I got a strange look from the cashier at The Tattered Cover in Denver when I bought A Fistful of Charms — probably because I’d just made a pest of myself so I could find Robert Wilson’s Hugo-award-winning Spin. The bookstore had shelved Harrison’s book under horror and they don’t expect the same readership for both. But I was buying them together and they both fit my definition of speculative fiction. Horror is usually designed to elicit terror or disgust, which isn’t what you get from Kim Harrison. I’d define this more as urban/dark fantasy.
Besides, I’m a sucker for a fast-paced action story with a spunky heroine and other “Inderlanders,” such as vampires, weres, witches, pixies, and garden fairies (not the sort from children’s tales, but the kind that you purge from your garden before they attack you with thorns tipped with poison ivy). Harrison’s world is the way it is because of a virus carried by tomatoes many years ago. Even today, mundane humans are suspicious of catsup, spaghetti sauce, and pizza — when made by conventional recipe, of course.
I love the humor in this series. This is Harrison’s fourth book about her witch and bounty hunter Rachel Morgan. The first three are Dead Witch Walking, The Good, the Bad, and the Undead, and Every Which Way But Dead. I’ve now read the second and the fourth in this series, and I can vouch that they’re written so one doesn’t have to read them in order. While this fourth novel builds upon events and characters from previous books, I was able to get along well enough. In this novel, Rachel has to retrieve/save her old lover Nick, who’s a human that’s dabbled in demonology and gotten himself into deep trouble with a were pack. Rachel decides to help, against the wishes of current vampire lover, Kisten, and vampire business partner, Ivy. Rachel’s pixie “backup man” Jenks isn’t wild about this mission either, except that his son has attached himself to Nick and he’d like his son to come back home. Rachel is personification of the word “stubborn.” so she jumps in with both feet, ignoring all the warnings. It’s a fun read.
This series and its heroine, Rachel, can be compared to Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series as well as Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series. They all center on a strong female protagonist in a paranormal world, they all dip into some spicy sex once in a while, and eerily, they end up together on my bookshelf because I’m the anal sort that has to arrange her library by author’s last name. However, Harrison’s Rachel isn’t as gritty and world-worn and wounded as Hamilton’s Anita (and doesn’t seem to take herself as seriously, either). In comparison to Charlaine Harris’ series, Rachel doesn’t have Sookie’s homey Louisiana attitude and the environment is more urban. Rachel’s more worldly than Sookie, but she still radiates youthful and innocent energy, and I hope she stays that way as the series progresses.