Science fiction and fantasy

Dead Witch Walking

by Kim Harrison


Perhaps Rachel Morgan isn't in the best line of work for someone with her temperament. She's disorganised, careless, and tends to jump straight in to situations without making a plan. So hunting Cincinnati's supernatural criminals is not the safest of career choices, even for a witch.

Harrison's world is somewhat post-apocalyptic, similar to the Shadowrun books where mythical humanoid races have suddenly become a lot more common, except it's an alternate version of the present rather than set in the future. The aftermath of a plague has left the human population decimated, whilst Inderlander species remain largely untouched. The plague was carried by, of all things, tomatoes. Inderland species include witches, weres, vampires, fairies, pixies, and other supernatural beings. Humans have had to adjust to no longer being the dominant race. It's a world much like our own, except Inderlanders are far more common and they no longer hide their presence from human notice.

Rachel works with the help of Jenks, a backchatting pixy, and sometimes with her friend Ivy, a living vampire. Although Ivy has sworn off blood, Rachel doesn't trust Ivy to stay off the wagon. But Rachel doesn't have a lot of choice in the company she keeps when a price is put on her head and she attempts to bring down a criminal mastermind, escape a demon, and fend off inappropriate job offers, all the while avoiding becoming someone else's lunch. She needs all her wits, plus an arsenal of spells and charms, just to stay alive.

Dead Witch Walking begins with a playful tone, and for a while it seems as though wisecracks and cute or quirky supernatural characters will dominate this novel. It's not until around a third of the way in that things get serious for Rachel, and from then on it becomes obvious that this is going to be the kind of story that gets its claws in you and doesn't let go until the last page.

There may be pixies and fairies in this book, but it's not a novel for younger readers. Not only are Harrison's small folk the polar opposite of the sweet, innocent creatures of popular stereotype, but Rachel also has to contend with the confusing and often bizarre rules of vampire attraction. That's not to say that this is an explicit book, but often there are frissons of sexual tension, sultry gazes, tremblings, steamy pauses, and sometimes even a diagram.

A lot of influences are noticeable, most obviously Joss Whedon's Buffy both in terms of the attitude of the characters as well as the genre. The humour is also reminiscent of Tom Holt, or perhaps even Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl books, whilst the setting has touches of Laurell K. Hamilton's Meredith Gentry books and the Shadowrun series mentioned earlier. However that's not to say Dead Witch Walking is derivative, because it's a long way from that, these influences are merely elements that make up an entirely new concoction. It's a spicy witches' brew of a story, written with wit, intelligence and a considerable flair for making the extraordinary engaging.

Book Details

Year of release: 2004

Categories: Books
Female Protagonist

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Review © Ros Jackson