Preternatura Book Club: DEAD WITCH WALKING, Chapters 1-2

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, 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!
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 whathas 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 guyshumans who are pretending to taste a little danger by hanging out in the Hollowstry 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 suspectsa 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.”
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 willhe hates her. He’ll be glad to see her gone.
       Finally, Ivy startles Rachel by saying she’ll quit tooshe and Rachel can work together, and she can help protect Rachel. In return, she wants one of Rachel’s two remaining wishesbut 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 Ivyafter all, she says, it isn’t like she has to live with themheh.
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?
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About Suzanne Johnson

Author of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and suspense. As Suzanne Johnson, she is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series (Royal Street; River Road: Elysian Fields, Pirate's Alley, Belle Chasse, Frenchmen Street (March 2018). Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the Penton Legacy series (Redemption; Absolution; Omega; Storm Force; Allegiance; ILLUMINATION); The Collectors series (Lovely, Dark, and Deep; Deadly, Calm, and Cold); and the Wilds of the Bayou series (Wild Man's Curse; Black Diamond).

19 thoughts on “Preternatura Book Club: DEAD WITCH WALKING, Chapters 1-2

  1. I am kind of with you on the first chapter being kind of boring…I have heard great things about this series, and decided to give it a try (right before you announced the book club!) and got through the first two chapters a little overwhelmed. Now that we are doing book club, and on your recommendation, I’m ready to finish this puppy!

    I spent a lot of mental energy during those first chapters trying to figure out exactly where the Hollows are located, because I am actually sitting in the middle of Cincinnati as we speak…yet another reason to stick with this series–Kim Harrison is a homegirl. I don’t know her, but heck, we are practically related, right?

  2. Definitely stick with it this time! It is worth the agony of the first few chapters. The first chapter is definitely the toughest. It’s long, and there’s a TON of worldbuilding.

    It will be interesting to see if you figure out where the Hollows is supposed to be in Cincinnati.

    I wonder if KH were writing this today, if some of the dense worldbuilding might not be spread out more as it tends to be in newer books?

  3. Dead Witch Walking was my first Paranormal Urban Fantasy read and is the reason I found the rest of the genre. This series and author hold a special place in my reading life.

  4. I know! I’ll start stalking her and put a spell on her and make her come and talk to us about her books (after you delete the part where I said the first chapter was boring).

  5. Roger, glad you stopped by! This was the first urban fantasy series I read with a female protagonist. I’d “cut my teeth” on Jim Butcher’s Dresden series and Simon R. Green’s Nightside series.

    Hmm…Teri Anne..would be cool if we could entice her over here before we finish the book.

  6. I actually enjoyed the 1st two chapters. Guess I’m the odd man out! I really found Rachel, Jenks & their interaction very funny. I’m looking so forward to reading more of this book. Thanks for such a great club, Miss Suzanne!

  7. Anyone else notice that the leprechaun has no name? Great fun doing the re-read. I missed the back story about the frog when I read this the first time.

  8. Andrea, if you thought the first chapter was funny, wait till Rachel turns heself into …*hand over mouth* will not spoil..

    Roger, you’re right–I didn’t realize the leprechaun wasn’t named. I’d forgotten about the frog incident and the werewolf incident too. Been a few years since I’ve read this.

  9. I made myself a bookmark to use for this book, it says:
    A Witch, a Pixy, & a Vampire walk into a bar …

  10. Also didn’t know that Jenks likes Maitake [Dancing] Mushrooms. Later we will learn of other Jenks likes [no spoilers].

  11. I didn’t remember that either. Seems as if when I first read this I didn’t realize what a major character Jenks was going to be, and I didn’t pay enough attention to me. I also had forgotten the hilarious image in the cab when Jenks is on the cabbie’s dashboard dancing with the dashboard hula girl 🙂

  12. This is my first time reading this as well, jumping in not knowing anything about the series. I agree with Andrea, so far I am enjoying the read. I have to say I rolled my eyes whens he pulled out the “lucky charm” cuffs, it felt like a little childish joke put in an adult situation. My favorite thing so far is Jenks and his teasing her about the way she looks.

  13. I like the world building Kim is doing in chapter one. I like being able to understand the back story of the Hollows, IS, and the main characters. I like the interaction of the characters. I also like the first person POV. I feel that I am in Rachel’s shoes and am seeing everything through her eyes. I want to know Ivy’s wish and why she wants to leave IS when she’s the best they’ve got. Jenks seems to be the comic relief for when Rachel is getting too deeply into her problems. I like Dead Witch Walking so far and am looking forward to the next chapters.

  14. Kim Harrison does an amazing job of prequeling or foreshadowing in her books. You really should enjoy the details and embrace the world she is building because is all ties together and is relevant. She isn’t the type of author that goes off describing something for 5 pages and then that’s it!…. She really uses what she builds.

    I was hooked from the beginning – there’s plenty of action! Even though there isn’t a real gotcha kinda hook in the beginning, each book concludes itself and leaves you wanting more of these amazing characters.

    Note: The leprechaun is a very important pawn in this series.

  15. @Krista…Yeah, the “lucky charms” cuff was a little over the top. I’m trying to remember whether KH hangs onto the bracelet charms throughout the series. I’m thinking maybe not. Anyone remember. Charms themselves are very important, though.

    @She…I think Kim Harrison does a great job of getting us into Rachel’s head with her first-person POV. Glad you’re liking it so far!

  16. From Kim Harrison’s Drama Page:

    Roger Simmons Says:
    Kim, over at Preternatura [Suzanne Johnson] we are doing a re-read of Dead Witch Walking and this week discussing chapters one & two. Great fun, come join in.

    • Kim Harrison Says: May 5, 2011
    I saw that, Roger. How very cool! I hope you guys enjoy the slow read. I try to put in a lot of little things that you might not see on the first run through.

  17. It took me 6 months to get through the first two chapters… not to mention that the UK cover is super ugly that just holding the paperback makes me cringe…