Read: 2004 – 2014
Author: Kim Harrison
Published: 2004 – Present
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Selected By: Elle Tea
“The Hollows series, also called the Rachel Morgan series, is an urban fantasy alternate history universe set primarily in the city of Cincinnati and its suburbs. The alternate history is built upon two premises: the recent open existence of magical and supernatural species, primarily witches, vampires, and werewolves, with the human population; and the historical investment of Cold War military spending in genetic engineering as opposed to the Space Race, which resulted in the accidental release of a virus via a genetically modified tomato in the 1960s that killed a significant portion of the human population. The series is set approximately forty years after this plague, referred to as ‘The Turn’ within the series.
“The series is told in the first-person point-of-view of Rachel Morgan, a detective witch who works with local law enforcement agencies and faces threats both mundane and supernatural in origin. The series also focuses on Rachel’s relationships with her partners, a living vampire and a pixy, as well as her personal relationships with males of different species.” – from the Hollows (series) Wikipedia summary.
This is a general review of the entire series, which includes the following novels; the Hollows series also includes graphic novels and a couple of short stories that were published in separate anthologies, but I haven’t read the graphic novels, and I believe all of the short stories affiliated with the series were republished in Into the Woods… but I might be wrong about that. At any rate, these are the novels so far, all of which I have read:
Dead Witch Walking (2004)
The Good, the Bad, and the Undead (2005)
Every Which Way but Dead (2005)
A Fistful of Charms (2006)
For a Few Demons More (2007)
The Outlaw Demon Wails (2008)
White Witch, Black Curse (2009)
Black Magic Sanction (2010)
Pale Demon (2011)
A Perfect Blood (2012)
Into the Woods (2012) (a collection of short stories published previously, with a few originals, such as Million-Dollar Baby)
Ever After (2013)
The Undead Pool (2014)
I just finished book twelve of the Hollows series, which is reportedly set to end at book thirteen. This is apparently a source of dismay for many readers, who have fallen in love with Rachel’s madcap mishaps, but I for one cannot wait. I don’t know if it’s OCD or some sort of mental self-flagellation being forced upon me by my subconscious to atone for something wrong I did in the past, but I rarely simply stop reading a book, no matter how bad it is, and the same goes for a series* – unless it’s just really atrocious. My reasoning is this: once I’m so many chapters in (book) or so many books into it (series), I just want to know what happens in the end.
And this, my friends, is how I got trapped in the Hollows. I wanted to get off this ride years ago, but I kept going back to find out about the supporting characters, and at this point… Well, at this point, it’s been ten years, there’s only one book left, so… what the hell, right? Plus, after book three, I told a few friends about it… and now they’re reading this tripe, and I feel I owe it to them to read these things first; I can then spare them the money and endless hours spent reading about Rachel’s newest man-addiction and all the various ways she disappoints as a heroine and simply tell them the gist of the very fleeting plots.
I will spare you the sordid details, as well, by not giving a review of each book. That’s a decade worth of writing to critique, and I just don’t have that kind of time. Plus, I think to be fair to the earlier books of the series, I’d have to go back and re-read them all – and to be perfectly honest, I’d rather be forced to yank my uterus out with my bare hands and use it as a flotation device as I am hurled over Victoria Falls than put myself through most of these books again.
I do want to be clear here, though: the world itself is really great. In the first three books, Kim Harrison really puts some time into showing us the world she created; it’s all vibrant and vivid and fantastic: the alternate reality and all of the history that goes along with it, the science behind the magic, the characters that flit in and out of the protagonist’s life, the different species and how they relate to one another – all of these things are amazing.
That being said, let me also add that I truly like books 1 – 3. They’re fun reads, and the overall weakness of the quasi-heroine is acceptable when compared to the people, places, and plots by which she is surrounded; by book three her general attitude and tendency to moon over any bearer of an XY chromosome pairing who shows her the slightest bit of kindness is beginning to wear rather thin, but the supporting characters and, again, the world itself really make up for all of the problems Rachel herself causes for me.
By the time I hit book four, I realized two things about myself:
Thing the First: I hate repetitive phrasing, especially when it’s supposed to be seen as a “catch-phrase.” For the first few books, Rachel and a few other characters have a tendency to use the word “cookie” over and over again. It’s “cookie this” and “cookie that” and “I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Cookie.” Abruptly, midway through the series, “cookie” disappears, only to be replaced by “albatross.” Rachel is constantly running a mental monologue about the tragedy of her existence, which includes telling other people (and herself) what an “albatross” she is. And worse than these is the newest repetitive phrase, which is used by at least two main characters and is driving me absolutely nuts: “mother pus bucket.” I cannot read that phrase, no matter what the context in these novels, without hearing the original line as spoken by Bill Murray in 1984.
Thing the Second: I despise Rachel mother-pus-bucketing Morgan. If I was her neighbor, I’d burn her church to the ground. If I was her friend, I’d passive-aggressively simply stop taking her calls in the hopes that she’d “get it” and just leave me alone. And part of the reason I dislike her as much as I do is because we are told, repeatedly, by various characters within the novels as well as by Rachel herself, that she can handle things. That she’s a grown-up and can be strong, independent, and self-reliant. That she’s one of the best bounty hunters in town, that she’s a gifted witch, a powerful demon, blah-dee-blah-dee-blah.
But here’s a fun fact: I can stand up in front of a group of people today and declare that I am a purple arthropod. Unless I am (a) purple and (b) an arthropod, all the words in the world won’t make them so. And so it is with Rachel Morgan.
Rachel never successfully does anything completely alone. This would be acceptable if this series was the type that was trying to get the message out that it’s okay to have friends, it’s okay to accept help when you need it, it’s okay to admit weakness. But this is not the case. Rachel rarely asks for help, she shuns it when it’s offered, she gets offended if someone insists on going along, and she argues and whines if anyone around her even suggests omitting her from one of their own schemes. Oh, she does manage to sneak off and “handle” things all by her lonesome, but the consequences of her going off on her own are almost always absolutely disastrous, and nine-times-out-of-ten, she has to be rescued. And not just rescued, but rescued by the very people she tried so hard to shove away with her insistence that she was a big girl and could handle it – people who, for one reason or another, will have brought some strong, strapping, fine young thang with wide shoulders and a broad chest that is perfect for poor Rachel to rest her weary red head on.
And Rachel makes mistakes. Lots of mistakes. Lots and lots. And in twelve books, she has learned not one single thing from any of them. Rather than learning from her mistakes, which would be the mark of a truly strong female character, she instead points fingers and casts the blame at everyone but herself; for most of the books of the series, everything bad seems to somehow be, in her opinion, caused by or associated with a supporting character. And if it isn’t their fault directly, then it’s somehow affiliated with the businesses they have their fingers in.
This brings me to Rachel being a complete and utter hypocrite. There is a character in these novels who is attempting to save an entire race of people. If you read these novels, I can guarantee you that you will not agree with every choice this character makes, nor will you understand at the beginning why this character responds to Rachel as they do. In the end, if we had learned that Rachel’s general hatred for this individual was caused from their association with drugs, or the seemingly senseless murder of a man, it might have almost been forgivable. But these reasons, the reasons that are put in our faces so that we might justify not liking this character, are not the ones that give Rachel herself enough justification to despise this individual.
No. She hates them because of a summer camp that happened almost a decade prior to the first novel. Because she was treated with what she views as haughty disregard, and that is all the reason she needs to spend years of her life attempting to ruin this person.
Which, again, would be acceptable to me as a reader. I’ve backed characters before who seemed totally insensible to me… except…
Except she is a complete hypocrite. If anyone else does something that might be even remotely construed as “evil,” she is all over it. She quotes the law, she argues morality, she climbs up on her high horse and just rubs their noses in all of their weaknesses and desperate antics. Then, when faced with her own catastrophe, she turns around and begins to do the very magic for which she has condemned others – oh, sure, she’s hesitant at first, because there is a stigma surrounding black magic users in general – but by the time it’s all said and done, she’s fine with it. If a character kills one man to save thousands of innocent lives, that’s wrong, and she can never and will never let that go – because murder for any reason is wrong; but if she repeatedly puts herself and the people around her in jeopardy with her haphazard, dingbat, half-cocked antics, that’s supposed to be completely acceptable, because, hey, she’s saving lives.
In my opinion, the only reason any author would need to repeatedly remind readers of how strong a character is supposed to be is if the actions of that character go against that image entirely. And Rachel is not a strong – or even sensible – butt-kicking, self-reliable female protagonist. Rachel, ladies and gentlemen, is a romance-genre heroine; I’ve got no problem with sex in books, trust me on this, but when it seems to be the same boring sex over and over again with various different partners, and those pitifully-depicted and awkwardly-described fumblings are a main goal or a driving force for the main character, well… yeah, that’s pretty much a romance novel. Rachel parades around with her fluffy red hair and leather bustiers, screaming to Cincinnati that she’s one tough “cookie,” but in the end what she really wants – and seems to need- is for one of the guys (demon, human, witch, pixy, or even a rat, for cryin’ out loud) to come rushing in and make it all okay again, to save her from herself, to correct all of the fallout that resulted from her long list of bad choices, to pat her on the head and tell her that it’s okay to be a ditz, provided you’re a well-meaning ditz.
And I despise the fact that any character that she is in contact with for too long begins to erode into a pile of enabling mush. Rachel is surrounded by people whose sole purpose seems to be to remind the reader that Rachel really is seen as the baddest of all the bad asses and the hottest of all the hotties in town. Jenks is constantly inflating her ego by announcing to the people around her that she’s so tough and that no one should mess with her. Then we have poor Ivy, who gets yanked around on various chains by this wishy-washy witch who seems to like filling her spare time between boyfriends with a little hanky panky against a van and various church walls with her resident vampire. And let’s not forget that every man she comes into contact with – even if he wants to kill her, even if he professes his unrelenting hatred for her very existence, no matter if he only met her in passing one time on a tiny boat, regardless of whether he’s alive, dead, or even corporeal – wants nothing more than to get a piece of Rachel pie.
It’s possible to have romance, passion, and love in urban fantasy novels without sacrificing plot or the respect of the protagonist; Harry Dresden has woman problems galore, but his relationship issues are secondary to the plots of each novel. Urban fantasy novels geared towards women can achieve these qualities, as well; Mercedes “Mercy” Thompson comes immediately to mind as a strong female heroine of urban fantasy. Mercy is a mechanic, she lives alone for a good chunk of the series, she has an ex with whom she was in a committed relationship and she eventually falls in love again and marries. She is loyal, committed, a great and compassionate friend, and she doesn’t spend all her time talking about how tough she is or chasing after all the fine guys by whom she is surrounded. Nay. Mercy either handles the issues or she calls in her friends to help her out. That’s it. Done. And I friggin’ love her for it.
I blame us – women readers – for the Hollows series. But Rachel Morgan isn’t the only one for which we are responsible; Fifty Shades of Grey, the Sookie Stackhouse novels, and Twilight are all our fault. Every book that contains some boy-crazy princess in a tower masquerading as an “independent and strong” heroine is our fault. These books get insanely great reviews because we keep reading them, because we were, all of us, at some point in our lives told that it’s feminine and romantic to be rescued, and somehow it’s perfectly acceptable for a mark of female independence to be promiscuity. And what’s really sad is that it’s now typically women writing for women who come up with this crap.
So, in closing, I gave this series two cups o’ tea. I teetered for a bit between one and two stars; in the end, the first star is for the series itself, but the second star is for Kim Harrison’s version of the world, which is really creative and easy to get lost in. However, if you’re looking for great urban fantasy with clever plots, witty and strong protagonists, and interesting alternative world views, check out the Dresden Files and the Mercy Thompson books. If what you really want, deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, is to be transported to a world where your heroines can always rely on a safety net being there to catch them, and that safety net is always in the shape of two burly arms attached to two broad shoulders which, in turn, are connected to a chiseled chest, well… the Hollows might be right up your alley.
Elle read the mass market paperback versions of books 1 – 5, and the Kindle versions of books 6 – 12.
* In all my life, there has been only one book that I can think of that I hated so completely that I stopped reading it a quarter of the way through and did not pick it – or any of its successors – up again. And that book, my friends, is Twilight. I hate – and I mean abhor, detest, loathe to the core – that series and everything it stands for. If I had a daughter, I would absolutely forbid her to read that book – I, who, until the creation of Twilight, would have been appalled at the very idea of a book being forbidden to anyone. In my opinion, girls, especially preteen and teenaged girls, need someone better to look up to than a co-dependent teenager who is dismissive of her father, mocking of her mother, made to look “brave” for throwing herself off a cliff when her boyfriend bails on her, whose biggest aspirations in high school aren’t college or even a job – nay, not for Bella! – but to be a wife so she can finally make sweet greasy love to the aforementioned boyfriend (who, in turn, has nothing better to do with his immortality than hang around in high schools), and who becomes a mother at nineteen.