Monday, January 28, 2013

Ever After (Hollows #11) by Kim Harrison

 Rachel is faced with a crisis that hits very close to home – Rosewood babies are being kidnapped. Babies like her, with too many demon enzyme who normally die very young, are being stolen – each with the potential to become a day walking demon.

But it is just one move in Ku’Sox’s plan against her – the created and lethal supposed saviour of demon kind has his eyes fixed on Rachel and is determined to bring her – and, in fact, all of the Ever After down with him. The demon collective is too afraid to dare challenge him, and willing to accede to his demands even as his plans set to destroy the Ever After, render demons extinct and even end magic itself.

And he’s using children – those nearest and dearest to Rachel and Trent – to get his way, forcing hard choices and sacrifices on the people she cares for. It seems she can keep no-one safe and the entire force of the demon collective is poised to fall upon her as they panic and the Ever After shrinks.

There was a lot to love here. The world building grew immensely – but never in a way that derailed the plot or even slowed it down (though there were other factors that put on the breaks). We learned so much more about the world – the history of the gargoyles, the history of the ley lines and the Ever After and, most stunning of all, the history of the demon/elf conflict and the demons’ origins. The full nature and revelations of the demon/elf war, its origins and the nature of the demons who managed to survive since then was a wonderful shift in our perceptions of who the good and bad guys are – and suggests strongly that good and bad are just far too simplistic for this conflict. It added a lot of wonderful nuance and depth to this world. I’m sitting here rewriting this paragraph several times over because I am desperately trying not to spoil the awesome revelations but equally desperately want to talk about them – because they were so good. Even aside from the main plot line, Jenks and Belle’s ongoing revelations of fairy and pixie culture and Ivy’s storyline showing exactly what they mean when they say older vampires tend to kill themselves – it’s now very evocatively shown rather than just told.

And we got a full sense of that nuance and the epic implications of what these revelations meant in the story. Trent wants to make peace with Dali, which he’ll consider – but, given Dali’s own history – he can’t just accept the outstretched hand. Rachel’s epic speech about common demon history, about what they’ve endured, matching her own experiences to that and using it to shame Ku’Sox

We’re also definitely going to see more about the Elven goddess – which I really want to see.

The story itself was a roller coast – despite some elements I’ll discuss in a moment – it was very good at building tension and emotion. I won’t spoil, but some of the things that happened outright shocked me and added to the demand for action and excitement this book built excellently. There were also some excellently emotional scenes – the mourning, Rachel’s speech, Trent’s revelations that, for all his lofty goals, he’s a father first, Al’s drunken little binge, Rachel’s look into Al’s dreams, the rings – there was incredible emotion throughout this and I really felt for the characters

I have to criticise the writing and pacing of the middle of this book – but preface this with saying that part of the problem with this is how well written some of the rest of the book is. See, throughout this book there’s a strong sense of a big epic show down coming up. Something epic is coming. The Ever After rests in the balance. The future of magic rests in the balance. Rachel’s life rests in the balance. Not only that, but Ku’Sox has done some things (which I won’t spoil) that will make anyone who has read the Hollows series from the beginning want him dead. Twice. Slowly. The emotion is very well maintained and made me desperately want to read Rachel’s vengeance against this demon. I was eager for that show down – very very eager. The pacing was set with a tight deadline, everything was delicately balanced and had to be solved in time!

So when we hit the great big flabby pudding of writing in the middle of the book it was like getting stuck behind a tractor on a narrow road when you’re running late. Why is it going so slow? What is this? Get out of the waaaaay?! MOOOOVE! While some of these delays were spent with Rachel’s emotional state – that was already apparent and didn’t need so much time spent on it; we were already shown, abundantly, what she was feeling, we didn’t need to be told repeatedly. Ivy came back with her whole new storyline encompassing Felix as well – and while I can understand a hint about it, a hint and then moving it to the next book would have been far better. It was a distraction in this book and, with me waiting for the big show down with Ku’sox, I was yelling for Ivy to get her story out of the plotline so we could move forwards. Then we had the theft at the museum. It was fun, it was a nice little reminder to earlier Rachel adventures as well – but it didn’t add anything. Quen could just as easily got those rings from the original owners as was initially planned. It was an unnecessary scene in a long book that could have been cut to get us to the epic conclusion I was hungering for.

The problem is that these slow patches – Rachel’s extra ruminations, Ivy, the theft, added to more necessary slow patches (Nick, Ellasbeth, Rachel fretting and not knowing what to do) to create a lot of drudgery in the middle of a fast paced, exciting book that was actively working to build anticipation. And building anticipation is wonderful when you feel “oh yes, I can’t wait” but can very quickly turn into “for gods’ sake, get on with it!”

I do love how several of the relationships in this book have grown and developed – showing the full growth the series has produced. Rachel and Trent is the most obvious one with Rachel definitely skirting the edge of a relationship, them talking about his past and even addressing his old crimes (and I am glad they are being addressed rather than being completely forgotten for the sake of making Trent “the good one” to Al’s “evil”. We don’t gloss over what he did, but we add motivation and question to them.)  Rachel and Al’s relationship similarly deepened with a lot more exploration of his past, an affirmation of their mutual respect and, perhaps more importantly, with Rachel herself growing in terms of how she views demons. She doesn’t view them as antagonists any more, or enemies, or needing to be destroyed. She’s not afraid of them and she even talks about them as “us”.

Perhaps more deeply even though it was subtle is Rachel’s relationship with Ivy. Ivy didn’t have a huge role in this book and I’m happy about that. Rachel and Ivy were very co-dependent. Ivy was desperate and needy for Rachel’s approval, support and to help her gain self-control and pick her up when she fell. Rachel needed Ivy for grounding, for common sense, to help her when she recklessly charged in without any sense. And from that needing each other constantly, we have this book where they barely spend any time together. They reaffirm their powerful friendship, it’s not that they’ve grown apart – but they’ve both grown strength enough to not need the other as a constant source of support. I especially liked Rachel not wanting Ivy to come because, without magic, there was nothing she could do – and that the IS wouldn’t sent vampires after witches. This is a wonderful contrast to earlier in the series when she said almost the same thing about the IS not sending witches after vampires. In full circle, Rachel has found her own power and doesn’t see herself as secondary to Ivy. It’s only some small scenes, but there’s a lot there.

And Jenks and Belle? Is very very very cute. Yes it is. But also further proof of the difference Rachel is making to Inderland societies – not just the demons having kids, the elves curing their curse and the werewolves getting the focus; but something as simple as pixies and fairies being willing to talk to each other is groundbreaking.

Which makes me slightly more frustrated with Rachel unable to keep her mouth shut and ranting and raving at the demon collective. Or the number of times she decides to declare “it’s not fair!” Not fair? Rachel, what are you, 9? The demons don’t care about fair and why would you expect them to? Sure, shout at them for cowardice in reasonable frustration – but she went in shouting and stomping and sure she could run in and just explain everything even while Al is telling her to be quiet. Is this in Rachel’s character? Certainly it WAS her character, 3 or 4 books ago. But part of the joy of this series is how much Rachel has grown as a character since the first book – and she’s no longer as reckless or ruled by her temper or believes everyone should think as she thinks and be easily talked round to seeing things her way. She got smarter and this relapse was annoying. I wanted to sit next to Al and join him in telling her to be quiet.

Sadly, the racial inclusion in this series continues to be very slender indeed, bit parts at best (the only character who sticks in my mind is Nina who is latina). And with Ivy not playing a huge role in this book, the GBLT representation is also a footnote.

While I think Belle and Jenks together are very cute, there’s no real challenge to the rigid gender roles among the pixies/fairies we’ve seen throughout the series. While Belle is a warrior in her own right, just like Matalina, it seems clear that Jenks is always intended to be the main fighter (and not just because of Belle’s loss of wings – it was the same with Matalina) and the women are there to treat their wounds, cook the food and make the clothes. It further underscores this by the sheer importance Jenks gives to these tasks – when Rachel treated his injuries in the past, when he accepted clothes Belle had made for him – his desperate insistence that Belle wasn’t cooking for him (which she later did). These are very clearly important things the Wife does for the Husband in Pixie/Fairy society and hence a big deal when Jenks has a woman who isn’t his wife doing them.

I’m similarly leery about Al’s description of his relationship with Ceri. While I can definitely see him as being upset, ultimately their relationship was one of master and slave in which Ceri was abused and raped repeatedly

Rachel is, in many ways, an actual strong female character despite her super powers (and the unfortunate growth devolution temper tantrum she had). She has grown a lot, she’s a very full character with a lot of development and a lot of reality behind her. She has agency, she has goals, she has her own life and increasingly she is capably handling that life. She has strong friends – including female friends, even if Ivy and Ceri do not play major roles in this book. This book also makes a point of calling out the sexism of the nearly-exclusively male demon culture and how Rachel finds herself ignored by them.

This book had so much awesome in it that I’m tempted to give it a 5 for the ending alone – especially with that being the last thing in my mind. The story, character development, relationship development, world building was all so incredibly amazing. But, I have to acknowledge that half way through this book I was not only frustrated, I was struggling and struggling badly at that.