The Good, The Bad, and the Undead by Kim Harrison
This is the second book in the series by Kim Harrison about Rachel Morgan, ex-IS runner, white witch, and now paranormal investigator. Dead Witch Walking, while being nothing spectacular, was a solid enough read which introduced the relationship between humans and Inderlanders and the characters which inhabit the Hollows. The Good, the Bad and the Undead ramps up the action, suspense, excitement, eroticism, and terror — it is a whirlwind of a story that doesn’t let you breathe until the last page has been turned.
Rachel is having trouble meeting her rent payments due to lack of employment, so she ends up taking a case from necessity — someone is killing leyline witches in a gruesome manner and the FIB want to know who. Rachel finds it easy enough to accept the case, since it seems as though she’ll also be able to return to her investigation of Trent Kalamack, a mysterious figure who managed to evade being taken in by the FIB in the first book of the series.
In the course of her investigation Rachel manages to gain a familiar, find out Kalamack’s heritage, come to the attention of master vampire Piscary, take Nick to meet her mother, and meet again the demon she dubs Big Al. There are a number of twists in The Good, the Bad and the Undead that kept me guessing, and I was glad to see the characters gain more dimension.
I particularly love the little details that help to flesh out the world of the Hollows — everything from the fact that Jenks the pixy wears red if he is travelling across the territories of other pixies and fairies to show his harmless intentions; to the fact that humans have an innate distrust of tomatoes since they carried the Angel virus that caused a quarter of humanity to die out. Harrison has also created a menacing otherworld in the form of the ever-after, which lends power to leylines and happens to be where demons roam. I enjoy the way she turns fairytales on their head by showing that rather than them finishing ‘and they lived happily ever after,’ they actually finish ‘and they lived in the ever-after’, which definitely gives a more sinister undertone.
As well as the excitement, the violence is ramped up in The Good, the Bad and the Undead — and some of it is not for queasy stomachs. The descriptions of the witch deaths and Ivy’s nasty experience left me with raised eyebrows.
All in all, Kim Harrison has produced a book that is heavy on the entertainment and light on any of the issues I had with the first book. The characters are intriguing, especially Al the demon and Trent, about whom we learn a great deal more in this book. In fact, a lot of the niggling little mysteries from the first novel are cleared up here in an outstanding fashion. I simply cannot wait to move onto the third Rachel Morgan book!
Robert read the omnibus version called This Witch for Hire. It contains Dead Witch Walking and The Good, The Bad, and the Undead.
A guilty pleasure of mine, pardon the pun, was reading the ANITA BLAKE series by author Laurell K. Hamilton. Unfortunately, like many readers, I was turned off by the direction that the series was heading with later novels, and eventually stopped reading the books altogether with 2003’s Cerulean Sins. A few years later, and I find myself missing the fun little adventures that I spent with Anita Blake, and in search of a somewhat similar series, I discover not one, but several including such veterans as Glen Cook’s well-known GARRETT P.I. adventures and Tanya Huff’s BLOOD BOOKS as well as a number of newer, post-2000 series such as THE DRESDEN FILES by Jim Butcher, THE SOOKIE STACKHOUSE (SOUTHERN VAMPIRE) books by Charlaine Harris, Carrie Vaughn’s KITTY NORVILLE novels, and the MERCEDES THOMPSON series by Patricia Briggs, just to name a few. Since the Science Fiction Book Club conveniently provides the first four Rachel Morgan novels in a couple of 2-in-1 omnibuses, I decided to try out Kim Harrison.
Since the Anita Blake novels are the only similarly-themed books that I’ve read relative to Rachel Morgan, there will be a lot of comparisons between the two series. So, let’s look at the similarities. First off, both series could be described as urban/contemporary fantasy, set in an alternate present-day world where supernatural creatures such as vampires, weres, and witches, not only exist, but are part of society, with the main difference being that in Rachel’s world, “Inderlanders” had lived in secret, until a virus caused by genetically modified tomatoes nearly wiped out humankind in what is known as the Turn. Secondly, both series are led by strong female protagonists who possess paranormal abilities, become involved in crime investigations, and whose narratives are told from the first-person point-of-view. In the case of Rachel, Ms. Morgan is a former Inderland Security (I.S.) runner who quits, branching out as an independent bounty hunter and who also happens to be a witch. Finally, both series not only deal with matters of the occult and police procedures, but also possess familiar elements of horror, mystery and romance.
Still, despite the likenesses, there are enough variations between the two series that Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan novels do stand on their own. The best way that I can describe the differences, is that if there were ratings Anita Blake would be rated-R and Rachel Morgan PG-13. So, where Anita is a more angst-ridden, gothic character living in a darker, more violent world, Rachel is the more charming, down-on-her luck, do-gooder, whose adventures are lighter and much more playful in tone. Looking specifically at Dead Witch Walking, the first in the series, what we basically have is a set-up piece, where not only are we introduced to Rachel Morgan, but also the living pure-blood vampire Ivy and the pixie Jenks, who both quit the I.S. to join forces with Rachel in starting their own private firm. Other supporting characters include potential boyfriend Nick Sparagmos, Captain Edden of the Federal Inderland Bureau (FIB) — the human equivalent of the I.S. — and antagonist Trent Kalamack who is shrouded in mystery. As far as the actual story, it’s fairly simple stuff… you have werewolf/fairy/demon assassins, the difficulties of starting your own company when being broke, adjusting to living with a vampire who has sworn off blood, shapechanging, and investigating a potentially corrupt, though prominent businessman. Overall, Dead Witch Walking is a solid start to the series, which does a good job of establishing Rachel Morgan and the world she lives in, while providing a reasonably entertaining story.
From a personal standpoint, I’ll be truthful and admit that I didn’t like the book nearly as much as I liked the early Anita Blake novels. This was due more to personal preference rather than any glaring faults with the opening Rachel Morgan chapter, since I tend to favor darker, more graphic reading material opposed to the more humorous, accessible fare that is Dead Witch Walking. I will say however, that Ms. Morgan’s personality can be annoying at times, accentuated by weak dialogue/insights and the author’s inclination to over-use generic pop culture references. Also, the book suffers somewhat from the same weaknesses that Anita Blake does, namely lack of plot advancement at certain moments, and a tendency to spend too much time on mundane issues. In fact, the second book in the series, The Good, The Bad, and The Undead, is plagued by some of the same problems, but, after a slow start, thankfully turns out to be a much better novel than its predecessor.
While The Good, The Bad, and The Undead opens with a pretty silly premise where Rachel is trying to recover a stolen fish mascot, it’s not long before things get interesting with a serial killer on the loose murdering ley line witches, the reappearance of the demon who marked both Rachel and Nick in Dead Witch Walking and the havoc that it’ll play in their lives, the introduction of a master vampire, and of course the return of Trent Kalamack and the secrets that he harbors. Additionally, we’ll get to revisit the love/hate/fear friendship between Rachel and Ivy, who wants Rachel to become her scion, as well as the burgeoning relationship with Nick, where we’ll get to see more romance or, in plainer terms, more sex. On top of that, we get to learn more about ley lines, demonology and familiars; see Rachel try to work with the FIB, specifically Captain Edden’s son; deal with more pixie humor; and discover some startling revelations about Rachel’s past, family, Trent Kalamack and so on. In short, there’s a LOT more going on with The Good, The Bad, and The Undead, and while the book is still light-hearted in nature, the stakes have been considerably raised with the end result being a much more interesting, action-packed and dramatic novel that may resolve several questions, but also wonderfully sets the stage for some compelling future developments including unexpected romantic interests, vampire politics, and a host of other supernatural-themed issues.
My final verdict? The RACHEL MORGAN series is definitely comparable to Laurell K. Hamilton’s books, though they may not necessarily appeal to Anita Blake fans since it is friendlier reading material. Still, if it sounds like something you’d be interested in, then I would definitely check it out, but be aware that Dead Witch Walking is a weaker book, and may not impress some readers. So, I’d recommend picking up the This Witch For Hire omnibus which features the first two novels in the series, and is an excellent way to familiarize your self with Rachel Morgan and company, especially if you can finish Dead Witch Walking and move on to the much superior The Good, The Bad, and The Undead. Plus, two books for the price of one hardcover… who can beat that? For me, I’m looking forward to continuing Rachel’s adventures in the Dead Witches Tell No Tales omnibus, which includes Every Which Way But Dead and A Fistful of Charms — notice a trend there… Clint Eastwood, anyone — as well as For A Few Demons More.
Rachel Morgan (The Hollows) — (2004-2017) The Outlaw Demon Wails has also been published as Where Demons Dare. Publisher: All the creatures of the night gather in “the Hollows” of Cincinnati, to hide, to prowl, to party… and to feed. Vampires rule the darkness in a predator-eat-predator world rife with dangers beyond imagining — and it’s Rachel Morgan’s job to keep that world civilized. A bounty hunter and witch with serious sex appeal and an attitude, she’ll bring ’em back alive, dead… or undead.
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