Top 10 of 2010: Black Magic Sanction by Kim Harrison

12 Dec

black magic sanctionRachel 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.

Full Disclosure: Urban Fantasy is a new genre for me, at least in the realm of adult fiction. I like to do a little research before investing my time in a new book series, spending countless hours reading reviews. Once I learned that not only did Kim’s books about witchcraft come highly recommended, but their titles were derived from Clint Eastwood movies, I was sold.

Fast forward two weeks, and I’ve read the entire 8 book (so far!) series. So many urban fantasy and paranormal romance series feature a kick ass heroine who can beat the crap out of an opponent and/or seduce them in ten seconds flat. It gets old rather quickly. Bounty hunter and witch Rachel Morgan’s imperfections make her stand out. She’s not a flawless warrior goddess. She makes mistakes. A lot.

Black Magic Sanction starts with a bang, with Rachel escaping once again from the hands of an angry demon. Now working as the demon Algaliarept’s student, Rachel (one of the only witches in existence who can kindle demon magic) catches the attention of the Coven of Moral and Ethical Standards for being a “black magic” practitioner. Shunned by Inderlander society, and wrongfully imprisoned and sentenced to sterilization, Rachel escapes with the help of her friends, and spends the rest of the book trying to prove her innocence. In typical Rachel fashion, nothing goes according to plan.

What made Black Magic Sanction one of my favorite books of 2010 (and of the series so far) was the character development. Some fans complain that Rachel “never learns” and makes the same mistakes over and over again. I think the mistakes Rachel makes are necessary for her to figure out who she is, and develop her own sense of right and wrong. Rachel leans painful truths about herself and her world, and finally starts to take responsibility for at least some of her actions. By embracing her dark side, she finally accepts herself as she really is. Yes, she can kindle demon magic, but she still refuses to outright kill another living being. Nothing is ever black and white.

As the books “big bad”, the Coven could have been scarier and more dangerous. But their indiscriminate use of “deadly” white magic provided an interesting contrast to Rachel’s sometimes use of demon magic. Who decides who is truly evil? Shouldn’t one’s actions, and beliefs be more important than the means in which they carry them out? Aren’t people who use “good” magic to cause harm just as bad as demons?

What didn’t I like about the book? Pierce. I found the ghost, and his wordy, old world language a bit tiring. I understand the benefits of having another witch around to help Rachel, but kept wishing any other character would take his place in the story. I’m hoping the next book features more of Trent helping Rachel learn about herself instead. I don’t think we know nearly enough about their backstory. And don’t even get me started on Rachel’s thieving, demon summoning ex-boyfriend, Nick. Rachel needs to let Al kill him already, before he causes some permanent damage to her or her loved ones. I’d also like to know more about Bis, and gargoyles in general too.

A few of my favorite things:
Al. His character has turned into one of the most developed of the entire series. His journey from a terrifying demon taking any and every chance to kill Rachel, into a (almost) trusted teacher adds depth to the books, and what could have quickly become a boring plot point. After the truth about her origins are revealed (earlier in the series) Al comes to an understanding with Rachel, and almost seems to respect her. But he does so without losing the ability to genuinely terrify. He may be “on a leash” now, but won’t ever let anyone forget his true motivations.

Overall, Black Magic Sanction is one of my favorite books in the Rachel Morgan series. I was on the edge of my seat, wondering how Rachel would keep herself alive. Nowhere is safe, which becomes more apparent than ever after tragedy strikes, leading to one of the saddest, tear inducing moments of the series so far. The stakes are higher now, and Rachel has more to lose than ever.

I can’t wait for 2011’s Pale Demon to see how Rachel progresses. And I’ve got my fingers crossed, hoping for a little more Trent and Rachel interaction next time around.

Black Magic Sanction: 4/5 STARS.

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