Pale Demon

Pale Demon. Kim Harrison. Harper Voyager, 2011. 439 pp, $26.99.

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Reviewed by Sarah Beach

[This review originally appeared in Mythprint 48:9 (#350) in September 2011.]

This novel is actually one in a series (volume nine of a projected twelve). But I came to it cold, with no previous awareness of Harrison’s world-building. On the one hand, not having knowledge of previous volumes was a little bit of a problem, since once I was into the tale it was obvious that the current events were built on what went before. There was also an underlying presumption that the reader already knows the world (an alternate contemporary, mostly urban setting) and the relations between its vampires, werewolves, elves, pixies, and witchfolk (not to mention the demons). On the other hand, Harrison is a competent storyteller and she makes these aspects inherent in the way the characters interact.

The story launches with Rachel Morgan, our principal character, accused of using demon-tainted black magic, a crime which could get her banished from prime reality to the demon dimension, a fate she wants to avoid. She has three days to get herself from Cincinnati to San Francisco where her trial is supposed to be held. She has been banned from using commercial transportation, so it will be a road trip. Along for the ride are her best friend Ivy (a living vampire), Jenks (a pixie), and Trent (an elf). The relationship between Trent and Rachel is prickly at best.

For some reason not given in this volume, Trent cannot travel across country on his own, in spite of being a wealthy businessman. I suspect the reason for the prohibition may exist in a previous volume, but unfortunately it is not given in this book, even though it is crucial to the plot. Another one of the presumptions that all readers would know the previous volumes.

This motley crew have a cascading sequence of adventures, precipitated by two factors: the Coven (the governing body for witches) doesn’t really want Rachel to arrive on time, and elf-assassins that are after Trent for some unexplained reason (revealed near the climax). Their route is punctuated by stops in St. Louis, the Painted Desert/Petrified Forest area, and Las Vegas, with each stop complicated by the apparently inexplicable presence of a day-walking demon, Xu’Sox. Xu’Sox has a fascination in Rachel (as she somehow has demon blood in her), while Rachel blames Trent for releasing the day-walking disaster.

All things considered, Harrison tells an engaging story that will keep you turning the pages to the end. But I wasn’t so entranced that I want to go back and read all the previous volumes. However, that may be more because pseudo-contemporary fantasy laden with vampires, werewolves, and witches is not quite my thing. I found the character of Rachel to be overly screechy (she’s always shouting at someone), but she is generally genuinely concerned about what is happening to others around her and she tries her best to do no harm. Her attraction to Trent is written very heavy-handedly, since it seems that almost every time Harrison has Rachel even just look at Trent she’s thinking about how sexy his body is. That got tiresome quickly and could have been toned down a bit. But if this sort of everything-and-the-kitchen-sink type of modern fantasy appeals for you, Harrison does give you your money’s worth.

Pale Demon. Kim Harrison. Harper Voyager, 2011. 439 pp, $26.99.

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