Title: White Witch, Black Curse
Author: Kim Harrison
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Eos Books (HarperCollins)
Publication Date: February 2009
Hardcover: 512 pages
Stand alone or series: Book 7 of the ongoing The Hollows (Rachel Morgan) books. These books must be read in order.
Why did I read this book: This is, hands down, my most highly anticipated book of 2009. Kim Harrison is one of my favorite authors for her wonderfully detailed plotlines, her endearing characters, and her crisp writing–and The Hollows books compose my favorite Urban Fantasy series, period. I have loved every book in this series, thus White Witch, Black Curse was a no brainer.
Summary: (from amazon.com)
Some wounds take time to heal . . . and some scars never fade.
Rachel Morgan, kick-ass witch and bounty hunter, has taken her fair share of hits, and has broken lines she swore she would never cross. But when her lover was murdered, it left a deeper wound than Rachel ever imagined, and now she won’t rest until his death is solved . . . and avenged. Whatever the cost.
Yet the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and when a new predator moves to the apex of the Inderlander food chain, Rachel’s past comes back to haunt her.
**A CAVEAT: This review contains spoilers for the first SIX books in The Hollows (Rachel Morgan) series. If you have not read the first six books and do not wish to be spoiled, this warning is for you!**
Rachel Morgan, magnet for danger, witch, and co-partner of Vampiric Charms begins her latest adventure with the sadness of Kisten’s murder still looming over her head. It has been months since Kisten’s death, and his killer remains free and unpunished. White Witch, Black Curse opens with Rachel in Kisten’s houseboat, trying to remember what happened that fateful night with the help of empath F.I.B. psychiatrist, Ford. Slowly details return to Rache about the powerful, undead vampire that tried to enslave her and who easily murdered her lover, but she still cannot place a name to her memories. Still, being at the scene allows Rache to uncover another vampire’s scent, and it’s only a matter of time before she, Ivy and Jenks discover who the culprit is and how to make him pay.
Things are never so simple in The Hollows, however, and soon Rachel is called to the scene of a new crime after good friend Glen, another F.I.B. agent and son of Captain Edden, is brutally beaten within an inch of his life. A new dangerous creature is on the loose in Cincinnati, one that Rachel and company have never faced before: A Banshee. Older than even some of the undead vampires, banshees are immensely powerful and destructive and this one will guard her own with a fierceness that destroys anyone in her path. Add to this impending disaster Rachel’s once again confusing love life, a ghost that knows Rachel from her younger days, family drama, and the ever-present demon Al, and it’s just another day in the chaotic life of Rachel Morgan.
I’m torn with White Witch, Black Curse. There are things that I loved, and things that I desperately disliked.
In many ways, White Witch, Black Curse is a reboot for Rachel, beginning a brand new story and character arc. In The Outlaw Demon Wails, Rachel comes to the shocking revelation that she is in fact a type of proto-demon; with her restored witch genome as the treatment for her childhood illnesses, this explains why Rachel can twist demon magic but it also means that any child she has will be a demon. In order to save her friends and Trent Kalamack, Rache agrees to become Al’s apprentice, coming to the resolution that she will no longer shy away from demon curses that have the potential to do good just because of a little smut on her aura. In the previous book, Rachel also discovered her mother’s deep secret about Rachel’s father and parentage, opening a whole new can of worms. The Outlaw Demon Wails marked the end of Rachel’s first character arc with these dual revelations, and White Witch, Black Curse begins a new chapter of Rachel’s dangerous life, exploring the implications of Rachel’s decisions and discoveries.
On the family front, this novel involves Rachel’s mother and introduces Rache’s long absent older brother Robbie. As always, Rachel’s mother is a wonderful character and a welcome presence in Rachel’s life. She’s slightly loopy, but still a strong and sane woman who loves and accepts her daughter’s choices. Conversely Robbie has never approved of Rachel’s life, but it is abundantly clear that he still loves her. Their relationship comes across as genuine, and I loved the dynamic between these two–Robbie’s resentment of Rachel’s helter-skelter life, Rachel’s anger at Robbie’s “safeness”. It’s a very telling glimpse into the lives of the Morgan family, and the contrast between brother and sister is wonderfully, uncomfortably revealing.
The other threads resumed in this novel concern the identity of Kisten’s killer, and Rache and her relationship with Big Al. Finally there’s some closure in this novel as Rache and Ivy finally learn who killed Kisten–and there’s a pretty huge revelation concerning undead vampires and their souls after death. In terms of Rache and Al, a ghost is discovered in Rachel’s kitchen and he is a presence from her past as a young 18 year old witch. Unfortunately, Al takes notice, and when Rachel is wounded from her first encounter with the Banshee and is unable to go to the Ever After for her usual apprentice work, Al is able to snag the ghost for his own purposes. I have to admit that I was disappointed with this storyline. I was expecting much more of the Ever After in this book, some details about what exactly Al teaches Rache and how this all figures out onto her smutty aura. Alas, this was completely sidestepped in this novel as Rache’s magical abilities are severely compromised and she cannot set foot in the other realm. I wasn’t all to crazy about the ghost storyline either–it felt like a device thrown in to distract Al, and provide Rachel with another love interest/excuse to do incredibly stupid things.
On the subject of Rachel’s love life and relationships, I felt that this book was a huge step backwards for her. The prior six books show Rachel making mistakes and her vulnerability when it comes to damaged, dangerous boys–but with the end of her earlier character arc with The Outlaw Demon Wails, I was expecting much more from her in this novel. Instead, all that progress she’s made since realizing that she’s addicted to danger seems forgotten in White Witch, Black Curse, and Rachel falls into the comfortable trap of making bad decisions, all over again. I’ve never before felt irritated with Rachel’s martyr crisis, or her pathological need to latch on to the wrong guys for relationships, in part because everything she has done up to this point is understandable and gels with her character. In this novel, however, Rachel is plain annoying especially concerning the two new boytoys in her life. Especially when, in my own opinion, the perfect partner for her is staring her in the face all along (yes, I think Rachel needs to get over her hangups and realize that she loves Ivy in much more than a platonic way. They are perfect for each other, and they really need to get over themselves already!). I cannot describe how infuriating it was to read some of the last pages where Rachel seems like she will be heading down the same terrible path with Pierce–it’s like banging your head against a brick wall. (It’s almost reaching Jack and Kate from LOST levels of irritation with me–and that’s saying A LOT)
There are also a number of Too Stupid To Live moments for Rachel in this book: After having her aura stripped, she decides to try and face the Banshee again; her half-cocked idea to summon Pierce from the Ever After to Make A Point with Al; her blunderings with Marshall; her googly eyes at Pierce…the list goes on. As I said before, I’ve never been so irritated with Rache before because in prior books, her decisions not only stemmed from good intentions, but also made sense. In White Witch, Black Curse, the good intentions are still there, but the reasoning is plain stupid. I really hope that this does not continue in later books; it’s hard to root for a heroine that keeps making irredeemably dumb decisions, even if they are borne of the best intentions.
Not to say that White Witch, Black Curse is bad–this is a Rachel Morgan book, after all. While the story begins at a surprisingly slow pace, by around 100 pages in the book picks up and delivers the usual adrenaline-fueled, complexly plotted novel we’ve come to love from Kim Harrison. The Banshee storyline is fantastic, and the usual interactions between Ivy, Jenks and Rache is top-notch. Rache and Ivy still haven’t come to terms with their relationship (seriously, get over it already and realize you two need love and need each other!), and there’s a tinge of looming sadness with Jenks and Matalina as they are nearing the end of their lifespans as pixies. All the things I love about these books is present in White Witch, Black Curse…but I have come to expect MORE from Ms. Harrison, having become accustomed to her raising the bar with each subsequent novel. I liked this book, but it felt like a step back from what has been accomplished in her other work. Still, a recommended read and an autobuy for any fans of the series.
White Witch, Black Curse is in stores February 24, 2009.
Notable Quotes/Parts: I loved the insights to Rachel’s character through her interactions with her family.
The car was warm and the windows defrosted, but cold hit me when Robbie’s last words finally penetrated and I blinked fast. I’m welcome anytime. I knew he had meant them to be full of acceptance, but that he had felt the need to say them said much more. He was getting married. He was moving on with his life, becoming a part of it, immersing himself and finding a place on the wheel. By getting married, he was no longer just my brother, he was someone else’s husband. And though we argued a lot, a bond was being broken by the simple fact that he was no longer alone. He was a part of something biger, and by inviting me in, he had unintentionally told me I was an outsider.
“Your mom makes really good pie,” Marshall said, and I smiled at him across the long seat. Mindful of the ice, he put the car in gear and slowly headed for the mall.
“Yes she does,” I said, depressed. Maybe I should look at it as if I hadn’t lost a brother, but had gained a sister.
You can also check out the first two chapters of White Witch, Black Curse online HERE.
Additional Thoughts: The Hollows books remain my favorite Urban Fantasy series, and I do highly recommend everyone give these books a read. Here are the books, in order:
We’ve also interviewed the fabulous Kim Harrison HERE.
Something else that’s pretty cool is that Harper Collins is now releasing each of Kim’s books online in E-book format! You can read ALL of Dead Witch Walking online now for free HERE.
For anyone still itching for their next Kim Harrison fix, her young adult novel will be coming out this year, very soon!
Here’s a bit from Kim’s website:
Once Dead, Twice Shy is my foray into Young Adult, and because this is my favorite audience to write for, I have hopefully given it just as many surprising plot twists as I do in my adult work. If you want a sneak peek, there is a novella in the anthology, Prom Nights from Hell, which you can find under Meg Cabot.
I, for one, cannot wait.
Verdict: While by no means my favorite entry in The Hollows universe, White Witch, Black Curse is still a strong, compulsive read. In true Kim Harrison fashion, this novel packs great characters and wonderfully complex, intertwined storylines. While it didn’t live up to my admittedly high expectations, it is still Rachel Morgan–the cream of the crop of the Urban Fantasy genre. Recommended.
Rating: 7 Very Good – and I hope for the slack to pick up in the next novel.
Surprise! We’ve received an extra early copy of White Witch, Black Curse and will be giving it away to one lucky reader!
This is a bit different from our usual giveaways. We have one stipulation: the winner of the giveaway must agree to review this book on his or her website (or conversely if the winner does not have a website, he or she can send the review to us, and we will post it here). In order to enter, all you need do is leave a comment. The contest will run until Tuesday at midnight (PST).