, Dead Witch Walking, a couple months ago, but the series stalled for me when I couldn't find book #2, The Good, The Bad, and the Undead. Paperback copies are all but unavailable for some reason and I really didn't want the hardback. So I waited for the library system to come through with a copy for me, which was about two weeks ago.

Since then I've been burning up the series. WOW. If you're a reader who loves complicated plots, a wide cast of characters, themes that are all about shades of gray, and the interplay of love, sex, and power, this is a series you'll love.

It starts out fairly typically for urban fantasy. The POV is first person, the main character has certain magical powers, consorts with vampires, weres and demons, wears a lot of leather, has bright red hair, and is frequently described as "kick-ass" or, alternatively, "ass-kicking." You know. The usual.

But you soon get drawn in. More happens in any given Hollows book than you see in some whole series. The plotlines are impeccably drawn, twisted, hairpinned, knotted, cloverleafed, and eventually resolved, dragging the characters and the readers through a world where perceptions of black and white are slowly but surely turned upside down and run through the wash and dry cycle until the blacks are light at the seams and the whites are distinctly gray and it's hard to be 100% sure about anything.

For me though, intricate and meticulous plotting isn't enough to get me to read 6 books and to buy the 7th in hardback (!). The part that keeps me deeply engrossed is Rachel's developing character and relationships; the exploration of what love and friendship and power and sex mean and how all those things play against each other and change everything. Characters who are anything but black or white.

I have to say, there's one secondary character that deserves a special mention. Jenks is a 4" tall pixie with 54 kids, who at 18 is nearly at the end of his life expectancy. Turns out that despite his small size, you really don't want to mess with the guy-- he'll fuck you up. But he'll be making hilarious and obnoxious wisecracks while he's at it. At first, I thought his style of comic relief was a little wrong for the book, overly slapsticky or something. But as his character develops beyond kooky sidekick and convenient reconn man, he really grew on me. And really, you just have to love a guy whose repertoire of profanity includes the sweetly alliterative "Tink's titties!"

One thing that I'm enjoying about UF as opposed to straight genre romance is that the characters have more freedom when it comes to relationships. Since the book isn't *required* to end with a romantic Happily Ever After, there is more suspense and uncertainty about what is going to happen between Rachel and any given character-- just like real life. New and interesting characters show up in each book, adding layers of complication and interest and possibility to Rachel's life. I kept thinking Trent is going to be redeemed and turn out to be The One that Rachel ends up with, but events in For a Few Demons More pretty well derailed that train of thought. It could still happen, I guess, but it would certainly be an interesting character arc to get from where I am now in the series to that particular resolution.

I need to stop here, I think, or I'm going to start spoilering. I'm really enjoying the series and give it a strong recommend. Love it!

Some Useful Info:
  • Look for Harrison's books in the horror section rather than romance or fantasy.
  • She has a new YA series starting with a short in the anthology Prom Dates From Hell; the first full-length book is Once Dead Twice Shy and is due out in June of this year.
  • A new Hollows short story will be included in the anthology Unbound, due out this August. Not much info is available, but you can pre-order now.
  • Harrison's website has all the info you need about the books and excerpts from most of them, since I'm lazy tonight and not building all the individual links. There is also a slim chance that a photo of me might show up, as people were taking pictures of the book signing line. Mostly likely I'll be the one with my eyes closed (that always happens to me). However, sadly, I am NOT one of the people in the book tour T-shirts making the vampire-bunny-kiss-kiss gesture.
  • If you are buying the hardbacks, did you know that several of the mass market books contain bonus short stories? The one in For a Few Demons More was cute--it involved Rachel and Kisten kicking some not-from-around-here vampire ass. It almost read as a deleted scene to me, although it would have really been a tangent as an actual scene. There's another waiting for me at the end of The Outlaw Demon Wails, which appears to be a little story or character sketch involving Al and Ceri and demonic paperwork. Just in time to get me in the mood for doing taxes.
  • WWBC is Book 7, and books 8 and 9 are already written (though not finished). Ms. Harrison is in discussions with the publisher about the next books and how many there might be to take her to the end of the series arc that she currently has envisioned.

Reading Order:
  1. Dead Witch Walking
  2. The Good, The Bad, and the Undead
  3. Every Which Way but Dead
  4. A Fistful of Charms
  5. For a Few Demons More
  6. The Outlaw Demon Wails
  7. White Witch, Black Curse


Chris said...

I wandered into a Kim Harrison signing at Uncle Hugo's a few years ago and ended up with signed copies of For a Few Demons more (hardcover) and Dead Witch Walking (paper). She is gorgeous, isn't she?!

wcvamp said...

I have 2 of her books waiting for me at my local library, she sounds great...
IYO is she like Kresley Cole, Jeannie Frost and JR Ward all rolled into 1?

Nicola O. said...

WCV, no, I wouldn't say that. They're much darker than Cole, even with Jenks' humor. I haven't read Jeannie Frost, although she's on my list, so I couldn't say.

As for Ward, the overriding element of her books that I love so much are the larger-than-life heroes -- and Rachel is the hero of her own life; the men are mostly complications and/or butts to be kicked. ;)

Chris, how did you like the series?

Anonymous said...

Sounds interesting, I might give it a try, even though 1st person storytelling isn't my favourite. The description of Rachel sounds a lot like an Anita Blake kinda girl - and I hate Anita Blake. Can you reassure me that she is nothing like her???

Nicola O. said...

Unfortunately I can offer no such reassurances, because I haven't read any of the Anita Blake books. However, while sexual (and sensual) tensions run high in the Hollows, this isn't the series for the red-hott explicit love scenes that you typically see with LKH, Feehan, Ward, etc.

Shannon said...

Rikki- I've read both series (parts of, at least) and while I can't stand Anita any more, I keep reading Rachel.

Nicola- I have read the firat four books and am still on the Trent train. I love him. He is so fabulously bad. Now I really need to pick up book 5!

FD said...

Rikki - superficially, you could say there are Anita Blake resemblances. However, it is only superficially. Harrison is better than LKH, even back when LKH was readable.

Anita Blake has turned into a misogynistic Mary Sue, and one of the nicer things about the Hollows series are the interactions Rachel has with other women - she passes the Bechdel test easily.
The other massive difference is that the AB series was always open ended, so LKH never had a character or plot arc planned - Harrison did, and by god, it shows.

Anonymous said...

FD said it well. KH is more proficient than LKH ever was, and KH's stories are pretty consistently paced, unlike the sprawling mess that is LKH.

"I kept thinking Trent is going to be redeemed and turn out to be The One that Rachel ends up with"

I think either Trent or the slitty-goaty-eyed demon (Minias) could be an interesting The One for her. She needs to own her evil; that's the one respect in which I do feel she's a bit Anita-like. And besides, she needs a challenge. As for Kisten... a couple of books ago I felt like writing to KH and begging her to kill him off. And I don't do that, ever.

... Pretty minor character development SPOILER... since it's minor I probably don't have to say SPOILER... but the SPOILER, such as it is, starts here... yes, that's right... SPOILER

I think Kisten is the only major slip-up I've seen in these books. He was originally a rather inscrutable and intimidating figure to Rachel, but then he morphed into a sweet, wimpy guy who didn't contribute to either plot or relationship. Personality transplant?

Nicola O. said...

Hee hee hee. Someone just hit this post using the search term "Tink's titties."

I'm inordinately tickled about that.

And yeah, RfP, Kisten's personality is a little bit all over the map, but I think I know what Harrison was going for -- I'm not sure it's all that well-executed, but there are some hints that Rachel is particularly attractive to vampires because she can sort of dom them, which understandably unusual in non-vamps, and vamps have a built-in submissiveness, except for the master vamps.

It's more subtle than whips and chains, it's more about strength of will. Good stuff.

Christine E. said...

I Kindled* the first book in this series after reading your review and these comments. The interface makes it hard for me to tell how far into it I am, but I've been reading it for days and thoroughly enjoying it. Thanks for the tip!

* Kindle for iPhone that is. Since I have an iPod Touch and a phone and am phasing out my old Palm, I didn't feel the need to invest in yet another handheld device.

Anonymous said...

The first book was slow for me, and I decided to find a new series, but after reading some comments I'm almost convinced it will get b like beter. I like a little romance in my serie's and the first book had none. Here is hoping they get beter.


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