The Outlaw Demon Wails, by Kim Harrison (Eos, 2008)

Rachel Morgan, witch and bounty hunter extraordinaire, finds the sins of her recent past catching up to her in full force when the demon she thought gone for good, Algaliarept, appears out of nowhere, thoroughly upset and out for revenge. It seems that even though he’s in prison, someone has been summoning him out of his cell and siccing him on Rachel. Another demon, Minias, is in hot pursuit of the demon Rachel calls “Al,” and wants her help in returning the fugitive to his proper confinement. Meanwhile, Trent Kalamack, the elf drug lord whom Rachel’s been trying to put in prison for months, wants to hire her on a matter of grave importance. The catch? The item he wants Rachel to retrieve lies deep in the ever-after, and to venture there would put her squarely in the heart of demon territory, where Al would have her at his mercy. Now Rachel has to balance out her desire to help a friend, versus her own personal safety, as well as the dubious ethics of working for a man she alternately hates and fears. Matters aren’t helped one bit by Rachel’s screwed-up personal life, either. Even as she starts to informally date a handsome witch named Marshal, she’s still trying to work through the bizarre relationship she has with her partner/roommate/best friend Ivy, a vampire whose idea of love is irrevocably tied into blood and violence.

Add to all of that the everyday complications, such as investigating demon damage claims for an insurance company, dealing with a gargoyle in the belfry, and learning a long-hidden truth about her family history, and Rachel’s got her plate full and then some. When a job goes awry, Rachel will find several lives depending on her next move. If she wants to prevent anyone from dying, ensure the future of a near-extinct race, and solve some of her demon problems, she’s going to have to think outside the box. Scratch that, she’ll have to set the box on fire. Rachel’s about to show those demons how real dealing is done.

The sixth book in the Hollows series, The Outlaw Demon Wails continues to expand upon Rachel Morgan’s world, peeling back another layer of mystery as we learn more about the true natures of, and levels of interaction between witches, elves, and demons. Some of what we learn may have been easy to guess already, other bits are unexpected and fascinating. Of course, these revelations are packaged in a sharp-edged, hard-hitting plot full of compelling character moments and thrilling action bits. Kim Harrison places a lot of emphasis on the emotional drama and development of her characters. For every scene of action and violence, there’s another dealing with Rachel’s non-relationship with Marshal, or her constant reshuffling of boundaries with Ivy, or even the love-hate business relationship she has with Trent Kalamack. It’s something of a joy and a relief to see Rachel reach a new level of emotional maturity in this book, as she continues to take charge of her life and responsibility for her actions. A self-realized adrenaline/danger junky, Rachel accepts and works with this as she works through the numerous issues cropping up in her life. What she has with Ivy in particular is fascinating, complex, and a great rarity in this genre — it’s friendship, love, co-dependence, need, respect, and all too fragile, something that could be, but likely never will be sexual, and richly emotional. Harrison gets kudos for creating something so complicated, and yet real, drawing out the potential of a vampire’s culturally-instilled sensuality and using it as both a boon and a drawback.

The same goes for Rachel’s dealings with Trent. In a different world, the two of them could likely be friends, even romantic interests for one another. And yet one gets the suspicion that if Harrison has her way, this will never, ever happen. There’s just way too much going on, too much that’s happened between them, for it to ever develop into something lasting. Unlikely allies, occasional business partners, perhaps. But it would take another miracle, especially on Rachel’s part, before she sees Trent as anything other than a nuisance at best, enemy the rest of the time. Luckily, to balance out that complexity, there’s Jenks, the sarcastic, fiercely loyal pixy who watches Rachel’s back. What can I say? If there was a character that needs a story told from his point of view, it’s Jenks. And we won’t even get started on the unspeakably odd, unpredictable, alien personalities of the demons who play such a large role in things, like Al and Minias. Polite one moment, threatening the next, as dangerous as rattlesnakes in a crib, it’s easy to sometimes forget the sheer potential for disaster they represent, especially when they’re on their best behavior. It’ll definitely be interesting to see how things develop in the next book, given the way things leave off here.

For those who’ve followed the series thus far, The Outlaw Demon Wails offers some nice payoffs in terms of character development and worldbuilding revelations, as well as the usual satisfying storytelling. Newcomers will undoubtedly enjoy this book, but I really suggest that they start with Dead Witch Walking, if just to enjoy the buildup that brings us to the status set, broken, and reset here. I had no real complaints about this book, and I can’t wait for Rachel’s next adventure, especially since we still have some outstanding questions in need of answers.

Originally reviewed for SF Site, 2008

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