Taking its title from the parallel universe where most of the action takes place, Kim Harrison’s 11th Hollows novel has the author using a line most fantasy/sci-fi fans associate with Douglas Adams — “Don’t Panic!” — to reassure puzzled readers. Blame the Brothers Grimm, Andrew Lang or Walt Disney, but most of us grew up with a strong association between the phrase “Ever After” (preferably “Happily Ever After”) and the end of a story. Not so in this case. Harrison quickly points out that there are two more books planned for the series. And this book is not a fairy tale, and protagonist Rachel Morgan is definitely not a princess.
In Ever After, Rachel is being framed. OK, maybe she did tear a teensy-weensy little hole in the Ever After, causing it to leak magic and shrink slowly into oblivion. But now someone has turned that hole into a gaping rent, and Rachel is being blamed for the Ever After diminishing visibly every day. The demons who live there think the solution is simple: kill Rachel and the hole created by her magic seals itself. Rachel thinks she just needs a little time to fix the damage — as soon as she figures out how. Good thing the demons like her. Sort of.
Harrison has always used her ongoing urban fantasy series to explore human issues; witches have boyfriend problems, vampires have crises of identity and pixies worry about their kids. Told from the first-person perspective of Rachel, a bounty-hunting witch, the series has primarily followed her spectacularly bumpy road of self-discovery and maturity. Rachel’s struggles often mirror our own. In a world where terrorist attacks and senseless shooting sprees have us debating vengeance vs. forgiveness, food for thought is worth hearing wherever it comes from — even from a fictional elf with blood (and regret) on his own hands. As he tells Rachel, in one of the book’s more poignant scenes: “I want you to keep what you can of the person you want to be. Don’t sacrifice it for this.
“ ‘Don’t let your desire for revenge give him the power to make you what you don’t want to be.’
“ ‘It’s hard,’ I said, and the demons around me began to shuffle, eager to be gone.
“But he smiled and stuck a strand of hair behind my ear. ‘Of course it is. If it was easy, everyone would do it.’ ”
The story isn’t over, but the stage is being set for the conclusion of the series. No character reaches the end of the novel unchanged, and the idea that growing up is hard mentally and emotionally has become a prevalent recurring theme. But Harrison isn’t turning preachy. The action is tense and thrilling, and how Rachel will escape her various troubles is never easy to predict. Will she get to put a “happily” in front of her ever after? We’ll find out all too soon.
John Williford is a writer in Miami.