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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A Fistful of Charms by Kim Harrison



A Fistful of Charms is the fourth book in Kim Harrison's series featuring witch Rachel Morgan. The previous books in the series are, in order, Dead Witch Walking, The Good, the Bad and the Undead and Every Which Way But Dead. I would characterize these books as Paranormal Urban Fantasy, similar in a way to Kelley Armstrong or Charlaine Harris, but with her own distinct style and world. These books take place in modern day Cincinnati, 40 years after "the Turn" brought Vampires, Witches, Weres and other supernatural races who had always lived alongside of humans, out into the open. "The Turn" has to do with a virus caused by genetically engineered tomatoes which affected humans, but not supernatural races. It ended up with the uneasy coexistence of the humans and others, and with the sad result that humans will no longer eat pizza (I feel for them all, but particularly those of Italian ancestry). The series revolves around Rachel, a witch, Ivy, a living vampire, and Jenks, a pixy. They were all formerly runners for the I.S. (agents for the law enforcement agency of supernaturals), and now they have their own firm and act as private investigators of sorts.

I had a hard time with the first two installments of this series. I found them to be slow. So slow, in fact, that I never finished The Good, the Bad and the Undead. Not that it was awful, but I kept putting it down, and then it was due back at the library, and I never quite got around to taking it out again. I had two major difficulties. The first was with the worldbuilding. Even though there was quite a bit of exposition, I felt like I never had a good handle on things. I could quite grasp the abilities etc. of the different races. Like, why are they called Inderlanders? Thats what the different supernatural races call themselves. And what's up with the vampires? It seems like anything and everything sets them off into a bloodlust. I remember Rachel kept referring to Ivy trying to "pull an aura," and I could never quite figure out what it meant. It sounded like she was giving someone the "stink-eye", as my sister would put it, but, there has to be more to it than that. Sometimes I felt like I was missing something. I also didn't care for Rachel too much. She seemed a bit bratty, and not too bright and always acted without thinking first. I couldn't get why she was appealling to all the other characters. But I enjoyed the third book (Every Which Way But Dead) a great deal. It hummed along nicely, and the greater role of Ivy's friend Kisten, provided a lot more insight into the vampires. I also began to see how Rachel was developing, and questioning her previous assumptions. She's learning a lot of new stuff, and the reader is along with her.

So I was really looking forward to FOC. This installment takes us out of the Hollows and off to Michigan, where Rachel and Jenks, having repaired their relationship from the last book, are trying to rescue Jenks' son, Jax, and Rachel's human ex-boyfriend, Nick from the clutches of some nasty Weres. Of course, they end up in posession of an artifact that could literally start World War III. I'm sorry, to say, that this book did not work for me nearly as well as the last one. It started off sloooowly. And Nick (first introduced in DWW)? Meh. I could care less about him. He was never particularly well-developed, nor was their relationship, so it was hard for me to care about the events in this story. Nick at the center, and very little Kisten and no Trent Kalamack (another central character from the first three)? WTF? No surprise that the story picked up when Ivy appeared on the scene. Some interesting developments in the Rachel/Ivy relationship, although both of their angsting is getting old. Rachel was pretty annoying too, with a lot of existential "But I will I be a good witch or a bad witch" crap. Shut up, you know you're going to do the bad stuff anyway. I started to get lost again with some of the concept and terminology (although maybe it's because I didn't finish GB&U). What's a "blood balance"? And I found the descriptions of Rachel's spell casting to be boring. Ultimately, there were too many times I wanted to skim to get to the next Ivy/Rachel scene or get back to Jenks (my favorite character).

Despite my negativity, I don't want to discourage those who enjoy the paranormal to try this series. I think it might work better for others than for me. The universe is rather angst-ridden and full of shades of gray (dark gray), but Harrison does a nice job of leavening the atmosphere with some genuinely funny moments. She's also created some really great characters. If you are looking for romance, I think that Harrison is not nearly as good as Armstrong or Harris with the romantic element. But that's because the most important and intriguing relationship being developed in this series is between Rachel and Ivy. I hesitate to call it a love story per se, and I think that Harrison's doing a nice job of keeping things up in the air. We know that Ivy wants Rachel as a lover, but Rachel's straight and scared and confused. I feel that Kisten (Rachel's current boyfriend) functions as an Ivy substitute. He's also a living vampire, but he's male and he lacks Ivy's heavy emotional baggage. I'm not sure that Ivy and Rachel are going to end up with a HEA, but I'm really curious to see where it's all going. For that reason, plus the fact that I want to see what's going to happen with some of the other characters, I will definitely keep reading, despite giving this one a C. Check out Kim Harrison's website here. She only has a few extras, but I found them quite helpful in filling in some blanks. If only she had a glossary!

6 comments:

Mailyn said...

really great review. this is one series I've been very interested in reading and the vampires are a good incentive. lol.

ljb said...

I love the series but agree that FOC started veeerrryyy slow. Here's hoping the next book picks up the pace (and themes/people we didn't get in this book).

Devon said...

Mailyn, give it a try. The vampires in her books are different from the typical romance vamps.

ljb, I definitely hope the next book picks up. And keeps to the Hollows. I feel like I was pretty negative about this book, but there was enough interesting stuff to keep me reading the series.

Holly said...

I was thinking about checking this serious out, I think I will now. Thanks for a great review.

Oh, and I reviewed Crazy Love today....

Zeek said...

I have the first one on my wishlist at Amazon ... another good friend suggested the series as well ...

Jane said...

I gave up on the series after the third book. Like you, I found the world building to be a bit confusing but I also felt that it was leaking into Anita territory by the fact that Rachel was wanted by everyone and his pixie. I just really loathe that whole plot device now.