Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan Is a Superhero

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The next to last book in the Hollows series. Courtesy HarperCollins

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

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The last book in the Hollows series, due out 9/9. Cover via HarperCollins

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.

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The first book in the series. Cover copyright HarperCollins

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.

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54 thoughts on “Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan Is a Superhero

  1. I have to agree with you on Rachel. I started out thinking she was a ditz, but she had potential. I stuck with her and watched her become a fantastic woman who is definitely discovering who she is. I can’t wait to read the last book but at the same time, I don’t know if I’m ready to say goodbye to everyone.

  2. I have been reading Kim Harrison’s Hallows series for years and following Rachel’s life through all of her adventures and life-changing decisions. I love how you summed up Rachel’s basic goodness and toughness. Thank you for elevating Rachel to “super-hero” status…she certainly deserves it all.

  3. I am right there with you! I also just finished book 12 but have not gotten to Witch With No Name.
    I LOVE Rachel. Oh at first I thought she was whiny, immature and frankly an airhead. But that is what she was supposed to be so we could track her growth through the books.

    Rachel is a super hero. She doesn’t have a cape (or even a pointy hat) but she is always there for her friends and loved ones.

    I am so sad to see this series end. But it is ending at the top of the game and characters have been true to themselves.
    Will Rachel still make mistakes in Book 13? I am sure she will, but they will not be the same kinds as in Dead Witch Walking.

    1. There are a few scenes throughout the books that bring to mind one of my favorite scenes from the recent Wonder Woman run by Gail Simone. In this issue, WW is on an alien planet. A Green Lantern who’s a native of the planet thinks she’s hostile.

      Instead of defeating him, Wonder Woman basically lets the Green Lantern pound the crap out of her until he realizes she’s not the enemy. There’s another instance when in the same run where Wonder Woman literally reached out her hand to save an enemy that has been trying to destroy her in a duel and saves her, at least until the bad guys show up unexpectedly.

      More than anything, Rachel reminds me of this aspect of Wonder Woman.

  4. I’m glad you were able to become a Rachel Morgan devotee – she’s one of my favorite protaganists (superhero indeed!). I like her because she’s not perfect – she makes stupid mistakes and sometimes blindly rushes off into chaos – but her enthusiasm and joie de vivre is infectuous, and she endears herself to just about everyone. Even her ex-boyfriend, who keeps trying to get her killed, can’t seem to stop apologizing as he sends danger to her door. She’s a coffee lover and a slob,and is always dressed to kill (pun intended). I was lucky enough to find her shortly after the third book came out and I’ve been following her escapades ever since. She will be sorely missed, but at least I will have the pleasure of re-reading the series in years to come. Thanks for the great review!

  5. <3 I think you hit the nail on the head. As much as I love the series and Rachel, I had never thought as Rachel as a Superhero. This realization makes me love her even more! Thank you!

  6. Hi, it’s really amazing that you manage to describe the bist of 13 books so well and I think you are absolutely right in your description of Rachel and her development. Great job!!!

  7. aYou are so right, GeekMom. I have read all the books when they came out but am heading to a Hallows marathon as you did!
    I am so excited, and sad, that the series is ending but I can always re-read these wonderful stories.
    Another thought is what world will Kim create next!
    Thank you for sharing!

  8. Great review! I’ve been a Hollows Fan for a long time and while I’ve never seen Rachel as a ‘superhero’ I have no fault with your argument at all. =) Desperately waiting for September 9th to role around!

  9. I think you’ve captured the essence of the series perfectly! I experienced the same feelings about Rachel as well. I read the first book about when it came out and had to re-read it when the 2nd & 3rd came out (the 3rd book intrigued me) because I’d skimmed on my first read. Nice review 🙂

  10. Great review of one of the best series you will ever read! I’ve been a Kim Harrison fan since Dead Witch Walking, and I’m not going to lie, it’s going to be hard to say goodbye to Rachel and the gang when the time comes.

  11. I have been reading the Rachel Morgan series since the first book came out, which I picked up on a whim. I agree completely with the idea of Rachel being a superhero, because at the end of the day that’s what she is! This is an excellent review of the series, and I am extremely excited to pick up the final book, even as I am dreading it because I realize that it is my final adventure with Rachel.

    Fortunately, the series is always there to be revisited.

  12. I agree that Rachel is a superhero! I have liked Rachel from the beginning, even though she infuriated me at the front with her dumb decisions and mistakes. But those are what make her human and the whole series realistic. Thank you for the great review!

  13. Really nice review of this wonderful series. I’ve enjoyed the books immensely and got started because the title of the first one was intriguing. And although I am looking forward to The Witch With No Name, like many fans of the series, I am sorry it’s going to end. 🙂

    I have one minor criticism: throughout the review you have the demon “Al” as “A1.” Was that a weird sort of autocorrect problem?

    1. Hah. I could never tell in the series if it was meant to be “Al” or “A1” on the typeface of the books. And then I started calling him A1 in my head because it dovetailed nicely with all the jokes about ketchup and everything and (in my head) it sounded like something Rachel would do.

      I meant to correct them in the review but it snuck in.

  14. I love this series so much. I was dubious about Rachel at first, given her rash and impulsive nature, but her spark and tenacity grew on me until she became my favourite book heroine. And I love Trent, he’s my favourite so wrong he’s right.

  15. This is the best summation of the series that I have ever read. Like you, I just reread the books (though I am waiting for the release of #13), and was able to appreciate Rachel all over again. Also, I now plan to read the graphic novels so thank you 🙂

    1. I love Ivy, so the graphic novels with her narration were awesome to me. And I geeked out for hours on the Hollows Insider. That’s a beautiful book.

      I keep thinking this should be a TV series but I’m not sure they’d do it justice.

  16. Excellent review of the series. I am IMPRESSED by your ability to cover the sweeping saga of Rachel Morgan concisely. These characters feel like friends that I’m leaving half a world behind with no hope of further communications; I’ll miss them terribly! I have a feeling that Ms. Harrison has something in her “cabinet of awesomeness” that will blow us away like The Hollows. I’m getting a little excited to see what’s next.

    1. It helped that I was laid up on the couch all winter after ankle surgery to repair a torn tendon. 🙂

      I was able to go through all the books one after another—and when you do that, the themes because very clear, probably far more so than if I read them as they came out. As a writer myself, I’m impressed with Kim Harrison’s ability to have such a clear character arc through 13 books.

  17. I’ve been following the Hollows since the beginning. I feel like Rachel and crew are friends (in an abstract way). I’m so excited to read the final book, but I must say I’m sad that I won’t have any new stories coming out of the Hollows.

    Thank you for the best review of the series I’ve read! I have to share it. I look forward to your review of the Witch With No Name after the book releases. 🙂

    1. Trying so hard not to spoil! 🙂 But if you read the book description over at Amazon, it does promise a focus on Ivy and that’s accurate. That made me very happy—I expected to get attached to the various men flitting in and out of Rachel’s life but it’s Ivy I love best. Even more than Jenks and I adore him.

      If I was forced to choose from the rest, I’d say A1 because he’s so haunted. The rest are fine, I didn’t hate any of them (save Nick) and A1 would be terrifying in real life but in fiction, he’s perfect.

  18. I adore this series. I actually have the entire series on audio from Audible.com and have just pre-ordered the next one. The narrator does an amazing job and they’re not just fun to listen to, but have a lot of humor, depth and heart (i.e., not fluffy but not overly serious).

  19. I am behind, as I have only read through book # 11. But I have thoroughly enjoyed the series thus far. I will be sad to see it end.
    I hope that Kim Harrison chooses to write more in this genre.

  20. This is such a perfect review on the Hollows Series and how Rachel really IS a superhero. Every time I would read how she would STILL try and help the people that have only sought to end her life used to leave me amazed, like “they just tried killing you rachel! And you are now trying to save them.. You are a better person than I am!” (yes I speak to my books sometimes lol) But like you said, a hero never gives in to evil and no matter what, no one is without redemption. I love this series so much and its sort of a bittersweet feeling that the last book is coming out soon. I am going to miss reading further into the series but at the same time I am very excited to read how Kim Harrison ends it.

    Thanks for this blog! I am going to send it to my friend and tell her to read it once she has finished reading the series and catching up 🙂

  21. This is a great series review. Ivy is actually my least favorite of the main characters so I’m hoping that I love this final book as much as some of the others in the series. Usually vampires are my favorites but in this case I’m much more interested in the demon society. I kind of feel like the vampires in the Hollows had their time in the sun, so to speak, in the earlier books and now I’d like more of the tensions between the elves and demons with Rachel as the natural bridge between the two. So I really hope there is some of that that in the last book too.

  22. One of the best descriptions of this series! I too wasn’t as thrilled with Rachael in Dead Witch Walking, but she has grown up a lot! Cant wait for the last book, but it will be bittersweet!

  23. Kim has been my all time favorite author since I got into urban fantasy. I’m one of her biggest readers.(I don’t like during the word fan with authors)

    If you’re like me and can’t get enough, read her first book written as Dawn Cook. There’s the Truth series and the Princess series.

    She also wrote a young adult series, Avery Madison. It’s pretty good as well.

    While it’s sad Rachel’s story is coming to an end, Kim’s story telling is not. I’m sure next year she’ll introduce us all to a whole new world full of interesting people to get to know. I’m really looking forward to that. 🙂

  24. I picked up Dead Witch Walking at a used book store a few years ago. So began my love of the Hollows and (most of) it’s inhabitants :-). Can’t wait to read the last one, but I know I’ll feel like I’ve lost some friends when it’s over. Thanks to Kim Harrison for the series, and Geekmom for this great review!

  25. I’ve long loved the Hollows, having started the series when it was only two books long. I re-read some of the books periodically just to remind myself of some of the more important bits in the grand scheme of things. Very excellent review — I enjoyed reading it!

  26. What a great review of the series and so accurately done. It is one of my favorite series and I agree that Rachel is a superhero. She never takes the easy way out and improves the world by her actions.

  27. There are some interesting Similarities between the Major characters in this series and the superhero series “Wearing the Cape”. Both Rachel and Hope are idealistic heroes who survived a serious childhood illness. Both also have a close friendship with a Vampire in search of some kind of redemption, leading eventually to the you don’t need me anymore moment.

  28. Great review on an even better series. Thanks for posting it! Found your page via Kim Harrison’s FB page.

    And now I’m off to reread the series between now and Sept. 9th!!

  29. I have loved this series from the beginning, it makes me so happy that you have enjoyed it as much as I do! Your review was spot on, and Rachael Morgan is my favorite hero to date. I hate to see the series end, but I’m still looking forward to reading “The Witch with No Name”!

  30. I totally concur with your initial assessment of Rachel. She really grew as an individual over the course of the series. She did start out a bit ditzy, and I grew to love her more over the course of the series as she grew up emotionally. I think that all of the main characters had personal growth as it continued on. I love Ivy and Jenks. I hate to see the series end. /sigh

  31. Wow, first.. I can’t believe you didn’t like Rachel in the beginning!!! Omg. Sacrilege!! Lol welcome to the Hollows world! A place I’ve been living in for over a decade! Thanks for your review, Oh, and Kim Noticed!! Lol

  32. This review, in my opinion, perfectly sums up my absolute favorite series.

    In the middle books I particularly struggled with Rachel. To me she seemed to be at her peak “whiny-ness” and I was frustrated at how blind she was to the consequences of her decisions. However, as more books were released, I began to love her even more than I had the first time I picked up DWW in 2004 (which I thought impossible).

    Rachel’s character development is such a steady, beautiful arc over the course of the series, and I think I became disenchanted with her for two reasons: the first was that I misdirected my frustration over Kisten’s fate at her; the second was that I was the one that was blind to how Rachel was changing.

    Every time I finished a book and had to wait for the next installment, I was in limbo. From my perspective, so too was Rachel. I was stuck on her as she was mid-development, and couldn’t see ahead to understand the mega-metamorphosis she was about to have. That was my error.

    I’m extremely thankful I didn’t abandon the series. The Hollows has become the series I gush about to anyone who will listen. It’s a gorgeous world with living characters. The pacing and plot are satisfying and stable and I’ve never been able to put a single book down once started.

    I’ve been fortunate to watch Rachel become the superhero she is now, and I will assuredly cry and mourn when the series is finished.

    And then I’ll start again from page one.

    -Mags

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