I’ve just finished a two-month binge reading session of Kim Harrison‘s Hollows series. This turned out to be good timing, as I finished The Dead Pool just as the advanced review copy for the last book, The Witch With No Name, became available. Now I’ve read the entire series, front to back.
And I’ve come to one conclusion: Rachel Morgan, the witch at the center of the Hollows, is a superhero in every sense of the word.
SPOILER WARNING FOR THE SERIES BUT NO SPOILERS FOR THE WITCH WITH NO NAME
Rachel lives in a world where a genetically-altered tomato led to a plague that nearly destroyed human civilization. Out of the shadows came humanity’s unexpected saviors: vampires, weres, witches, warlocks, elves, and other fairy-tale creatures like demons, gargoyles, banshees, and pixies.
The good: The supernatural creatures prevented a complete societal collapse into anarchy. The bad: The supernatural creatures play by their own rules. The less powerful you are, the greater the chance you become cannon fodder. And humanity is at the bottom of the power pyramid. At the top of the pyramid, at least as the series begins, are the immortal vampires who run their society as they see fit, largely without interference.
As the series begins, there’s an uneasy power balance among normal and supernatural. Rachel, a witch who can create powerful earth charms, begins the series as a “runner” (read bounty hunter) for Inderland Security (I.S.), the supernatural police force that ideally keeps all the creatures from hurting each other an humanity. In reality, the I.S. is headed by the most powerful vampires and their goal is to keep vampire society as strong as they can, no matter what it costs other creatures. If they have to pay lip service to justice to do it, so be it, but justice isn’t their aim.
Rachel joined the I.S. with the best of intentions. She soon has the blinders removed, as she quits the I.S. in the first book, Dead Witch Walking, and the I.S. sends assassins after her.
On the flip side is the Federal Inderland Bureau, the human law enforcement agency that tries to operate as a real police force. Unfortunately, since humans are low on the power scale, their ability to enforce the law is limited, especially as they have no jurisdiction over supernatural crimes.
Despite being out of her league, Rachel survives leaving the I.S., with the considerable help of her partners in a new private security firm, Ivy Tamwood, a “living” vampire (read: with a soul) and Jenks Pixie, a tiny man with incredible thieving skills, strong opinions, and unbreakable loyalty. Other major supporting characters are the demon A1, who is far more complicated than he first seems, Rachel’s various boyfriends (she is unlucky in love), and, especially, the mysterious millionaire Trenton Kalamack, who is hiding secrets about his unique supernatural nature.
Over the course of the series, Rachel’s relationships with her friends and enemies shift and change, with those who seemed evil at first having many shades of gray and those who seemed the “authority” to turn to in times of trouble instead scared and willing to use any method to keep order.
At first, I didn’t like Rachel very much. She seemed deliberately clueless with a tendency to impulsively make bad choices.
I preferred the haunted, unpredictable, bisexual Ivy, who was caught in the vampire world by an accident of birth and was horribly manipulated by her vampire master. But Rachel’s voice (the books are told in her first person point of view) is a great deal of fun and, gradually, her character revealed itself to be far more interesting.
Rachel had a childhood filled with death. She was supposed to die of a nearly always fatal genetic disease. When she unexpectedly recovered due to an experimental treatment, she was left with an overwhelming desire to really live, and on her own terms.
And her own terms turn out to be the same as the best superhero credo: Nobody dies and no one is beyond redemption.
It’s absolutely tilting at windmills. Trusting without reason and jumping into situations without planning should get Rachel killed. It causes her no end of trouble, including being shunned by other witches, being tossed in prison, dragged off by a demon, and being hunted over and over. Especially, it means fighting her own dark and evil impulses.
But, like any good superhero, she never gives in to the darkness. Instead, like any great superhero, she drags everyone else into her light. If she won’t give up, they won’t give up.
It starts with Ivy. Rachel moves in with Ivy, knowing full well that the vampire could magically seduce her to become the equivalent of a vampire slave. This seems an incredibly naive and stupid move in Dead Witch Walking. It’s guaranteed to not turn out well. Yet through the first twelve books, Ivy changes and begins to value herself, rather than seeing herself as broken and irredeemably evil. She has hope that she doesn’t have to succumb to her worst self.
Then there’s Rachel’s seemingly idiotic refusal to kill, even when creatures want to kill her. A1 the demon originally shows up as a demon summoned by an unknown enemy. His orders are to kill Rachel. She escapes, partially by appealing to A1’s need to be independent and not be at the whim of anyone who wants a murder committed. It was hard to see in the first few books how A1 could be anything but evil, but as the demon society is showcased, it becomes clear that A1 is trapped in a dying society that warps him and all the other demons.
Instead of wanting to destroy that world, Rachel wants to save it. Because no one is beyond redemption.
Again and again, Rachel refuses to believe that the ends justify the means, even when everyone around her urges her to do that very thing. In one of the biggest decisions she ever makes in the series, Rachel chooses to save the lives of children infected with the very same childhood disease she was cured of as a child. She knows that these children, when they grow up, may be used as weapons by demons who will came to claim them. (Witches who survive this disease are magically able to use demon magic and thus have the ability to exponentially increase the demons’ evil.)
There is no “do something bad now so something bad will be avoided later” with Rachel. There’s only preventing the bad now and working to prevent the bad later too. She’d rather convert the demons than kill them. She’d rather make fairies and pixies respect each other than killing the fairies attacking her. She’ll warn someone who wants to kill her against summoning a demon because she still wants to protect her enemy. She’ll even risk her very soul to save the people who banished her to unimaginable torment.
She continues to use her growing power to fix things, to effect the change that will result in a safer world, and refuses to use means to an end. And she convinces the most powerful people, good and evil, to mostly do the same. (The evil ones that don’t change have a tendency to bring their own doom upon them.)
Rachel does these things because they’re the right thing to do and because she wants everyone to have the same second chance she was given to live. I’ve read a number of urban fantasies and, sometimes, the protagonist is drawn into evil and stands to lose their soul because of the horrific choices they must make. Rachel faces similar horrific choices but while her soul is quite literally stained with black, she never succumbs to evil.
That makes her a superhero and that made this series especially fun for me to read. I highly recommend it.
The series will number 13 books on September 9th, when The Witch With No Name is released, but there are also a number of short stories and several graphic novels. A full list is at Kim Harrison’s website, and I particularly recommend the graphic novels, Blood Work and Blood Crime, which are told from Ivy’s point of view and are a sort of prequel to the full series.
I’d also recommend the amazing Hollows Insider, a definitive sourcebook for the series, with fun stuff like Rachel’s I.S. performance reports, local newspaper stories, F.I.S. classifications of the various supernatural creatures, and memos from Trent Kalamack and his various bodyguards.
There’s still enough summer left for your own Hollows binge.