Some of us like the process of acquiring knowledge on a given subject. Some like the escapism provided by an underdog overcoming insurmountable odds. In any given story, the reader can become an active participant. We see ourselves in the characters we read about, or we can at least sympathize with the hero, with the damsel, with the everyday Joe whose journey we purposefully decide to follow.
We read for enjoyment, for the needed desire to feel joy, terror, passion, heartache because those are the emotions that make us feel alive. I read to don the heroine’s vestige, to see what depths of surrealism can be imagined. And when it’s done well, when the writer becomes much more than a mere Creator God of a wholly new world, I continue to read, as I have with Kim Harrison’s work.
I’ve followed Harrison’s Hollows series through nine action-packed, tear jerking, and imaginatively exhaustive books. I started reading about her protagonist, Rachel Morgan, because I wanted to see what antics the white witch would get up to. I continued to read because Harrison made Rachel real.
During the series, Rachel has discovered the secrets of her childhood, has mourned the loss of a lover, has been betrayed, nearly killed (on multiple occasions), and has emerged from each adventure a bit wiser, a bit more cynical. Still, she maintains the heart of who she is: not just a white witch placed in difficult situations, but also a fighter who never backs down.
In Pale Demon, the ninth book in the Hollows series, Rachel is forced into a road trip with Trent Kalamack, the elf she loves to hate and finds impossible to ignore. Through the series, Kalamack has manipulated his way into Rachel’s life, first as a nemesis then as her unwilling familiar. In Pale Demon, he convinces Rachel he’ll be able to get the shunning she received for performing black magic by the witch’s coven removed if she agrees to get him to the West coast so that he can complete a secretive Elven quest.
Blacklisted from all other manner of travel, Rachel has no choice but to take Trent up on his request. With assassins tailing them, Rachel, Trent and her partners Jenks the pixy and Ivy the “living vampire” make the trek from Cincinnati to San Francisco while fighting their attackers, barely surviving eleven magic and running from a century’s old demon who has formed an obsession with Rachel.
Getting to their destination, as the old cliché goes, isn’t the point. In Pale Demon, it’s the journey that matters; it’s what makes Rachel embrace her heritage and the notion that moving forward doesn’t always mean saying goodbye.
With this chapter in the Hollows series, Rachel isn’t the only character shifting focus and altering realities. Trent, the paradigm of a glossy public figure hiding darker, ulterior motives, changes before our eyes. We, right along with Rachel, find the elf’s layers being stripped away and what is left endears him to us, forces us to see him differently as his agendas are revealed.
But it is the revelations that Rachel discovers about herself that brings surprise and intrigue to the forefront in Pale Demon. She discovers more about herself and her magic, still leaving us at the end with the idea that her new realizations won’t limit her.
Like the other books in the series, Pale Demon’s focus isn’t solely centered on plot, but rather on the family Rachel has constructed for herself. It is these essential relationships that make Rachel fight, that gives her the motivation to move forward and, in a sense, the strength to accept who she truly is.
Harrison imparts authenticity into her books, making the world in which Rachel and her partners live a vivid reality separate from ours only by the absence of magic and the social hierarchies of her many mythical creatures. We don’t see these characters as caricatures of fantasy standards, but rather as people with whom we identify and whose plights we draw into our own sensibilities. We like them. We hate them. We feel like permitted voyeurs into Rachel’s world because Harrison has given us an open invitation to live the adventure right along with her characters.
Pale Demon reflects a journey that Rachel undertakes to discover truths about herself and the people around her. But the road is strewn with more obstacles to overcome, more demons to face. A road that, like Harrison’s readers, I can’t wait to travel further down.