Welcome to the first “meeting” of the Preternatura Book Club! A few weeks ago, commenters voted on which novel they’d like to tackle first, and the winner by a landslide was Kim Harrison’s Dead Witch Walking, the first in her Hollows series featuring witch Rachel Morgan. I’m following a format I blatantly stole from the nice folks at Tor.com, for whom I’m doing a similar read of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series (which starts sometime this month. I’ll post the dates as soon as I know them, in case you want to read along.)
In the meantime, we’ll be here every Wednesday with our own little book club. Each week, I’ll post a summary (spoiler alert!) on two chapters, and we’ll chat about them. We’ll try to minimize spoilers beyond what’s happened in the book we’ve read so far out of courtesy for those who are reading for the first time. You can read along, read ahead, or just stop by and read the summaries. After the Book Club has been up a day, I’ll move it to archives so you can still refer back to it. There will be a “Book Club” tab above.
So, let’s get started!
DEAD WITCH WALKING, CHAPTER 1: WHAT HAPPENS
We get a lot of (skillfully handled) worldbuilding backstory in this chapter, as well as an introduction to three major characters in the series: Rachel Morgan, Ivy Tamwood, and the pixy Jenks. The book takes place in a Cincinnati, Ohio, as it exists after “The Turn,” when something–we haven’t yet been told what—has happened to bring the preternatural (aka Inderlander) community out of the closet.
Most of them live in a section called The Hollows, whle the plain-vanilla humans live in Cincinnati proper. There’s a dual law-enforcement system: Inderlander Security, and a “norm” (aka human-run) Federal Inderland Bureau.
Rachel Morgan is a witch with bright red hair, freckles she hides by wearing a charm, and a snarky sense of humor. She’s about 5-8, flat-chested, and works as a runner for Interlander Security. Things haven’t been going well for her lately. She’s on the outs with her boss, Denon, and has flubbed a few assignments (like tagging a seeing-eye dog she mistook for a werewolf). As a result, she has been reduced to running down a leprechaun for tax evasion while her fellow witches are all off partying it up at their annual conference.
Her backup (another embarrassment for her) is a pixy named Jenks: handsome, blond and ripped (except he’s only four inches tall). He assures Rachel he’s only acting as backup because he was offered hazard pay. He spends much of this chapter riding on Rachel’s big hoop earring, to her annoyance.
As the chapter begins, Rachel arrives in a rainstorm to a bar in the Hollows, searching for the leprechaun she’s after. Several guys—humans who are pretending to taste a little danger by hanging out in the Hollows—try to hit on her, and Jenks keeps telling her she’s dressed like a hooker. Her I.S. colleague, Ivy, comes in after her own suspects—a couple of vampires hitting on teens. We learn that in this world, living vampires like Ivy have the virus but it won’t be activated until she dies. Dead vampires are dangerous and cunning. Ivy is a “non-practicing” vampire, but we aren’t really told what that means yet.
Disillusioned at the way her life is going, Rachel ponders what things might be like if she left Interlander Security and went out on her own (never mind that the only IS runner who ever left was hunted down and killed).
Finally, with Jenks’ help, the leprechaun is apprehended, and as Rachel is hauling her toward the curb, the leprechaun offers three wishes in exchange for her freedom. Rachel shoves her in a cab, which she’s sharing with Ivy, and says, “Let’s talk.”
DEAD WITCH WALKING, CHAPTER 2: WHAT HAPPENS
In the cab ride and later at a Starbucks-like place, Rachel shares her plan to leave I.S. She’s already used the first of her three leprechaun wishes to wish that she didn’t get caught releasing the leprechaun, so that leaves her two more.
Ivy is critical at first, reminding Rachel that Denon will probably have her killed if she breaks her contract. Rachel really doesn’t think he will—he hates her. He’ll be glad to see her gone.
Finally, Ivy startles Rachel by saying she’ll quit too—she and Rachel can work together, and she can help protect Rachel. In return, she wants one of Rachel’s two remaining wishes—but won’t say what it’s for.
Then Jenks announces he wants in, too. He’ll work backup for both Ivy and Rachel…but he also wants a wish. Jenks wants to be sterile, because his wife is going to leave him if he knocks her up again.
The chapter ends with Rachel reluctantly agreeing to go into business with Jenks and Ivy—after all, she says, it isn’t like she has to live with them—heh.
Sorry that was so long, but there was a LOT of info in that first chapter! It was fun to read this again after several years away from it. The first time I read it, I have to admit, I didn’t like it. There is so much worldbuilding packed into that first chapter that it was hard to get a good feel for the characters. A few months later, I went back and made myself get through those early chapters and it’s become one of my all-time favorite series.
So reading it again without the overwhelming worldbuilding, it is fun to see the early relationship between these three characters who are key to the whole series. Some early thoughts:
—The World. It’s fascinating and complex, which is why I got overwhelmed the first time I read this opening chapter. People use charms and spells and amulets to change their appearance or impact outcomes, so magic is very much a part of the world of the Interlanders. Vampirism is caused by a virus and can be passed on from mother to child. There are living, non-practicing vamps who do not drink blood. We haven’t been shown much of the witches’ world yet. And the pixies and fairies work for the Interlanders. We don’t know much about their world yet, either. And we haven’t been told anything about the Turn, when the human world learned about the non-humans.
—Rachel Morgan. I love her self-deprecating humor. She’s always a little outraged at the predicaments she finds herself in, even as she acknowledges that she causes a lot of them. She kind of has that Rodney Dangerfield “can’t get no respect” thing going in these early chapters. She’s a bit uncomfortable around Ivy, a bit afraid of her, and at first is dismissive of Jenks. She warms to Jenks by the end of the second chapter and begins to empathize with him.
—Ivy Tamwood. Talk, exotic-looking, capable, reserved. Ivy is very much an enigma at this stage. She’s willing to leave I.S., but isn’t too concerned about her own safety. A vampire thing? She is evasive about what she wants to use her wish for.
—Jenks kind of annoyed me when I first read this book, I have to admit. Now, he’s a favorite. For those of you reading for the first time, watch Jenks’ creative cursing, much of it involving Tinker Bell, who is like the patron saint of pixies. My favorite this chapter: “Sweet mother of Tinker Bell!”
Okay, then. What are your thoughts on the first two chapters? We’re left knowing Rachel is about to leave I.S., which could put a price on her head; that Ivy has some big secrets; that Jenks is going to be a four-inch handful to work with. How do you feel about the characters at this point? What was your favorite scene?