Every Which Way But Dead, by Kim Harrison (Eos, 2005)

Some people have it easy. They haven’t gone into business for themselves as a bounty hunter, with a hyperactive pixie and an actively-prowling vampire as their partners. They haven’t made a deal with a demon to take down an ancient vampire crime lord. They haven’t made the occasional dubious alliance with an elven drug runner. They don’t have attempts made upon their life on a daily basis. Sure, some people have it easy. Rachel Mariana Morgan, on the other hand, has done all of the above and more. Ever since quitting her job with the government and branching out on her own, it seems as though her life’s been nothing but one successful escape from death after another. Unfortunately, her tendency to make alliances of convenience have finally caught up with her.

Her best friend and business partner, Ivy Tamwood, is a vampire who has fallen off the wagon, looking at Rachel as both dinner and bedmate, neither role which suits Rachel’s sensibilities. Rachel’s one of the very, very few people who knows that crime lord/businessman Trent Kalamack is one of the long-lost elves, a race presumed to be extinct for many years, and that secret weighs upon her conscience. Her growing skills at ley line magic both fascinate and frighten her, especially since that makes her even more appealing to the demon known as Algaliarept, the demon who has alternatively tried to kill and help her numerous times in the past… the demon who’s even now coming to claim Rachel as his familiar as her payment for the bargain they made to put a vampire behind bars. As if that wasn’t enough, Rachel’s boyfriend Nick is nowhere to be found, and it looks like he may have skipped town for good. And why’s a werewolf stalking her? What’s a girl to do?

Assuming Rachel can stay out of Algaliarept’s clutches long enough to find a way to break their bargain and keep her soul, she still has to deal with her uncomfortable relationship with Ivy, her even more questionable one with a vampire named Kisten, find a way to pay her side of the rent and the bills, and, by the way, handle another unwanted element in the city’s criminal underworld. Once again, she’ll join forces with a man (elf) she loathes, and risk death, all in the name of truth, justice, and paying the bills.

This series continues to be one of my favorites. It’s past-paced, exciting, unpredictable and fun. Rachel is a wonderfully complex, multi-dimensional protagonist whose penchant for going with the immediate solution and worrying about long-term consequences later leads to no end of thrilling complications. Make a deal with a demon now, worry about saving her soul later. Keep a secret now, worry about how to rebuild a friendship later. Take down the immediate threat now, and worry about dealing with the ally of convenience when he becomes a problem in the future. It helps, of course, that she’s surrounded by equally complex, equally active people. Ivy juggles her loyalty to family and master with issues of trust and bloodlust, ruled by her heart and her vampiric nature. Jenks the pixie manages to have more personality at several inches tall than most people do at six feet, and he and his family tend to steal the scene when they’re around. Thus, it hurts all the more later on when he finds cause to be angry with Rachel. Kisten, the resident bad boy vampire is a great blend of sensitive friend and very dangerous seducer, playing up the best aspects of the “vampire as sexual being” approach. His participation in Rachel’s life makes things more interesting, but at the same time, it helps to further humanize her. And what can we say about Algaliarept? Charming, soft-spoken, subtle, extremely hazardous for your health, he’s a demon to fear. The nicer he is, the worse it is when he inevitably turns upon you. As a villain, he’s got class, style, and a distinct manner of doing things.

Of course, these characters all benefit from the world Kim Harrison has created, a slightly-alternate reality where the supernatural exists out in the open. Her vampires are complicated creatures that skirt stereotyping while still fulfilling the traditional roles of seducers and predators. There’s logic behind their drives and instincts and actions, and one memorable scene in which we see a group of vampires “relaxing” is laugh-out-loud funny and a welcome change of pace from the usual “mopey-vamp” modern literature would have us believe in. And the more we learn about the world, both mundane and supernatural, the more questions we end up with. Certainly, there remain mysteries aplenty about Rachel’s forgotten past and her deceased father’s work with Trent Kalamack’s father, mysteries to be answered in books to come.

Harrison gets better with each book, and Every Which Way But Dead is an excellent urban fantasy, chock-full of action and mystery, with some extremely sizzling sex thrown in for spice. Vampire for vampire, this is just as good as, if not better than, early Laurell K. Hamilton, and some of the best urban fantasy around. If you like Jim Butcher, Laurell K. Hamilton, Laura Anne Gilman, Charlaine Harris, or any of the other series where the supernatural stalks the everyday world, you need to be reading this series.

Originally posted at SF Site, 2005

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