Urban fantasy is a minefield full of mind-numbing exposition and ridiculous ideas. Even authors who develop a compelling mythologies – and keep those mythologies straight over the course of several books – can still fail spectacularly. Maybe reader demand keeps the story going long past it’s natural conclusion. Maybe one or more of the characters contracts Anita Blake Syndrome (a fictional STD in which formerly interesting characters are reduced to gooey, sticky piles of sex organs and hormones). Maybe Deus Ex Machina ends up saving the day more often than the hero.
Ever After, the second to last installment in Kim’s Harrison’s Hollows series, veers very closely to a number of these pitfalls but remains a solid installment of the series that I will be genuinely sad to see end.
The series follows Rachel Morgan, the now-infamous witch/demon, and her business partners in Vampiric Charms. Ivy is the prickly, tortured vampire best friend who lured her away from her lackluster government job at the IS (non-human, or “inderland,” law enforcement) and Jenks is the sarcastic pixie sidekick. They set up shop as runners – a job that is part detective and part private security. At least that’s what they used to do before bailing Rachel out of trouble became a full time sort of thing. Although the story takes place in present day, it’s established that the long-hidden existence of supernatural creatures was revealed when genetically altered tomatoes wiped out a substantial portion of the human population. Stepping on that particular butterfly has altered things just enough to create a Cincinnati that is charming in it’s mix of the strange and the hey-I’ve-been-there.
In this installment, Rachel has been framed for disturbing the ley lines which is causing the Ever After to shrink in such a way that it will leave the demons no place to go. She also discovers that Ku’Sox, a lab created demon that is more psychotic than most, is trying to use human babies to create new demons. Can she fix the lines and clear her name? Can she save the babies? Will she win the romantic interest in the end? Well, she’s Rachel fucking Morgan. By book eleven then you already know that the interesting part is not the outcome. She’ll skid into the end of the book by the skin of her teeth like a redheaded Harry Dresden. The part worth reading is how she gets there.
Rachel has always been the main draw of the Hollows series. By this point in the series, she ought be insufferable. She ought to be the Wesley Crusher of Cincinnati. In addition to being a super special one-of-a-kind magical being, she’s the daughter of a famous rock star. The most powerful man in Cincinnati casually invites her for tea. Former presidents drop by her kitchen. The scariest demons grant her audiences. She’s recognized in the street in both the real world and the Ever After as the famous/infamous Rachel Morgan. She uses black magic with impunity. She can be a hypocrite and sometimes kind of an ass. Yet, Harrison writes her in such a way that she remains mostly relatable if not likable. Sure, 90 percent of her problems are her own damn fault but I’m still rooting for her.
Harrison’s supporting characters is equally well-written. The cast has grown substantially since Dead Witch Walking, and she wisely takes regular opportunities to clear the decks. Some exits are jarring, but never in a way that feels inorganic. The ebb and flow of Rachel’s relationships is realistic, and the way Harrison handles this is probably one of my favorite things about this series. The ongoing friction in Ivy and Rachel’s friendship is a nice change from the tired instant-best-friends trope that appears in so many female centric series. Alliances in the Hollows universe are rarely easy. Case in point: Al and Trent teaming up against Nick would have seemed ludicrous early on in the series, but since both characters have made the transition from one-off villain to beloved regular it seems entirely reasonable and plausible.
Even though Harrison’s characters have all grown, it’s becoming clear that The Hollows can’t continue this way indefinitely. In some ways, the air is already starting to feel stale. Ivy has been spinning her wheels for awhile now. Rachel’s continued protests about her moral integrity are exhausting. It’s obvious she’s meant to end up with Trent. Frankly, Rachel is lucky more often than she is good and the fact that she continues to save the day is starting to get ridiculous. It’s time to wrap things up.
Harrison, Kim. Ever After. 2013. HarperCollins, New York, NY.