Ever After, Kim Harrison – Fantasy Comfort Food of the Literary Kind

When I began reading Ever After, by Kim Harrison – on the day of its release — I read it first on Kindle. Next, to get the full flavor, I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Marguerite Gavin. Oh my. I just sank into it, the same way I sink into my bed … with a sigh of sheer delight. How good it felt to be home again.

Home again? In Cincinnati? When I’ve never been to Cincinnati and probably never will be? Where witches consort with vampires and pixies and a powerful elf rules the political world? Where you can hire a werewolf as a body-guard and you must take care to avoid demons and banshees?

Yup, Cincinnati. I feel like it’s the home town of my wistful soul, a world that somehow makes more sense than the reality in which I live my real life.

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks and I realized … I need a fix. I need to go home to Cincinnati and visit the gang at the old church. I started listening to it again last night and of course, I loved it as I have each time before. Maybe I’ll reread some of the earlier books I haven’t read in a while because there’s a new book in the series coming out and I want to be psyched. Like I wouldn’t be :-)

I have loved every book in the series, though I have loved the last three or four even more than the first group. The characters have matured, come into themselves, their powers. They are grabbing hold of their destinies, moving into their futures.

One of the signs a book may deserve  the label “classic” is when rereading it is — no matter whether it’s the first reread or the 10th — is like reading it for the first time. Maybe better. I was barely past the first few paragraphs when I realized it was as if I’d never left. I was back in the Hollows, home in magical Cincinnati and the church where Rachel, Ivy and Jenks live. My friends were waiting for me.

Ever After was new all over again. I relived the adventure, relishing each twist and turn of the plot, each character’s development. I was happy for Ivy, finding her own life at long last but sorry not to have her with me on this journey. Glad that Jenks was still involved and Biz is coming into his own. Delighted with the direction of Rachel’s relationship with Trent, sad at the loss of beloved characters. Bemused at the changes and growth in the world of demons as they evolve from caricature bad guys to people with memories of better days, their own private griefs and joys.

I keep discovering new layers to the story. This is a great book. I know it’s genre urban fantasy but it is far superior to most of the stuff I read in any genre. The consistent, careful development of characters and plot are outstanding. Kim Harrison never drops a stitch. Knowing  something about Kim Harrison’s process has given me a better understanding of how she achieves this remarkable, near-perfect construction. It has improved my writing. Following her blog is a good thing for writers. She is unusually forthcoming about how she does what she does. I continue to be fascinated by how excruciatingly precise she is, how very careful. No wonder there are not lapses in continuity, no strange leaps in time. She is careful, organized. Compared to my writing style, she’s downright anal compulsive and probably why she is able to keep such a high standard of quality. I don’t have that kind of dedication. Which is why she is a best-selling author and I’m not.

If you’ve never checked out her blog and you write, I highly recommend it. She answers questions about anything other than the details and plot of upcoming books.

She is an extremely focused and precise writer. She plans every detail of the plot, every twist of the story. No “off the cuff” writing. She doesn’t depend on obvious answers nor use genre clichés.

There’s nothing raw or unfinished in any of her books. Ever After would be a fine novel be any standards. If it weren’t urban fantasy, it would be good literature.

In my opinion, most of today’s creative authoring is happening in fantasy and science fiction. General fiction, of which I have read a great deal recently, has become drab and unimaginative. Very little new territory is being explored in “serious literature.” If you want to read something that’ll knock your socks off, visit another genre.

Kim_Harrison_06lrI have heard a lot of complaints about the popularity of science fiction and fantasy, that people don’t want to read anything that doesn’t have supernatural creatures or time travel as part of the plot. But those who complain might consider the paucity of good books coming out of “main stream” fiction. It doesn’t have to be dull, but it so often is. And bleak. And depressing. It’s no wonder that many of us don’t want to go there.

The thrill of reading isn’t gone but it has just moved to a different part of town. Read Jim Butcher‘s Harry Dresden series and check out Kevin Hearne‘s Iron Druid. Discover Carol Berg. Pick one of her books or series; you can’t go wrong. Move right into the book world with Jasper Fforde‘s Thursday Next series. If you haven’t already read it, Stephen King’s 11-23-62 is one of the best books of the decade — maybe any decade — and it’s pure science fiction.

Try some of Connie Willis‘ works. This is an area of fiction where creativity is running rampant. You’ll find books to entertain you and fill your mind with ideas. And you won’t be bored, not for a moment. There are lots more wonderful writers waiting for you to discover them. It’s not a whole world. It’s many worlds and they are all yours to explore.

Ever After is a very satisfying read. Magic, love, passion, battles. Complicated relationships, love in bloom, hope, loss, and danger. I mourned the fallen, exalted for the living and dreamed about the future. It’s not the only good book I’ve read recently, but it sure is among the top few.

If a witch, an elf and a demon can come together to save the world, anything is possible.

All of the Hollows are available as paperbacks, on Kindle and as audiobooks.

Into The Woods: Tales from the Hollows and Beyond, Kim Harrison

Into the Woods: Tales from the Hollows and Beyond by Kim Harrison

As a matter of personal and very subjective taste, I’m not a fan of short stories even by authors I love. I read them anyway, but  I read too fast to fully engage with them. By the time I get into a story, it’s over. This being Kim Harrison, I made an exception. There are only a few authors for whom I will make this exception: Jim Butcher, Kim Harrison, Connie Willis, Jasper FForde, James Lee Burke … and a few others.

This is what I would call a  mostly very good collection. I would have been shocked had it been anything less. I don’t love everything this author has written, but even her less-than-best work is far better than most writers … and the older and more mature her work becomes, the better it gets. A few of these stories are exceptional (no I won’t tell you which … you should decide for yourself based on your own taste), but it’s a very mixed bag in terms of style, time and place, “world,” and thus offers a somewhat bumpy ride, as literary excursions go. The material ranges far and wide, making it difficult to judge it as a single book.

Some stories are not new; if you’re a fan, you probably have read them before. If this is your introduction to Kim Harrison, I’m not sure how it will present to you. I’ve been reading her books for a long time and loved them from the first, but I started with one of the early books of The Hollows … and was immediately sucked into that world. This is a different kind of experience, and the worlds in it vary quite a bit. Maybe they would be a good introduction to the world of the Hollows for some people (though not all the stories are from that world). Personally, I’d recommend reading “Dead Witch Walking” first.

It’s more than just a personal preference. I think the novel is a much stronger example of Kim Harrison’s writing. She creates characters that are three-dimensional and complex. In a genre not renowned for fully fleshed out characters, hers really are. In fact, that is one of outstanding literary qualities: her characters are so well-drawn you feel as if you’ve known them for years. They are more than stereotypical non-human urban fantasy “types.” They are people and carry a lot of personal history. I don’t think “Into the Woods” is necessarily representative of her finest work and thus not a fair way to judge the author. But …. to each his or her own.

Of the new material, some stories are clearly “test balloons” for possible new directions after “The Hollows” series is finished. Some of the stories were published previously in other places and forms so fans are likely to have already read them. But — kind of like the prize in the Cracker Jack box — there are a couple of long stories that fill holes in the back stories of earlier books, material that has been hinted at but never explained. If you’re curious, for example, about what Jenks and Trent did while on Trent’s quest to retrieve his daughter, you’ll get the whole story here.

I would have bought any book by Kim Harrison published anyway and this gave me my “fix” while waiting for the release of “Ever After.” “Into the Woods” prevented me from chewing the desk after finishing my third rereading of “Perfect Blood. Today I am at peace knowing I’ll have the book in hand in about two weeks. I was grateful this collection became available when it did. For reasons that I can’t explain, it was a period when all my favorite authors were between releases … and since I’m not a George Martin fan (sorry guys, I tried very hard to like the books but I don’t) and what has turned out to be a very long wait for the final book in Brian Sanderson’s conclusion to Richard Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” epic. Jim Butcher had not yet released “Cold Days,” though he too tossed me a bone via a set of short stories (thank you).

Since the end of November, the books I’ve been waiting for have begun to be released.

“Cold Days” came out (see my review and other Jim Butcher related material), “The Woman Who Died a Lot” was released (Jasper FForde) and between these two, I survived the holidays. Now, “Ever After” will be out on January 22 and in three more days, “A Memory of Light,” the final piece of The Wheel of Time will be here.

Meanwhile, these stories are worth reading, especially if you like short stories. It’s perfect reading for bedtime because you can finish a story before you drift off. I do recommend the book. It’s worth your time.

As so many series I’ve been following wind down, I wonder what will come next, what the authors I love best will serve up to feed my voracious appetite for books. Reading is my nourishment of choice. Believe it or not, I worry about this stuff. Okay, I am a bit odd. But you knew that, right?

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Pale Demon, Kim Harrison

Pale Demon (The Hollows, #9)Pale Demon by Kim Harrison

The next to the last (so far) in this great series. I’ve come to love the characters so much that they feel like personal friends … and come to feel like the world Kim Harrison creates is as real as the one I live in. Almost.

Most books in this genre are fun, but not especially well-written, Not true of Kim Harrison (or her alter ego, Dawn Cook). Her writing is elegant, beautifully crafted. She doesn’t count on sex to keep you reading. She does it with interesting characters who grow and develop. With complex plots crafted with as great a skill as any mystery writer ever has. These are not just “chick” books. There are GOOD books.

This book falls late in the series. You do need to read from the beginning. Do not start with this book. The relationships between characters are based on long history and shared experiences, and to appreciate them, you must have been there too. For you mid-westerners, the entire series is based in Cincinnati.

The plot in this story, as it does in all the books in this wonderful series, moves briskly along. You will laugh and cry at the same time. If you’re looking for sex, you won’t find it. Romance? A whiff, a hint, a tease. More action and mystery-thriller intertwined with magic and myth than romance. Which I appreciate. She does it all by writing well rather than via steamy sex. Not that I have anything against steamy sex.

There will only be another few books in the series, so I’m gearing myself up for going cold turkey when they are done. GREAT series, read them all!

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