This series was one that for one reason or other, I sort of lost touch with – but after dismantling the book mountain by my bed and coming across this volume, I decided to dive back into Harrison’s urban fantasy romp.
To avoid becoming the love-slave of a depraved criminal vampire, bounty-hunter and witch, Rachel Morgan, is cornered into a deal with could promise her an eternity of suffering. But eternal damnation is not Rachel’s only worry. Her vampire roommate, Ivy, has rediscovered her taste for blood and is struggling to keep their relationship platonic, her boyfriend, Nick, has disappeared – perhaps indefinitely and she’s being stalked by an irate pack of werewolves. And then there’s also the small matter of the turf war raging in Cincinnati’s underworld; one that Rachel began and will have to navigate before she even has the smallest hope of preserving her own future.
If that sounds like an action-packed story, full of incident and tension, you’d be right. What struck me when I returned to this series, is just how quirky and enjoyable the world is. In this urban fantasy version, other species have now ‘come out’ due to a plague that swept the world, and humans are now confronted with a variety of other beings. The backstory to the world is complex and three-dimensional – and as soon as you think you have a handle on how it works, someone pops up who blurs the boundaries. This is a facet of the world I really enjoy – I run to these books for escape and enjoyment, but that doesn’t mean it has to be simple and one-dimensional.
The other issue that stood out was just what a muddle the first person protagonist, Rachel Morgan is in. And that is fine with me. I get a tad tired of very collected, smart heroines with lots of power, whose only conflict is which man in their lives to bed (yawn…), while Rachel blunders from one mess to another – many of her own making. Well, when I recall my twenties, most of the morass I was wading through was largely of my making, too… Granted nothing was quite as entertaining or dangerous as Rachel’s cock-ups, but I am really fond of her vulnerabilities.
But what also makes this series stand out, is that it has some wonderful supporting characters. Ivy, Rachel’s life vampire roommate, who would love to be her significant other, is also fascinating – as is the relationship between them. Where Rachel has to be careful with the tone of voice, how she moves and what scent or necklace she wears in order not to trigger Ivy’s predatory instincts. And Jenks, Rachel’s pixy partner is a wonderful creation. Though, do be warned, the sexual content in the book is on the explicit side, so don’t leave it lying around for your pre-teens to pick up.
Harrison writes action scenes extremely well. We get to see and feel the extremity of Rachel’s encounters at a cracking pace, without any letup and when she is struggling with Al, the demon stalking her, the scene bounces off the page sizzling with tension and violence. But as is often the case with urban fantasy adventures, the action is mitigated by nice slices of humour. The pixy family provide plenty of slapstick moments, and the dialogue is invariably sharp, with Rachel’s entertaining and often acerbic narration of events providing any background information in an enjoyable and amusing viewpoint.
All in all, Every Which Way But Dead is an entertaining, accomplished example of urban fantasy that explains its popularity. But, if you haven’t read any of these books before, don’t start with this one – give yourself a treat and track down the first book in the series – Dead Witch Walking. You’ll thank me if you do…