Kim Harrison,
Dead Witch Walking
(HarperTorch, 2004)

Sometimes, the dark fantasy genre that places vampires and other supernatural beings in the modern world is haunted by a certain sameness. Too many authors want to be just like other, more successful writers, it seems, while some of the remarkable few rely too much on past successes and end up repeating themselves.

Kim Harrison takes a few chances with her take on the world, and it works extremely well.

The world of Dead Witch Walking is set in the aftermath of a bioengineering catastrophe that unleashed death on a large chunk of the "normal" human population. As humanity struggled simply to survive, the supernatural races -- warlocks, vampires, werewolves and the like -- stepped out of hiding to keep society intact. Now, they make up nearly half of the world's population and move freely among them.

That brings us to Cincinnati, where witch Rachel Morgan works as a federal bounty hunter -- until a job gone sour convinces her to quit and go freelance. She unexpectedly finds herself living in an abandoned church and partnered with a vampire and a pixie, both of whom want out of their federal contracts. Rachel, alone among them, is slapped with a death sentence by her embittered employer, and she spends at least part of the novel as a caged mink because of it.

Harrison has done a great job of building her world, with the dichotomies between good and evil -- white magic and black magic, living vampires and dead vampires, pixies and fairies -- mapped out fairly well while still leaving ample room for further development. Similarly, she has crafted excellent characters in the novel, while still providing room for further growth. The tensions between Rachel and Ivy, her vampire partner, alone would fill a book, and I suspect the mysteries surrounding the human demonologist Nick could fill another.

And I'll be there to read them. Dead Witch Walking is an entertaining and intriguing debut.

by Tom Knapp
10 March 2007

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