8 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: Black Magic Sanction by Kim Harrison

Title: Black Magic Sanction

Author: Kim Harrison

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Publisher: Eos
Publication Date: February 2010
Hardcover: 496 pages

In New York Times bestselling author Kim Harrison’s most complex and nuanced adventure yet, bounty hunter and witch Rachel Morgan fights a deadly battle—mind, body, and soul

Black Magic Sanction

Rachel Morgan has fought and hunted vampires, werewolves, banshees, demons, and other supernatural dangers as both witch and bounty hunter—and lived to tell the tale. But she’s never faced off against her own kind . . . until now. Denounced and shunned for dealing with demons and black magic, her best hope is life imprisonment—at worst, a forced lobotomy and genetic slavery. Only her enemies are strong enough to help her win her freedom, but trust comes hard when it hinges on the unscrupulous tycoon Trent Kalamack, the demon Algaliarept, and an ex-boyfriend turned thief.

It takes a witch to catch a witch, but survival bears a heavy price.

Stand alone or series: Book 8 in the ongoing Hollows (Rachel Morgan) series

How did I get this book: Review Copy from the publisher

Why did I read this book: Do you even have to ask? The Hollows series is among my all time favorite UF series’ – in the top 3, to be precise. There’s just something about Kim Harrison’s writing that *does it* for me. And even though I was a tad bit disappointed with the previous novel in the series, I was still foaming at the mouth to get my grubby paws on Black Magic Sanction.


Every time I open a new Hollows adventure, I know that I’m in for a good adrenaline rush, the likes of which only Rachel Morgan can deliver.

Black Magic Sanction is no exception, delivering the white-knuckle action in spades, while simultaneously advancing the overall series storyline in a dark direction. Me likey. Me likey a lot.

A warning – this review contains necessary spoilers for the first seven books in the series. If you have not read the first seven books and do not wish to be spoiled, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Picking up almost immediately after White Witch, Black Curse, Black Magic Sanction follows Rachel as she has fully embraced her status as the student (not the familiar) of demon Algalirept (better known simply as “Al”). Unfortunately for Rache, a whole bunch of folks are pissy that she’s running around able to twist demon curses – not to mention the fact that any time some sort of very public disaster, Vampiric Charms always seems to be at the center of it. Though she’s been shunned by the Coven (a huge deal and last resort, reserved for only the wickedest of witches), Rachel soon realizes she has a lot more to worry about than finding new places to buy her magical goods and shifty looks – because now someone has a death warrant out on her. Again. Facing the tempting choices of becoming a lobotomized broodmare for the Coven (popping out demon-magic babies), or six feet under and pushing up daisies, Rachel’s got to find a way out of her uncomfortable predicament, even if it means taking Trent Kalamack head-on again, and reuniting with an unwelcome face from her past.

Tink’s titties, Black Magic Sanction is a riproaring-good read! Personally, I found Black Magic Sanction a step back in the right direction for Rachel and company after the disappointment that was White Witch, Black Curse. This book was exciting, it was emotional, and it meant a lot of changes for Rachel. In many ways, it’s a throwback to Dead Witch Walking as Rachel has another death warrant on her head, but this time, she’s facing some serious danger from her own kind. And let me tell you – white witches are just as scary as the black magic kind (and much scarier than anything the I.S. can throw at Rache). As with almost all of the books in this series, Ms. Harrison excels when it comes to tight plotting and non-stop danger, and as such Black Magic Sanction is an incredibly fast-paced read. But don’t think that fast-paced means a lack of depth; this novel is another turning point of sorts for Rachel, in coming to grips with her past and everything she’s ever been taught about “good” and “bad” magic. Given her own lineage (and the lineage of all witches), are demons truly evil? Is the ability to twist black magic truly a bad thing – especially if Rachel is the one to take the smut on her own aura, willingly? Or is she becoming more and more a demon each day? There’s a whole bunch of moral ambiguity in this book as Rachel has to resort to getting her hands dirty in order to stay alive – but in true Rachel Morgan fashion, she manages to keep her heart, if not her head, in the right place.

In that vein, Black Magic Sanction embodies the characteristics that I both love and abhor about Rachel Morgan as a character. She’s one of those heroines that never fails to piss me off with her numerous TSTL (too stupid to live) moments and her sometimes complete obtuseness as to what she actually wants, emotionally. But at the same time, the struggles that Rachel goes through each book, and especially in this one, make her one of the most endearing heroines in the female-protagonist centered UF genre. In spite of her flaws – or perhaps, because of them – I love Rachel as a character, and I do want her to be happy. Despite her lapses of idiocy, her heart is always in the right place as one scene in this book in particular, involving assassin fairies, proves.

Of course, what’s a Rachel Morgan book without the myriad relationship complications? Rachel is notorious for her attraction to danger, and for jumping into relationships without truly thinking things through beforehand. But in Black Magic Sanction, with the attraction to Pierce (a witch from the 1800s, now inhabiting the body of the recently deceased black witch that gave Rache so much trouble in the last book), Rachel shows some growth in the relationship arena. There’s also some closure with a blast from the past – but I’ll let you discover that for yourself. Also, I’ve gotta say that I LOVE the ever-evolving relationship between Kalamack and Morgan. It’s a love-hate thing, and it has been such ever since their steeped history as children, which, incidentally, we get to see a little bit more of in the form of a flashback in this book. And while Rachel is growing stronger and more assured in what she wants and needs in a relationship, she also has reached an understanding with Ivy (whom I’ve always wanted Rachel to end up with). I love that the emo-drama between the two has been toned down, although Ivy’s backseat in this book is a bit of a regret. The most fun character, however, has got to be demon teacher Al. He’s terrifying, inhuman, and yet hilarious all at the same time – and that’s quite an accomplishment.

Most of all, I love that as the title suggests, Black Magic Sanction shows Rachel embracing the fact she can twist black magic and is using it as she needs. It’s the only way she can stay alive, and she’s forced to ask herself some tough questions. The biggest question the book leaves with readers is – what exactly is Rachel? And what is she becoming? Is she a demon? You know how the saying goes – if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck…

Needless to say, there’s a lot of speculation one can make concerning Rachel and where the story goes next. Black Magic Sanction provides a lot of VERY interesting fodder in the next few books in the series, and I, for one, am very excited to see what happens next!

Notable Quotes/Parts: From the first chapter:

Tucking my hair back, I squinted at the parchment, trying to form the strange angular letters as smoothly as I could. The ink glistened wetly, but it wasn’t red ink, it was blood—my blood—which might account for the slight tremble in my hand as I copied the awkward-looking name scripted in characters that weren’t English. Beside me was a pile of rejects. If I didn’t get it perfect this time, I’d be bleeding yet again. God help me. I was doing a black curse. In a demon’s kitchen. On the weekend. How in hell had I gotten here?

Algaliarept stood poised between the slate table and the smaller hearth, his white-gloved hands behind his back. He looked like a stuffy Brit in a murder mystery, and when he shifted impatiently, my tension spiked. “That isn’t helping,” I said dryly, and his red, goat-slitted eyes widened in a mocking surprise, peering at me over his smoked spectacles. He didn’t need them to read with. From his crushed green velvet frock, to his lace cuffs and proper English accent, the demon was all about show.

“It has to be exact, Rachel, or it won’t capture the aura,” he said, his attention sliding to the small green bottle on the table. “Trust me, you don’t want that floating around unbound.”

I sat up to feel my back crack. Touching the quill tip to my throbbing finger, my unease grew. I was a white witch, damn it, not black. But I wasn’t going to write off demon magic just because of a label. I’d read the recipe; I’d interpreted the invocation. Nothing died to provide the ingredients, and the only person who’d suffer would be me. I’d come away from this with a new layer of demon smut on my soul, but I’d also have protection against banshees. After one had nearly killed me last New Years, I’d willingly entertain a little smut to be safe. Besides, this might lead to a way to save Ivy’s soul when she died her first death. For that, I’d risk a lot.

You can read the full excerpt online HERE.

And if you’re hungry for more, you can read the first SEVEN CHAPTERS of Black Magic Sanction online for free, thanks to Harper Collins’ awesome Browse Inside feature:

Additional Thoughts: Want more Kim Harrison? Well, check out her interview, in which she talks all about Black Magic Sanction and The Hollows:

Verdict: Much better than its predecessor and a kickback to the early days in the series, Black Magic Sanction shows Rachel Morgan (and Kim Harrison) in top form. A must-read for fans – especially for those who (like myself) may have felt the last book was a step backwards.

Rating: 8 – Excellent

Reading Next: The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan

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  • KMont
    March 16, 2010 at 6:19 am

    *bounce bounce bounce*

    Yahoooooooooo! Excellent review! LOVED this book. *hugs copy* Yes to everything you’ve said here (although I really did enjoy the previous book more than you I think).

    Personally I think Rachel is a demon. Won’t say why, but we’ve already learned a lot about witches, where they come from…Rachel is a key to it all.

    I thought the action was great in this book. The characters were great, I loved and hated Pierce – what is he REALLY up to?

    So glad there’s a few more books left in the series.

  • Tiah
    March 16, 2010 at 9:33 am

    *girly scream* I am so excited for this book. I feel like we have been waiting forever!

  • Adrienne
    March 16, 2010 at 9:44 am

    Whew! I didn’t buy it yet because I heard so many BAD things about this one. The complaining, the whining, the same old. I’m glad it got an 8; if it’s like the first three books, then I need to read it right away. Thank you!

  • alana
    March 16, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    I must be the only person who was disappointed by this book. I think one of the main problems is the short time span that has elapsed since the first book. In this book Rachel says it’s only been two years since she left the I.S. and I find that shocking. No wonder Rachel keeps doing the same stupid things over and over. She hasn’t had a lot for time for any of her momentary epiphanies to sink in for long. It also kind of cheapened the whole Kisten experience for me too. It’s silly I know, but it still bothered me more then I would have ever though. There’s no shame in allowing some time to pass without writing every detail (the Cassandra Palmer series suffers from this too in my opinion). This is actually one of the things I love about The Dresden Files. The time between books also exists inside the Dresden world (even if not exactly).

    That sounded kind of harsh huh? I just can not believe the story line with Pierce. It pretty much ruined the book for me (though I still liked it overall). I feel like there was a major shift in Rachel’s perspective in The Outlaw Demon Wails and the last two books have just been steps backwards for her character (with the exception of her situation with Ivy and her acceptance that she can twist demon curses). Like I said, I still enjoyed the book. I just expected more so I was more disappointed then usual I think.

  • Mame Burkett
    March 17, 2010 at 5:28 am

    I love this blog and follow it regularly. I laughed when I saw this post because I have just reviewed BMS on my blog! We are spot on together in our assessments of the story and the progression of Rachel’s story. It was nice to be in agreement with the Smugglers since it was your blog that inspired me to start blogging!
    I do agree with Alana though. The time line does cause a few problems for me. It is hard to think Rachel has had serious feelings for Nick, Kisten, Ivy and now Pierce in such a short time span. I do like having some sense of real time elapsing in my stories. (I hate it in romance novels when the characters fall madly in love within hours of meeting and KNOW this is the one for life. HA!) Harry Potter series is wonderful in using real time lines. Each book has allowed at least a full school year to elapse and it takes 7 years for the final showdown to happen. I think it works in the Dresden files too.
    Time line aside this story moves like a freight train and I really enjoyed the ride.

  • alazazy
    September 17, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    😡 😡 😡 👿 😈 😈 👿

  • Manjil
    October 10, 2012 at 6:40 am

    🙂 😀 Awesome!!!

  • Black Magic Sanction by K. Harrison | Literary Escapism
    October 13, 2012 at 7:02 pm

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