Rachel Morgan has a rough life -- short-lived pixies, a vampire roommate, demon marks and smut, and a permanently dead vampire lover whose murder she can't even recall.
And actually, things get even WORSE for her for a time in "White Witch Black Curse," the seventh book in Kim Harrison's Hollows series. This particular chunk of the series pits Rachel against a particularly nasty Inderlander, even as she's faced with a new slew of problems and a new source of loneliness -- now if only the subplot about Kisten had been fleshed out a bit more.
As Rachel struggles to remember who killed Kisten, she and Ivy are called in when Edden's son is nearly beaten to death by a seemingly normal suburban couple. But as they uncover odd details about the couple, Rachel realizes that the woman, Mia is a banshee -- an aura vampire -- and that neither she nor Ivy can hope to prevail against her.
As she searches Mia and her creepy banshee baby, Rachel also is forced to juggle family problems, a ghostly presence, a rotten reputation, and the haunting question of what happened the night Kisten was murdered. But a bad situation rapidly becomes worse when Rachel is unexpectedly shunned -- cut off from the witch community completely -- and an old friend is kidnapped by Al. And there's still that nasty banshee to deal with...
The dust jacket of "White Witch Black Curse" makes it sound like the hunt for Kisten's murderer is the main plot. Well, it isn't what the whole plot is about. While his death (and the emotional turbulence it causes for Rachel) hang over the story like a dying storm cloud, the story is mostly about banshee-hunting and the nasty effects of dealing with demons. Lots of smut, and possible social ostracization.
Fortunately Harrison's writing is like a strong interwoven rope of subplots, character development, action and headsplitting magical violence (some of it from little babies). She keeps the plot steady if rather slow-moving through the first parts of the book (come on, less poking around!), but kicks it up a notch in the last third of the book. The storyline winds down into some very dark, violent territory as Rachel and Ivy fight with a serial-killer and a megalomaniac banshee.
Best yet, she can wrench your emotions up by the roots -- just note the intense creep-out factor of the dead vampires and the little sushi party, or the hauntingly bittersweet memories of the night Kisten died. That last is powerful enough to overshadow the entire last half of the book. Fortunately all this grim stuff is leavened by the humorous dialogue ("We have a randy ghost?") and quirky situations (tomato-eating party!), although it's somewhat less humorous than in books past.
The big flaw? Well, the the tragic, romantic flashback of the night Kisten died is a heartbreaker, but the actual confrontation with the murderer -- and his long-forgotten identity -- seem like they were tacked on. I just sort of expected more.
Rachel gets put through the grinder here -- people think she's a black witch (which she isn't, demon smut aside), she becomes a social outcast, and she's still struggling to overcome the pain at Kisten's loss. But she does start to grow beyond it -- and we have a new potential love interest in the mysterious Pierce. We also get plenty of feisty, quirky Jenks and his obscene Christmas carols, and a new chapter in Ivy's continuing struggle with her vampire side. Not to mention an adorable scene where she visits kids at the hospital.
"White Witch Black Curse" finally deals with the question of who murdered Kisten, and pits Rachel against one of her nastiest enemies yet. Not the best of Harrison's work, but still an enjoyable book.