From the BLURB:
Rachel Morgan has fought and hunted vampires, werewolves, banshees, demons, and other supernatural dangers as both witch and bounty hunter--and lived to tell the tale. But she's never faced off against her own kind . . . until now. Denounced and shunned for dealing with demons and black magic, her best hope is life imprisonment--at worst, a forced lobotomy and genetic slavery. Only her enemies are strong enough to help her win her freedom, but trust comes hard when it hinges on the unscrupulous tycoon Trent Kalamack, the demon Algaliarept, and an ex-boyfriend turned thief.
This is the 8th book in Kim Harrison’s popular ‘Rachel Morgan; The Hollows’ series.
I waited for this book for a year. After ‘White Witch, Black Curse’ I was absolutely desperate for the next instalment, because it finished on such a cliff hanger. In book #7, Rachel found herself shunned by the Witch community and ex-communicated because of her demon dabbling. Rachel was at an all-time low, and I was eager to find out how she would deal with this new catastrophe. But I’m sad to say that having now read book #8, I’m a tad disappointed.
I got to the end of ‘Black Magic Sanction’ and I honestly couldn’t tell you what has changed for Rachel. Whereas in past books the final page has left Rachel with demon marks, student to a demon teacher, killer of a vampire master, and reunited with her biological father… ‘Black Magic Sanction’ finished on a whimper, rather than a bang.
My first big complaint has to do with the introduction of yet another male love interest for Rachel, in the form of ghost Pierce.
Pierce first appeared in a ‘Hollows’ short story in the 2007 anthology ‘Holidays are Hell’. The short story was a ‘Hollows’ prequel called “Two Ghosts for Sister Rachel”, and featured an 18-year-old Rachel Morgan, her brother Robbie and a deceased Coven witch turned ghost, Pierce. I really liked that short story, and admittedly Pierce and Rachel had quite a bit of sparkage in just that little anthology.
But I feel bad for all those ‘Hollows’ fans who have not read that short story, and for whom Pierce’s sudden appearance at the end of ‘White Witch, Black Curse’ was a total WTF? moment. It doesn’t help all those in-the-dark fans that in ‘Black Magic Sanction’ Rachel constantly refers to Pierce as her ‘girlhood crush’. I can only imagine there are quite a few confused readers out there wondering if they’ve skipped a book in the series.
“It’s not what you are, but who you are,” Pierce said, and when he stood as well, I started edging into the hall. “I saw you when you had just tipped the scales to womanhood, and I can tell you that you’re much the same in your mind now as you were then.”
“And what is that?” I asked from within the dark hallway.
Pierce was silent until he stopped right before me, his face showing an unreadable emotion. “You’re firm in will, pure in intent, strong in magic. But now it’s tempered with wisdom, and you’re more beautiful and brilliant yet.” I went to turn away, and he pulled me back. “You are shades of gray swirling, balancing needs and desires,” he added, watching me. “You are good, Rachel. No matter what your choices lead you to, you will remain such.”
I don’t mind Pierce on the whole. I like that he is Victorian-minded and a very otherworldly gentleman – his speeches are great to read (“I swan”) and he proves very useful over the course of ‘Black Magic Sanction’. But I refuse to get invested in his character. Kisten was the only male love interest of Rachel’s that I liked, and I think he will be her last *serious* boyfriend.
I couldn’t help but resent Pierce because eight books in I desperately want Rachel and Ivy’s relationship to evolve beyond the ‘platonic’.
That brings me to my second annoyance…
Kim Harrison’s ‘The Hollows’ series is in a class all its own in the world of Urban Fantasy. Her series has amazing scope; they are truly epic and grand-scale. Harrison is one of the ‘big poombah’ writers of the UF genre and I absolutely adore her writing.
One of the reasons Harrison stands out in this ever-popular genre is because she isn’t afraid to take chances in her series. She kills off characters, she turns bad guys good and vice versa - and maybe best of all, she has her fans eager for an unconventional F/F pairing between Rachel and Ivy.
‘Hollows’ fans have patiently waited for things to progress between the vampire and the witch – they’ve read through Ivy admitting her love for Rachel, Rachel adamantly maintaining her heterosexuality and carrying on meaningless relationships with throw-away men (Marshal!) and we’ve been titillated by girl on girl scenes as they ‘explore their boundaries’. But eight books in and ‘Black Magic Sanction’ feels like one giant step back in any possible HEA for Ivy and Rachel.
‘Black Magic Sanction’ has Ivy in a new relationship with FIB officer, Glenn. And a possible ménage relationship with a new character called Darryl (who neither Rachel nor readers have been introduced to). Meanwhile Rachel is denying her growing feelings for Pierce…
It certainly feels like Harrison is going over old territory and not giving readers anything new. Harrison is contracted for 12 books (possibly 13 if her contract gets extended) in the series – and fair enough if she doesn’t want to write a HEA between Ivy and Rachel with 4 books still to go. But when she writes such distance between Ivy and Rachel, and doesn’t include any scenes of them being alone together – it just feels like she’s leaving those two characters and their relationship to stagnate and frustrate readers.
And that brings me to my third complaint.
Ivy and Jenks didn’t play a big enough role in this book. Rachel, Ivy and Jenks and their unconventional but steadfast friendship is the main reason I keep coming back to this series. I love their little Triumvirate and any scenes of the three of them. But those ‘threesome’ scenes are far and few between in ‘Black Magic Sanction’. Pierce hogs the spotlight with Rachel, and it feels like there is a growing chasm between Rachel and Ivy/Jenks.
Basically my biggest complaints are to do with the emotional character ARC’s in Harrison’s series. But I can’t fault the nuts and bolts of Harrison’s writing. She navigates her way around action scenes as though she’s writing for the big screen – and reading them gets your adrenaline pumping.
While I wasn’t thrilled with the progress of the emotional relationships, Harrison has very cleverly added a new layer of mystery to Rachel’s relationship with demon, Al and elf, Trent. Harrison has definitely increased the intrigue of those two men, and is setting up for some very interesting future plot lines….
** SPOILERS **
‘Black Magic Sanction’ also includes a very sad character death. No doubt many fans will have predicted this passing, but it still won’t prepare you for the impact of the scene. I bawled my eyes out.
** END SPOILERS **
All in all, I wasn’t impressed by ‘Black Magic Sanction’, and this was probably my least favourite book in the series (and I’m including the one in which Kisten dies! So that is saying something). Not enough happened, Ivy and Rachel’s ‘will they or won’t they’ began to grate and I didn’t get a big enough Jenks fix.