Title: Dead Witch Walking
Author: Kim Harrison
Year of Publication: 2004
Length: 432 pages
Genre: urban fantasy/magical realism
New or Re-Read?: New
Rating: 3 stars
I read this book on recommendation from a friend at work, and I will confess to initial leeriness. For all of my occult interests, I’ve never much enjoyed either paranormal romances or the newly-hot genre of vampire literature, and I was worried that this series might fall too much into those categories. I found the alternate universe premise interesting, though, and I do love a good dystopia, so I felt that my friend’s suggestion was worth giving a try.
I feel like I shouldn’t have enjoyed this book as much as I did. There were a lot of things that bothered me about it, and yet, I kept reading. It’s definitely something I put in the “brain candy” category, though that’s no detriment to it. The premise is certainly intriguing, though I’m not sure the execution is quite as neat-handed as it might be. The basic concept is that humanity genetically engineered its own destruction, releasing a virus (carried by tomatoes) that killed off a significant portion of the human race. In order to keep the world and society functioning, the paranormals came out of the woodworks — witches, vampires, pixies, leprechauns, werewolves, you name it. They’re out in the open now, but the two societies aren’t fully integrated — there’s a lot of tension, as you might expect. Frequently the narrator mentions something that needs explaining, but never explains it, or only gets back to it chapters later, which is confusing and distracting. But the concept is compelling enough to carry it along, and the plot rolls along at a decent clip. I was constantly wanting to know more, wanting to know where things would go, and wanting to know more about the world Harrison created. Unfortunately, she didn’t always deliver. I understand wanting to build mystery and suspense, but to leave so many unanswered questions at the end of the book, not about the plot itself but about the world — well, it was frustrating. I do appreciate that she delineated her world’s rules for magic and the price attached to its use, although somehow it seems a bit… narrow? But perhaps that will open up more in later books.
I think I’d like this story better in general if it was in third-person rather than first. It’s just so difficult to do exposition well in first-person; it always comes out awkward. A lot of it comes off as “Oh yeah, and here’s this thing I forgot to mention earlier,” which can be a bit jarring. And I’m not sure I’m completely sold on the heroine yet — she’s a witch and a bounty hunter, with a blend of competence with complete ineptitude that comes off as a little strange, and I find her overreactions, especially to her vampire roommate, a little annoying. She also just doesn’t seem all that bright in some places, making decisions for really questionable reasons, trusting indiscriminately, displaying a total lack of consistency in how she responds to threats and other interactions — but none of it in a charming-ingenue way, rather in a sort of dim-bulb way. I’m fonder of the two pixie characters, Jenks and his wife Matalina, who are more complex than I initially guessed they would be. I also think I’ve guessed the secret of the villain, Trent, and I hope (and suspect) that we’ll be seeing more of him in the future.
Dead Witch Walking was a quick read, and 3 stars is right for it — it’s a middling book, enjoyable but not stunning, with a world that is intriguing but doesn’t seem fully built, or at least not fully explicated. I’m frustrated by unanswered questions, inconsistencies, and ambiguities. I’ll definitely be reading the next book in the series, though, since I’ve heard it gets better as it goes along. I’m willing to give Harrison a decent chance at ironing some of these problems out.