When A Perfect Blood comes out next February, it will mark the tenth outing in one of urban fantasy’s best and most consistent series. Since Dead Witch Walking introduced us to witch Rachel Morgan in 1998, author Kim Harrison has constructed a complex world filled with some of the funniest, scariest and even most heart-rending scenes in the genre without a stale plot or a misstep. (Okay, I’m still distraught about that bit with Kisten all these many years later — those of you who’ve read the series will know of which bit I speak).
So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Harrison’s The Hollows Insider: New Fiction, Facts, Maps, Murders, and More in the World of Rachel Morgan — the guide to All Things Rachel, out now — is no mere rehash of book plots, lists of highlights and a timeline, stitched together with a new short story as enticement. Instead, it’s one of the most entertaining, lavish series “insider” books in…maybe ever.
Here’s the premise: While still a runner with the I.S. — you remember those days, back from Dead Witch Walking — Rachel allegedly misfired a spell while chasing a rogue werewolf onto a Cincinnati bus. In addition to her target, she hit a bus passenger — a blogger for the Hollows Gazette, who promptly lost all of his hair. The blogger, Devin Crossman, developed not only a bald pate but a fierce determination to track down the red-haired witch, expose her gross incompetence, and maybe bring down Interlander Security at the same time. His investigation spans — you guessed it — the length of the book series to date, from Rachel’s Interlander Security days to her shunning by the witches to the appearance of the Pale Demon himself.
The Hollows Insider presents all the notes and research of Crossman, a “totally unreliable” narrator, we’re told. (Actually, unlike many “insider” or “companion” volumes, this book is written entirely by Harrison herself. This might explain its wildly imaginative end result, which includes lively writing, four-color printing throughout and — for the first printing, anyway — a glow-in-the-dark dust jacket! (Cue geeky-cool oohs and ahs) It’s full of dossiers and correspondence, research notes, the blogger’s expense reports, finished articles, and more extras than you can shake a witch at. Even a copy of Witch Weekly, which includes pixy Jenks’ own entry into a contest to rewrite “12 Days of Christmas.”
And because Trent Kalamack is, well, Trent Kalamack, we have an increasingly urgent and devious set of memos first to his assistant Jonathan — who always has his own evil agenda — and then his chief go-to guy, Quen, and maybe even a bit of well-cloaked threat and bribery to the editor of the Hollows Gazette.
Obviously, once the blogger-errant Crossman starts digging too deeply into Rachel’s background, he eventually ends up on Trent’s doorstep — and Trent doesn’t like people on his doorstep, especially reporters. We know what happens to people who cross Trent Kalamack. They’re lucky if they only get stuck in a cage as a mink and sent into the city rat fights.
Also among the contents of the blogger’s notes and journals — and you’ll just have to read to find out why and how we’re coming to see these private documents — are a series of profiles on all the species to be found among the Inderlanders, some articles Rachel herself wrote on different species, a copy of Rachel’s I.S. Employee Performance Review (and you can imagine how that reads); the Gazette’s internal fact sheets on Trent, Piscary, and even Captain Eddens of the FIB; a review of Piscary’s infamous Vampire’s dating guide; sketched-out maps of the Hollows; some of Rachel’s spells; a copy of the “United Were Registry” — and the list goes on.
Fans of the Rachel Morgan books will gobble up The Hollows Insider like Halloween candy. For the uninitiated, it will have some spoilers but not as many as one might think, and they’ll find an introduction to one of the most fascinating worlds in urban fantasy.
Suzanne Johnson is an urban fantasy author whose New Orleans-based series kicks off in April 2012 with Royal Street, from Tor Books. When she isn’t writing or agonizing over SEC football, you can find her wasting time on Twitter.