It occurred to me that it would be a good idea to have a plan of attack for “Blog Post A Day February.” Posting fourteen posts in twenty-eight days is way the heck more than I’ve posted, like, ever in the history of our blog. In October of 2012 we tried to do a post a day but we fizzled out pretty fast. Not so this month! Of course thanks to Blog-a-thon Friday a few weeks ago I’m completely caught up on book reviews. Stupid. But when I looked at the many book piles around my book room, I noticed that I have two Kim Harrison books coming up, and she has another one coming out at the end of February. This gave me the idea of doing a Kim Harrison mini-marathon, and since I haven’t read a Kim Harrison book since starting the blog, it seemed like as good a time as any to do a primer on the series. And that would be an extra post for the month! Hooray!
I was first introduced to Kim Harrison’s The Hollows series in 2010 when one of my coworkers started reading it and recommended it to me. She actually handed me the first couple books and told me to read them. So I read the first one, and thought it was okay, but not great. I read the second one, and liked it a little more. By the third, I was hooked. I read all eight of the books that existed in the series in 2010 one right after the other without getting sick of them at all. I bought the next two in hardcover and read them in February of 2011 and 2012 (there is always a new release in February). And then the AP English Challenge happened. When book number eleven came out in February 2013 I was neck deep in The Portrait of a Lady or something of the sort, and didn’t get to it right away. This made me sad at the time but I figured I’d get to it soon enough. And then Anna Karenin(a) happened, and also, well, you know what came next. So here it is, February 2014, and I haven’t read last year’s novel or 2012’s short story collection. And I’ve been missing the world of The Hollows a lot. So it seemed like a good time for a marathon for multiple reasons, not the least of which is that I wanted an excuse to jump these books to the front of my to-read lineup.
I still haven’t told you anything about the series, though. The Hollows series is in the sub-sub genre of Sci Fi/Fantasy known as “Urban Fantasy,” which basically means there are supernatural beings living in an urban, modern setting. I suppose Charlaine Harris’s True Blood series is technically “urban fantasy,” though I’d consider it more rural/hillbilly fantasy than true “urban” fantasy. It’s also what we here on PfP like to call “vampire porn,” though witches and vampires and weres and demons and pixies and elves are all prominent in this series.
The overarching premise of the series is that sometime in the 1960s a mutated virus called the “T4 Angel Virus” killed a large portion of the human population, reducing human numbers to approximately the same as all the supernatural beings, or Inderlanders, as they are known here. They saw it as a good time to “come out” to the world, since they were much less of a minority all of a sudden. That this virus was transmitted in genetically engineered tomatoes and the bulk of humans refuse to eat tomatoes of any kind now is an interesting and amusing tidbit. Generally life in the Hollows universe is very similar to life in our version of reality, well sort of. One major change is law enforcement. There are two law enforcement organizations, the I.S., or Inderlander Security Service, which is run by Inderlanders, and the FIB, or Federal Inderlander Bureau, which is run by humans. I only mention this since our main characters are private detectives and often have to deal with law enforcement. Oh, and what exactly is “The Hollows”? It’s the part of Cincinnati’s urban sprawl where most of the Inderlanders live. The bulk of the series takes place in and around Cincinnati. Occasionally there are road trips.
The major protagonist is Rachel Morgan, an earth witch turned ley line witch turned part demon (long story). The novels are all told in first person with her as the narrator. She was a “runner” for the I.S. until the end of the first book wherein she quits and starts her own private investigation company with her roommate Ivy Tamwood, a living vampire, and their third roommate, Jenks, a pixie. Pixies are teeny tiny folks who fly and live in tree stumps. There are several types of witch in this series. Earth witches use living things, charms, amulets, and potions to do their magic. It’s powerful magic but slow, as earth witches have to make potions, etc. prior to using them. It is tough to be an earth witch in a battle unless one spent hours prior planning for combat. Which is why Rachel begins to cultivate skill in ley line magic as the series goes on. Ley line magic relies on pulling power from ley lines, which are sort of conduits of energy/power that run underground. Witches and demons are able to tap into these lines to kindle spells/curses into reality. Ley line spells are much faster and adaptable than earth magic spells as they don’t require mixing in a bowl most of the time. And what do I mean by a living vampire exactly? In this series vampirism is caused by a virus. It’s a virus one can be born with or that one can be infected with via a bite from an undead vampire. The vampires who are born with the virus are considered “high blood” vampires, and the humans who are infected via a bite are considered “low blood” vampires. High blood vampires always become undead vampires when they die, low blood ones don’t unless an undead vampire elects to turn them at their death. Living vampires are able to go out in the sun, have souls, like blood but don’t have an absolute need for it, and have sharp canines, but not true fangs. Undead vamps are your typical vampires: can’t be in the sun, sensitive to holy objects, no souls, need blood to survive. Ivy is a living high blood vamp from a very prominent vampire family. The vampire community is led by undead “master” vampires–most are beholden to one or another of them, and somehow most of them are gangsters/mobsters/organized crime ringleaders. Ivy’s master vampire is named Piscary, and he has been running her life and causing her all kinds of emotional trauma for decades. I can’t remember ever meeting Piscary in person, though I’m sure he’s been around once or twice. He’s one of those characters that we never see, but has his hands in everything behind the scenes. Kind of like a puppet master. I don’t really like him very much.
Amusing side note: the titles of all the books in the series (and all of the short stories/novellas) are puns of Clint Eastwood movie titles, with the exception of the first one. As things have progressed they’ve gotten a bit more obscure, but I find this to be a nice, fun touch for fans to get into.
What I love about these books is that things are always changing; the characters are always growing and learning. Harrison isn’t afraid to kill off characters, even the ones everyone loves, like Kisten, Rachel’s living vamp boyfriend. She isn’t like, obnoxious about it though. There are no “red weddings” in this series. At least there hasn’t been yet. I’ve found that each new book is better than the last, though I think I liked Pale Demon better than A Perfect Blood. That’s probably because part of Pale Demon takes place in San Francisco, and I’m nothing if not loyal to my hometown.
My plan was to do brief summaries of all the books I have already read to catch you guys up to where I am in the series. Alas, that is not to be. And why? Simple. I can’t easily find concise plot summaries online, and I don’t own all of the books, and also it’s almost eight o’clock and I’ve got to get this post published by midnight. I stopped at Barnes and Noble on my way home tonight to see if The Hollows Insider, a purported companion to the novels, had what I was after. It looked really cool, but it did not. I was pretty bummed that my grand plan for this post isn’t going to happen, at least not tonight. Maybe in a few days after I have time to do some more searching.
So there’s Rachel and Ivy and Jenks. These three characters are the core of the series. As the series has grown, more and more characters have become important players, and the interesting thing to me is that as time has gone by we have gotten to know a lot of the “villains” and learned that they aren’t as evil as we once thought. This aspect of the series is one of my favorite things. People are allowed to grow and change. The two best examples of this are Trent Kalamack the elf and Algaliarept the demon.
Trent Kalamack’s identity as an elf was a closely guarded secret in the early books, because elves were long thought to be extinct. In truth, they are dying, but thanks to their two hundred year life span, are not quite extinct yet. There hasn’t been an elf who has grown to adulthood born in hundreds of years. So though Trent starts out as one of the primary villains of the series, as Rachel gets to know him, she learns that all of his actions are driven by his desire to save his species from extinction. Though this motivation is very noble, many of his actions are as sketchy as they come. Trent has become an extremely interesting character in the series to me—I never know whether he is going to be friend or foe when he shows up. Because sometimes his interests align with Rachel’s but often they don’t. There’s a ton of friction (both good and bad) between these two characters and Harrison is awesome at writing flirty banter. I love it when they interact.
Algaliarept, or Al, is the major demon in the series. Rachel first comes into contact with him in the first books in the series, Dead Witch Walking. In that book he was pure villain, out to steal Rachel off into the demon realm, the Ever After, and sell her as some demon’s familiar. But Rachel ends up beholden to him, and she is forced to work as Al’s apprentice for a number of days every week. During these training sessions, Rachel and Al get to know each other, and develop a friendship of sorts. Al is one of those characters that you love to hate. He’s funny and charming.
Rachel, Jenks, and Ivy’s relationships are constantly evolving, as well—they are always learning more about each other, or going through some major growth experience together. Their friendships are the backbone of this series, no matter how many new characters Harrison introduces.
I hope I was able to capture my sincere love of this series. I don’t do a lot of fantasy series reading, and that’s in no small part because the books tend to go downhill with time. I started reading these books while in the midst of reading Charlaine Harris’s True Blood series, and we were getting to the point that it became obvious Charlaine Harris was tired of Sookie and the other residents of Bon Temps. With The Hollows, I’m constantly impressed that the books have continued to improve, that they aren’t stagnating like so many other series do. I will absolutely see this series through to the end, and not just out of stubbornness like I did with the Sookie books. Thankfully, Harrison is going to write thirteen books, so I have two more before the end.