Kim Harrison, Ever After. Harper Voyager, 2013
The ever-after is in deadly peril. Tiny imbalances in the ley lines have caused it to gradually bleed into reality.
But now, someone or something has interfered with the imbalances, combining them in a horrific way, and inch by inch, foot by foot, the ever-after is disappearing, threatening the very existence of its inhabitants and of magic itself. The perpetrator has arranged things so perfectly that blame has fallen on one person, the witch-demon Rachel Morgan.
To make matters worse, all of the magical races are not only being driven slowly crazy by the hideous disharmonies among the lines, but they are also warring against each other. Demons, elves, fairies, pixies, gargoyles, vampires living and dead—none can be trusted even to try to fix the lines.
Then there are the kidnapped babies, survivors of a genetic glitch that offers salvation and threatens extinction.
Everything becomes personal when Rachel’s close friend and one of her goddaughters are kidnapped in an attempt to alter forever the relationships among races in the ever-after.
Rachel suddenly discovers that she has four days to fix everything…or die. She does not have the tools or the knowledge to repair the lines herself, and she does not know who—or what—she can trust. Everyone around her is enmeshed in the danger, and it seems that everything she tries just makes things worse.
And—horror of horrors—she doesn’t have a thing to wear.
I anticipated some difficulties in reading New York Times bestseller Kim Harrison’s Ever After, since it is the eleventh in the popular Hollows series and I had read none of the previous entries. To her credit, Harrison is aware that some readers might come to the book cold and does a creditable job making the intricacies of the Hollows and the relationships between the ever-after and reality as clear as possible. At times, the references to past volumes seem gratuitous, especially when they are introduced in a word or phrase as a kind of allusive in-joke, but on the whole, Ever After makes sense on its own merits. It introduces a serious problem, one with life-and-death consequences, and ties together all of the elements of a complex fictive universe to resolve it. At the level of story, the book works.
At other levels, however, there are disappointments. The most frustrating thing about Ever After is not the frequent appearance of characters from previous books, with all of their physical dilemmas and psychological baggage, but the pacing of the storytelling itself. Most writers know that one technique for ascribing dialogue to characters is to follow the lines with a sentence showing that character in action, suggesting tone of voice or other key features.
Harrison does this often. Too often. One can open any page at random and find examples, as when one character tries to reassure a child:
“Ray,” he breathed, and suddenly I felt her absence keenly as he took her. “Your daddy is going to be okay, I think.” His eyes rose to mine. We got him there in time. Ten more minutes and they might not have been able to stop the cascading reaction.” He blinked fast, then looked away. “That’s twice you’ve saved Quen’s life. Thank you” (76).
The narrator’s constant intrusions, concentrating on the state of the speaker’s eyes, do little to heighten the emotional content; in fact, they diminish it. Now compound that example with similar intrusions in nearly every verbal exchange, multiple examples on page after page, and the story slows until it seems to take forever for anything to happen.
In another instance, a telephone rings, wakening Morgan. She doesn’t want to get up to answer it—fine, she is exhausted and wants to sleep. But it takes more than a page for her simply to answer the call, during which time readers are treated to rather unsophisticated jokes…and when she does answer, it turns out that the call is crucial to the plot. There seems no reason to prolong the process. Throughout, Harrison focuses attention on the disposition of every coffee cup on every table, on the level of tea in tea pots, on the presence or absence of cookies and petit fours…on everything except moving the story forward.
The writing itself is mostly competent and adequate for the narrative, but there are sufficient glitches and wobbles to similarly slow the pacing. A sentence begins “If I didn’t know better, Felix had taken Quin away intentionally…” (21). Clarity might suggest something like: “If I didn’t know better, I would have thought that Felix….” Further down on the same page, we find a comment about the missing babies: “Eight total across the United States, but the I.S. is only admitting to those that get leaked to the press. The one just before this was a set of twins from a prominent political figure.” The dialogue establishes that the speakers are discussing babies not incidents; the second sentence starts with a reference to a single baby—“The one”—as is indicated by the verb was, then slips into plural with “set of twins,” itself a redundancy. Neither instance is crucial, but they create momentary hesitance in reading.
So—complex, competent, but disappointing. Moments of high tension deflated with throw-away jokes, dialogue constantly disrupted and trivialized, allusions introduced for comic effects rather than to propel the story. Writing generally in hand but not always appropriate to the moment. And multiple layers of events and characters that must be brought into line before the climax—when representatives all of the races of ever-after must work together to defeat the menace.
My final impression of Ever After: it had moments of interest and excitement, but it didn’t stimulate me to want to go back and read the previous ten stories.
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Michael R. Collings is the Senior Publications Editor for JournalStone Publishing; an Emeritus professor of English from Pepperdine University; author of the best-selling horror novels The Slab and The House Beyond the Hill, as well as other novels and collections of short fiction, poetry, and literary essays; and an inveterate fan of all things grammatical and syntactical. His writings are available here, at starshineandshadows.com, at journalstone.com, at hellnotes.com and in the horror-magazine Dark Discoveries.