The Good, The Bad, and the Undead, by Kim Harrison (HarperTorch, 2005)

Finally free of the death threats which plagued her existence ever since she and her friends, the vampire Ivy Tamwood and the pixy Jenks, quit their jobs as “runners” for Inderland Security, Rachel Morgan is able to turn her attentions, as well as her witch abilities, to better use. Such as paying rent and replacing the personal belongings that didn’t survive the earlier turmoil in her life.

But life’s not always easy for an independent witch/bounty hunter in a world where the mundane and the supernatural exist with only the barest of polite cooperation, and Rachel’s had time to make more enemies than most.

A not-so-routine job as consultant for the Federal Inderland Bureau quickly throws Rachel into a major mess of trouble. It seems that someone’s been killing off witches proficient in ley line magic, and like it or not, the human-biased FIB needs someone with Rachel’s qualifications and skills to help investigate. To Rachel’s delighted surprise, the trails all seem to lead right back to drug lord/crime kingpin and respected businessman, Trent Kalamack, who gave Rachel no end of grief last time they met. It starts to look like maybe this time, Rachel can take down her nemesis properly. Right?

Wrong. So very wrong. The hunt for the so-called “Witch Killer” is anything but straight-forward, and the further Rachel digs, the more she uncovers things she never expected to learn, about Kalamack, about her roommate Ivy, about herself. Because while Rachel is attempting to peg the killings on Trent, Ivy is attempting to resist her vampiric urges before someone close to her gets hurt. Meanwhile, there’s a demon doing its best to try and claim possession of both Rachel, and her all-too-inquisitive-yet-foolhardy boyfriend Nick’s souls.

Ultimately, things come together in a beautifully violent climax, whereupon certain secrets are revealed, and other mysteries are brought to light, proving that once again, it’s never a good day to be Rachel Morgan.

That summary, by the way, is a gross oversimplification of the complex series of interpersonal relationships that make up the composition of the main cast. Rachel, Ivy, Jenks, Nick, Trent, even the demon known as Algariarept, are tied together irrevocably, and the more they try to untangle things, the worse it gets. Will Rachel and Nick be able to keep outwitting Algariarept’s attempts to obtain their souls? Will Rachel be able to resist the vampiric lure of Ivy? Will Ivy be able to resist her own urges and stay on the wagon, as far as drinking blood goes? And just what childhood connection links Trent and Rachel, anyway? These threads and more run through The Good, the Bad, and the Undead, carrying the plot well past the point of no return, injecting the storyline with such momentum that you know the ending is going to be swift, violent, and traumatic for all involved.

Kim Harrison really manages to lay out a fascinating setting here, injecting the modern world with a very real sense of danger and foreboding, where the supernatural walks both openly and in secret, and you don’t dare travel down the street alone at night. Her vampires manage to combine sensuality and seductiveness with a cheap, ugly violence; these are beautiful monsters with horrible hungers, and much of the story revolves around Ivy’s desperate attempts to keep from ending up like the “real,” or “dead” vampires that rule parts of the city. More than once, I’ve thought I’d seen enough takes on vampires to become bored by that aspect of the dark fantasy/horror genre. Thankfully, Harrison manages to keep them interesting, and unpredictable.

Ditto with her takes on witches and warlocks, fairies and pixies, even werecreatures (though we see remarkably little of them in this book.) And I can’t even wait to see how she continues to flesh out the demons that play such a pivotal role in the background.

I’ve been pushing both this book and Dead Witch Walking as “Laurell K. Hamilton, only with a lot less sex,” and while that’s a fair description, it’s still simplified. First of all, Harrison is very much her own writer, with a fully-realized world of her own being revealed bit by bit. Rather, these books will appeal to Hamilton’s fans, as well as those who like Jim Butcher, Charlaine Harris, Rachel Caine, or any of the various supernatural romances out there. Second of all, there’s a fair amount of sensuality — not sex, per se — infused into the story. Not only do Ivy and Rachel have a will-they-won’t-they tension born of vampiric hunger and Rachel’s current vulnerability to vampire pheromones, but Rachel finds her encounters with certain other vampires to be almost overpowering in their emotional intensity. But it’s still not sex. And that’s what I like to point out. A lot of people I talk to are quite open about the fact that the Anita Blake books are excellent, but have a bit too much sex in proportion to the plot. Fear not. In Harrison’s books, there’s a return to the tough girl who can say no to her enemies. One of the best relationships undoubtedly has to be that between Rachel and Trent, who could very well end up being friends if she could only stop loathing everything about him.

To sum it up, The Good, The Bad, and the Undead, is a superb book, beautiful, sexy, mysterious, and violent. I can’t wait for the next in the series, because I know for a fact that Kim Harrison has a lot more up her sleeve.

Originally posted on SF Site, 2005

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>