Book Review: 'The Witch With No Name' By Kim Harrison |Kim Harrison bids farewell to her long-running Hollows series of urban fantasies in spectacular fashion; reviewer Amal El-Mohtar calls Witch "a rollercoaster ride of interlocking shenanigans."
It's a bright cool day in September and the books now number 13. Kim Harrison has concluded her long-running Hollows series, the 10-year-anniversary of which I marked back in April, and I am bereft. In The Witch With No Name, Rachel Morgan, Ivy Tamwood and Jenks the pixy have their last string of adventures together in a modern-day Cincinnati riddled with elves, witches, vampires living and undead, werewolves, fairies and demons, in a rollercoaster ride of interlocking shenanigans that left me a little breathless.
Throughout the series, Rachel has been the catalyst for sweeping amounts of social change: Her passionate, well-intentioned, often fumbling attempts at doing right by supernatural groups with deeply conflicting interests usually result in a net gain of social good in exchange for a net loss of stability and well-being for herself. But she plows on anyway, determined to do her best for those she loves and even those she hates, unfailingly supported by her dearest friends and family. In this last installment, Rachel turns to solving a problem that's dogged her for several books: how to prevent Ivy, the living vampire who's also her best friend, from losing her soul after death and becoming the kind of abusive vampiric monster she hates.
Up until The Witch With No Name, Rachel was supported in this endeavor by Rynn Cormel, undead master vampire of Cincinnati, former U.S. president, and author of a wildly successful how-to book on safely dating vampires. But at the beginning of the book, Cormel, tired of waiting for salvation, raises the stakes (badum-tsh!): He marks Ivy for death in order to force Rachel's hand and speed up her timeline. Already caught between elf and demon politics, hiding from a Goddess of wild magic who wants to destroy her, and full of unexpected feelings for a new boyfriend, Rachel now has to fend off assassination attempts on her best friend — while figuring out how to save the vampires from themselves.
As is customary for Harrison in this series, the initial plot is a jumping-off point for a host of developing problems, and it's pretty awe-inducing to watch her pull tight several plot threads left dangling from previous books. It's also fascinating to watch how character-level problems become society-level problems that become reality-level problems — as if problems are Pokémon, and their evolution depends on Rachel getting involved. Thus the attempt to preserve Ivy's well-being leads to an elf campaign to eliminate vampires — which leads to the potential breaking of reality and the threat of removing all magic from the world. And through it all, there's a keen awareness — from the characters and from the narrative — that this is End Game level stuff, that things are drawing to a close. "How many times can we get back up as if nothing has changed?" Rachel wonders, and I tensed and wondered along with her.
While I enjoyed and appreciated this relentlessly climbing threat level, I was disappointed by Ivy's relative absence from these pages. For several books now she's been sidelined, her friendship with Rachel — my absolute favorite thing about the series — treated as an established fact, set design instead of character movement. In The Witch With No Name, Ivy's often relegated to plot-device status, moved from place to place, threatened and disempowered with the focus always on Rachel's actions and feelings — and I often wished that narrative had been organized differently.
Some things — character decisions, motivations, developments — feel slapdash as the book hurtles towards its conclusion, but ultimately I was satisfied. Harrison has concluded her series in the spirit she began it, drawing home to the things I'd always considered most important: friendship, empathy, and integrity. The last two paragraphs of Chapter 30 made me tear up with how succinctly they wrapped up the whole endeavor. It was a worthy way of putting the series to bed, good enough that I was only minorly annoyed by the decision to withhold Chapter 31 — ostensibly an epilogue — from reviewers, in order to "prevent an enthusiastic reader from blurting it out over the internet two months before the book is commercially available." I think it's a poor and slightly baffling decision — it simultaneously suggests a shocking twist ending while promising there isn't one — but it didn't sour the book for me.
I'm not sure where I'll go from here for my next multi-volume urban fantasy series — I hear Seanan McGuire's a dab hand at such things — but for now I'm left contemplating my contentment with the Hollows, and raising a large latte — light on the froth, heavy on the cinnamon, with a shot of raspberry syrup, of course — to Kim Harrison in respect of a grand achievement.