Author: Kim Harrison
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publication Date: February 2010
Hardcover: 496 pages
In New York Times bestselling author Kim Harrison’s most complex and nuanced adventure yet, bounty hunter and witch Rachel Morgan fights a deadly battle—mind, body, and soul
Black Magic Sanction
Rachel Morgan has fought and hunted vampires, werewolves, banshees, demons, and other supernatural dangers as both witch and bounty hunter—and lived to tell the tale. But she’s never faced off against her own kind . . . until now. Denounced and shunned for dealing with demons and black magic, her best hope is life imprisonment—at worst, a forced lobotomy and genetic slavery. Only her enemies are strong enough to help her win her freedom, but trust comes hard when it hinges on the unscrupulous tycoon Trent Kalamack, the demon Algaliarept, and an ex-boyfriend turned thief.
It takes a witch to catch a witch, but survival bears a heavy price.
Stand alone or series: Book 8 in the ongoing Hollows (Rachel Morgan) series
How did I get this book: Review Copy from the publisher
Why did I read this book: Do you even have to ask? The Hollows series is among my all time favorite UF series’ – in the top 3, to be precise. There’s just something about Kim Harrison’s writing that *does it* for me. And even though I was a tad bit disappointed with the previous novel in the series, I was still foaming at the mouth to get my grubby paws on Black Magic Sanction.
Every time I open a new Hollows adventure, I know that I’m in for a good adrenaline rush, the likes of which only Rachel Morgan can deliver.
Black Magic Sanction is no exception, delivering the white-knuckle action in spades, while simultaneously advancing the overall series storyline in a dark direction. Me likey. Me likey a lot.
A warning – this review contains necessary spoilers for the first seven books in the series. If you have not read the first seven books and do not wish to be spoiled, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
Picking up almost immediately after White Witch, Black Curse, Black Magic Sanction follows Rachel as she has fully embraced her status as the student (not the familiar) of demon Algalirept (better known simply as “Al”). Unfortunately for Rache, a whole bunch of folks are pissy that she’s running around able to twist demon curses – not to mention the fact that any time some sort of very public disaster, Vampiric Charms always seems to be at the center of it. Though she’s been shunned by the Coven (a huge deal and last resort, reserved for only the wickedest of witches), Rachel soon realizes she has a lot more to worry about than finding new places to buy her magical goods and shifty looks – because now someone has a death warrant out on her. Again. Facing the tempting choices of becoming a lobotomized broodmare for the Coven (popping out demon-magic babies), or six feet under and pushing up daisies, Rachel’s got to find a way out of her uncomfortable predicament, even if it means taking Trent Kalamack head-on again, and reuniting with an unwelcome face from her past.
Tink’s titties, Black Magic Sanction is a riproaring-good read! Personally, I found Black Magic Sanction a step back in the right direction for Rachel and company after the disappointment that was White Witch, Black Curse. This book was exciting, it was emotional, and it meant a lot of changes for Rachel. In many ways, it’s a throwback to Dead Witch Walking as Rachel has another death warrant on her head, but this time, she’s facing some serious danger from her own kind. And let me tell you – white witches are just as scary as the black magic kind (and much scarier than anything the I.S. can throw at Rache). As with almost all of the books in this series, Ms. Harrison excels when it comes to tight plotting and non-stop danger, and as such Black Magic Sanction is an incredibly fast-paced read. But don’t think that fast-paced means a lack of depth; this novel is another turning point of sorts for Rachel, in coming to grips with her past and everything she’s ever been taught about “good” and “bad” magic. Given her own lineage (and the lineage of all witches), are demons truly evil? Is the ability to twist black magic truly a bad thing – especially if Rachel is the one to take the smut on her own aura, willingly? Or is she becoming more and more a demon each day? There’s a whole bunch of moral ambiguity in this book as Rachel has to resort to getting her hands dirty in order to stay alive – but in true Rachel Morgan fashion, she manages to keep her heart, if not her head, in the right place.
In that vein, Black Magic Sanction embodies the characteristics that I both love and abhor about Rachel Morgan as a character. She’s one of those heroines that never fails to piss me off with her numerous TSTL (too stupid to live) moments and her sometimes complete obtuseness as to what she actually wants, emotionally. But at the same time, the struggles that Rachel goes through each book, and especially in this one, make her one of the most endearing heroines in the female-protagonist centered UF genre. In spite of her flaws – or perhaps, because of them – I love Rachel as a character, and I do want her to be happy. Despite her lapses of idiocy, her heart is always in the right place as one scene in this book in particular, involving assassin fairies, proves.
Of course, what’s a Rachel Morgan book without the myriad relationship complications? Rachel is notorious for her attraction to danger, and for jumping into relationships without truly thinking things through beforehand. But in Black Magic Sanction, with the attraction to Pierce (a witch from the 1800s, now inhabiting the body of the recently deceased black witch that gave Rache so much trouble in the last book), Rachel shows some growth in the relationship arena. There’s also some closure with a blast from the past – but I’ll let you discover that for yourself. Also, I’ve gotta say that I LOVE the ever-evolving relationship between Kalamack and Morgan. It’s a love-hate thing, and it has been such ever since their steeped history as children, which, incidentally, we get to see a little bit more of in the form of a flashback in this book. And while Rachel is growing stronger and more assured in what she wants and needs in a relationship, she also has reached an understanding with Ivy (whom I’ve always wanted Rachel to end up with). I love that the emo-drama between the two has been toned down, although Ivy’s backseat in this book is a bit of a regret. The most fun character, however, has got to be demon teacher Al. He’s terrifying, inhuman, and yet hilarious all at the same time – and that’s quite an accomplishment.
Most of all, I love that as the title suggests, Black Magic Sanction shows Rachel embracing the fact she can twist black magic and is using it as she needs. It’s the only way she can stay alive, and she’s forced to ask herself some tough questions. The biggest question the book leaves with readers is – what exactly is Rachel? And what is she becoming? Is she a demon? You know how the saying goes – if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck…
Needless to say, there’s a lot of speculation one can make concerning Rachel and where the story goes next. Black Magic Sanction provides a lot of VERY interesting fodder in the next few books in the series, and I, for one, am very excited to see what happens next!
Notable Quotes/Parts: From the first chapter:
Tucking my hair back, I squinted at the parchment, trying to form the strange angular letters as smoothly as I could. The ink glistened wetly, but it wasn’t red ink, it was blood—my blood—which might account for the slight tremble in my hand as I copied the awkward-looking name scripted in characters that weren’t English. Beside me was a pile of rejects. If I didn’t get it perfect this time, I’d be bleeding yet again. God help me. I was doing a black curse. In a demon’s kitchen. On the weekend. How in hell had I gotten here?
Algaliarept stood poised between the slate table and the smaller hearth, his white-gloved hands behind his back. He looked like a stuffy Brit in a murder mystery, and when he shifted impatiently, my tension spiked. “That isn’t helping,” I said dryly, and his red, goat-slitted eyes widened in a mocking surprise, peering at me over his smoked spectacles. He didn’t need them to read with. From his crushed green velvet frock, to his lace cuffs and proper English accent, the demon was all about show.
“It has to be exact, Rachel, or it won’t capture the aura,” he said, his attention sliding to the small green bottle on the table. “Trust me, you don’t want that floating around unbound.”
I sat up to feel my back crack. Touching the quill tip to my throbbing finger, my unease grew. I was a white witch, damn it, not black. But I wasn’t going to write off demon magic just because of a label. I’d read the recipe; I’d interpreted the invocation. Nothing died to provide the ingredients, and the only person who’d suffer would be me. I’d come away from this with a new layer of demon smut on my soul, but I’d also have protection against banshees. After one had nearly killed me last New Years, I’d willingly entertain a little smut to be safe. Besides, this might lead to a way to save Ivy’s soul when she died her first death. For that, I’d risk a lot.
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
And if you’re hungry for more, you can read the first SEVEN CHAPTERS of Black Magic Sanction online for free, thanks to Harper Collins’ awesome Browse Inside feature:
Additional Thoughts: Want more Kim Harrison? Well, check out her interview, in which she talks all about Black Magic Sanction and The Hollows:
Verdict: Much better than its predecessor and a kickback to the early days in the series, Black Magic Sanction shows Rachel Morgan (and Kim Harrison) in top form. A must-read for fans – especially for those who (like myself) may have felt the last book was a step backwards.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
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