Long running, single protagonist series might be one of the most difficult things to pull off in fiction. On one end of the spectrum there are Robert Parker’s Spenser books where Spenser never ages, never evolves, he just keeps solving those crimes. The sameness and lack of growth quickly become frustrating. And on the other end is Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series where the characters do move forward and change and in the process loose that precious something that made the reader want more of them. Through four books in the Hollows series, Kim Harrison has neatly avoided these divergent issues with a layered heroine, Rachel Morgan, who is equal parts kick-butt and vulnerable and inhabits a universe that is strife-rich in design and richer still by Rachel’s actions.
The newest installment in the series, A Fistful of Charms, is fast-paced, and difficult to put down, with action that picks up without a moment of down-time between books. Each book in the series is self contained but also a chapter in a larger story. For that reason, readers new to Harrison’s universe should understand that it is vast and her characters varied and many. While there is always a brief bring-the-reader-up-to-date sketch given when past events are referenced or old characters mentioned, those brief sketches work better as a refresher for readers already familiar with the Hollows Series than as a lubricant for the uninitiated.
Rachel is a bounty hunting witch who lives in an alternate history world where vampires, werewolves, pixies, fairies and demons live alongside humans. At story’s opening, she’s found an easy—if fragile—happiness with new boyfriend and vampire Kisten. Her partner, pixie Jenks, won’t speak to her. And, her roommate, and third partner, vampire Ivy continues to want a relationship with Rachel that involves biting. Rachel’s already tumultuous world is upended when word of her errant ex-boyfriend Nick, a human, surfaces. She learns, contrary to what Nick had led her to believe, that his travels were motivated by more than the problems in their relationship. Nick, it seems, is a thief and he has gotten into trouble with a pack of werewolves. To make matters worse, he enlisted the help of Jenks’ son Jax to help him double cross the weres and now they are both in need of rescuing.
As always, Rachel’s story line is deceptively simple: save Jax, liberate Nick, figure out what got Nick into trouble in the first place, and maybe sort out her feelings for him along the way. It’s deceptively simple because Rachel’s decision to rescue Nick, or rather her need to save him, strains her already precarious personal relationships, putting both Kisten and Ivy on emotionally shaky ground. Added to this, it turns out that Nick stole an ancient werewolf artifact—the Focus, an object with the power to topple the current political structure of the Inderlands (the non-human species)—forcing Rachel to go on a world saving mission…and saving the world is always complicated.
Harrison’s storytelling isn’t quite as linear as it appears at first glance. Yes, the story pushes forward and covers ground in relentless fashion, but the past has a way of rearing up in the most inopportune moments, like the ex-boyfriend who needs help just when the old wounds had begun to close. The reason this happens is because Harrison refuses to allow her characters to have actions free of consequence. Those consequences don’t always follow in A, therefore B, therefore C sequence, but they always come to roost.
It’s the layers and emotional conflict that raises Rachel’s story—the current and the ongoing—to one that’s worth revisiting, one that remains engaging time after time. Of course Rachel saves the world, for now, but does it at great personal cost and by twisting a bit of demon magic. Throughout the series, a large part of Rachel’s personal growth has been an acknowledgment and an acceptance of the gray area of life. With each chapter of her story, Rachel understands with more clarity that not everything is black and white. In the past she’s accepted demon marks for the greater good, accepted the damaged, bad-boy Kisten into her life, and now is blackening her soul with demon curses that end up saving all but Rachel.
At the end of the Rachel’s fourth story, she, and the universe she inhabits, haven’t lost any of their gravity. This chapter is resolved, but the general conflict of her life remains quite high from her personal relationships, to her further venture into a gray area of witchcraft, to the delicate balance of species relations in the Hollows. Rachel has again found a brittle peace, a space to rest up, before she’s called upon to save the world, and herself, again.
A Fistful of Charms is an exciting, difficult to put down page-turner and another well crafted entry into the Hollows Series.
You can visit Kim here and purchase this book here and here.