Rachel Morgan's life is not going well: she's been shunned, she's Al's student, and any kids she has will be demons. And after the fragmented storyline of "White Witch, Black Curse," the eighth book of Kim Harrison's Hollows series slips into a very different style -- explosive action, old enemies, a terrible choice, and a tragic loss.
A simple trip to the grocery store goes horribly awry when Rachel is approached and attacked by a strange witch -- who turns out to be a white-magic witch from some sort of moral-police coven. But Rachel doesn't have much time to worry about it: she ends up being summoned using Al's name, and learns that they found out about her connections to the demons.
They also offer her a nasty choice: stay in the witch prison Alcatraz, or be lobotomized and neutered. Trent and Al are trying to nab her powerful, unusual self as well.
While Rachel manages to escape (with the help of Bis and Pierce), she's now being attacked from all sides by the coven. Fairy attacks, demon summonings and full-out pyrokinetic attacks on the church are among the problems she has to deal with. But even if she stops their fanatical leader, Rachel will have to fight back with (almost) everything she's got.
Maybe it's just me, but a lot of urban fantasy hero/ines seem to be able to do morally/legally questionable stuff all over the place, but never suffer any consequences. Fortunately, Kim Harrison doesn't do that. "Black Magic Sanction" is all about the consequences of Rachel's black magic/demon activities -- and more precisely, what the other witches are gonna do about it besides just shunning her.
The narrative is still rather choppy in places (such as Rachel's daylong stint in Alcatraz... boom, it's over!). But Harrison's prose is smooth and muscular -- most of the book is a sort of Ludlumesque thriller, with Rachel and all her friends (and a few enemies) racing around frantically trying to stay alive. And while her quirky sense of humor is still firmly in place (Ivy's secret vice: Nancy Drew books!), Harrison dips into tragedy about halfway through the book -- and she makes you feel every stab of grief.
Rachel continues to be a likable, down-to-earth heroine who basically gets inundated in trouble of all kinds -- she's trying hard to keep herself as free and morally clean as possible, but it's becoming harder all the time. Al is still delectably nasty and funny ("Ooooh! Books!"), Pierce is stalkerishly creepy and somewhat annoying (Rachel can do better than this guy), and more facets of the elusive Trent are revealed. And Bis... is simply adorable. Love the gargoyle!
A whole lot of nasty stuff falls on Rachel Morgan's head in "Black Magic Sanction," and despite some choppy moments Kim Harrison's latest is a solid fantasy-thriller.