Black Magic Sanction
Published 2010 487 pages
Summary (from the book jacket)
Rachel Morgan has fought 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 kind… until now. While she’s had some close calls before, no battle has been this serious – or deadly. A corrupt coven has denounced and shunned her for dealing with demons, a crime that carries severe penalties. At best Rachel faces life imprisonment. But this coven isn’t partial to leniency.
It takes a witch to catch a witch, but surviving will cost Rachel more that she knows.
Black Magic Sanction is the eighth book in Kim Harrison’s popular Hollows urban fantasy series. The Hollows novels follow the adventures of Rachel Morgan, a young witch who set up her own supernatural bounty-hunter business with her friends Ivy, a living vampire and Jenks, a pixy. Between them they have had no shortage of magical mysteries to solve and bad guys to catch. There is a complex, long-running story arc through-out this series so readers unfamiliar with the Hollows would do best to start with Dead Witch Walking and read the books in order.
Events in Black Magic Sanction start from shortly after where the timeline in White Witch, Black Curse (the previous novel in this series) ended. To me White Witch, Black Curse had something of an inbetweener feel to it. Old, left-over plot lines were seemingly wrapped up and new characters were introduced while Rachel ran around town after an evil banshee. Overall, White Witch, Black Curse seemed to be re-positioning the series storyline and that may have been the reason that I expected greater character and plot developments from Black Magic Sanction than I actually got.
Black Magic Sanction has everything that readers of Kim Harrison’s books have come to expect. It has a series of exciting interludes for Rachel as the ruling body of witches, the coven of moral and ethical standards, decides that they shall not suffer a black witch to live. Multiple attempts on Rachel’s life ensue and she even ends up doing a brief stint in Alcatraz with the twin threats of lobotomy and sterilization hanging over her head. This is the thrilling stuff that good urban fantasy novels are made out of.
With the plot focussing on Rachel – her deepening understanding of what her discovery that she is the genetic missing link between demons and witches actually means and her growing abilities to invoke demon curses – there is little face time for Ivy or Jenks in this story. Ivy’s absence detracts from the story – after all she is such a strong character and readers are used to her presence. Its fair to say that while Ivy isn’t my favourite character from this series even I noticed an Ivy shaped hole in this book.
Jenks’ contribution to the plot is oddly disjointed. He isn’t around for much of the story but then what has to be the most pivotal moment of his brief life occurs. Readers get a couple of chapters focussing on Jenks but any deeper feeling he may have is later callously dismissed by Rachel with, “I was surprised he was talking about her already. Maybe the pixy psyche was like that, live hard and fast.” Jenks is a major character in this series and dedicated readers may be left feeling cheated at the half-hearted way his scenes were handled.
With Ivy and Jenks sitting on the bench, it’s left to Al, Pierce and Nick to provide much of the support for this story. Rachel’s ex-boyfriend Nick is an untrustworthy scumbag and doesn’t add much to the story apart from playing hidden evil-villain of the week. Pierce is an irritating addition as Rachel’s love interest. Rachel is attracted to him therefore he is bound to be dangerous and bad for her (her thinking, not mine) but this doesn’t stop her from pursuing the attraction…
Luckily Al, the demon tasked with teaching Rachel demon magic, is more than capable of providing laughs, danger and excitement. Previous novels in this series have seen Al’s character expanded from monster of the week to something much more approachable. As a dispossessed demon (yes, even demons need to keep up their mortgage payments) he engendered empathy in readers and building on that his character has quickly become a firm favourite. Black Magic Sanction is worth reading for Al’s scenes alone.
So what’s the problem? Black Magic Sanction isn’t a bad book but one has to wonder where this series is going. Each individual story makes entertaining reading but eight books into the series and still the overall plot line is progressing at a pace so slow it’s practically glacial. Each book seems to inch even less further forward than the last. Situations are never resolved (Ivy is still waiting for Rachel to save her soul, Rachel still only chooses bad boyfriends) and there is a real feeling about this series that its going nowhere new, at no time soon. Eventually one is left wondering whether the author is planning to write a Hollows book each year until she retires and doesn’t want to resolve any of the character/plot issues too soon! Personally I don’t wish to revisit Rachel’s boyfriend angst, Rachel’s vampire angst, Rachel’s Ivy angst or Rachel’s OMG-I’m-a-freaking-demon angst. Could we not put all that to bed and have new angst instead? Crudely put, its time for this series to sh*t or get off the pot.
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