Hardcover, 448 pages, $26.99
Review by Sheila M. Merritt
In the movie The Wizard of Oz, there is a question: “Are you a good witch or a bad witch?” Rachel Morgan, the protagonist of Kim Harrison’s Pale Demon, is queried along those lines. She’s a white witch who employs black magic for understandable reasons, however fellow witches aren’t keen on shades of gray. Rachel has broken rules, and is ostracized by many in her social strata. A judgment regarding the legal indiscretions will be pronounced after a trial, and the outcome looks bleak, indeed. In addition, shady figures abound; bent on manipulating or destroying her. She can trust few individuals, since politics and distinctive agendas often supersede loyalty. Rest assured, though: She does vindicate and validate her position in the occult community; having survived many tribulations in the previous eight novels in the series.
Billed as “urban fantasy,” the book could be labeled “safe horror.” It contains trappings of the genre, yet the terror element is lacking. Still, bestselling author Harrison has found a winning formula; a convivial conjuring of adventure, paranormal romance, and humor. The writer knows what the fans appreciate, and sticks to it in this outing.
Employing the reliable trope of a road trip, here the journey is from Cincinnati to San Francisco via Las Vegas, the tale takes the paradigm into the realm of the supernatural. In this case, the unlikely allies traveling represent a cross section of unearthly entities. There’s Trent, the hunky elf (in the Legolas sense of the word) who has intensely personal grounds for making the journey; and for needing Rachel to accompany him. Also along for the ride are Ivy, Rachel’s vampire friend (with limited benefits) and Jenks, the wisecracking pixy who loves to put down Tinkerbell. These four are later joined by conflicted coven liaison Vivian, and Pierce, a ghostly (yet very corporeal) practitioner of the black arts. Pierce is a blundering figure from the past, who inadvertently jettisons the main character’s hope of redemption in the eyes of her peers.
Rachel’s peers, though, are hard to define. Yes, witches factor in, but Rachel also possesses the qualities of a demon. This gives her enormous power and strength when combating others of that ilk; simultaneously separating her from the norm/conventionally abnormal denizens of a bizarre universe. Scorned by some and psychically seduced by others, the heroine is mentally stressed and physically battered.
The fight sequences take up a considerable part of the narrative. The adversaries include a demon with no remorse; assassins trying to do their job; and those who crave Rachel for metaphysical and/or carnal intentions. Needless to say, the gal is no slouch in a scrimmage. She can tussle with the best (and the worst) of them. Note that most of the titles in the series of novels are word plays on the names of Clint Eastwood films.
Pale Demon is a soufflé of a story. It’s a highly whipped confection composed mostly of air: “Networking. I was sick of demon networking/partying.” The phrase reflects the tone of the novel. With references to events that occurred in the prior books, and a wink to Tink and fairies everywhere, Kim Harrison caters to a devoted audience. She is extremely successful at what she does. If froth and fantasy suits one’s taste, this book will satisfy. Those who prefer darker fiction should certainly look elsewhere.