The Sunday Magazine: Kim Harrison’s The Hollows

I am about a month away from the final book in one of my favorite urban fantasy series being released. Author Kim Harrison’s version of a contemporary world where the supernatural is real and is out in the open is called The Hollows.


Kim Harrison

The tipping point for the supernatural races to reveal themselves is a virus spawned by genetic engineering of tomatoes. The virus destroys a quarter of humanity and at that point the combined supernatural community realize they are no longer outnumbered. Many of them help during the ensuing chaos and reveal that they were already embedded in powerful positions throughout society. This event is called The Turn and takes place in the 1960’s in the fictional timeline.

dead witch walking

The first book “Dead Witch Walking” takes place forty years after The Turn as the existence of supernatural creatures has become commonplace but not necessarily accepted. The stories within The Hollows series are set in Cincinnati. The name for the series comes from the section of town where the supernatural folk called Inderlanders live. Law enforcement is also divided with each society having their own entity. In the beginning of the series we meet witch Rachel Morgan, who is the first person narrator of all the books, and her partner vampire Ivy Tamwood. The first book sets up their friendship and along with a pixy named Jenks create the three main characters the rest of the installments will focus on.

As is common in these urban fantasy series Rachel is a character who manages to straddle many of the supernatural races. Through the course of the twelve books she has profoundly affected the power structure within The Hollows and Cincinnati. What is great about the way Ms. Harrison plots these books is every decision Rachel has made has had consequences which have rippled through the following books. All too often in urban fantasy the protagonists do things which are forgotten by the next book. Ms. Harrison has loaded the proverbial one straw short of a camel’s burden on Rachel and unflinchingly shown her main character dealing with it.

There is also a very aromatic compnent to the series as places smell of burnt amber and certain races smell of sandalwood, cinnamon, or wine. I often recall the perfumes I like best when these passages are read in my mind.

witch with no name

For all of this the series is coming to an end with the publication of the thirteenth book “The Witch with No Name” right after Labor Day. As I look back over the previous twelve books it is interesting to notice when I think Ms. Harrison switched from writing episodes to actually plotting the path to a final ending. In my estimation it is book eight “Black Magic Sanction” where Rachel begins to bear the consequences of her actions and as she resolves the issues that are placed in front of her is, slowly but surely, creating a society of the outcasts and creating a family out of her friends. Ms. Harrison writes this with gusto and I race through each new entry.

Now I am down to one entry left and I am looking forward to seeing if Rachel lives happily ever after. I suspect she will but not without one more trial to overcome before getting her storybook ending. I can’t wait.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files

Besides being a Colognoisseur I am also a full-fledged geek. Which means when I am not thinking about the world of medicinal chemistry or perfume you can be sure my mind is on a planet in another galaxy or fighting the supernatural on this planet. For the last twenty years it really has been a world where being geeky is more of a badge of honor than something to be hidden away. The fact that I love perfume as much as I do is probably thought to be stranger than my reading a comic book. As an avid reader of serial fiction within the mystery/thriller, epic fantasy, and urban fantasy genres I always take advantage of the summer months to pick up a new series of novels to binge read while spending time at the beach. I still haven’t made up my mind for this summer as it will either be Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series or Stacia Kane’s The Downside Ghosts series. If you’re looking for a series to binge read I have one to suggest you load onto your e-reader or pick up at the bookstore.


If you’re not familiar with urban fantasy as a genre it is usually set in the modern world where supernatural creatures and magic exist. The original series in this genre is Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter followed soon after by Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series. The third leg of the foundation of urban fantasy is the series I want to recommend, Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files.

The series is set in Chicago and Harry Dresden is a “Wizard for Hire”. At the beginning of the first book in the series, Storm Front, Harry is under investigation by the agency overseeing the responsible use of magic The White Council. He gets hired to find a woman’s missing husband who she thought was an amateur magician but now believes he might have been more and so a wizard is needed to track him down. Storm Front does what any good first book in a series should do. It introduces you to the rules of this particular fictional world’s magic. It creates a continuing cast of characters around the central protagonist. Finally, it sets up an overarching mythology meant to stretch over multiple books. Besides all of that The Dresden Files books do the best job of fusing hardboiled detective narration with a supernatural milieu. Mr. Butcher’s prose wouldn’t feel so strange if it was coming out of Philip Marlowe’s mouth all while keeping Harry Dresden a true original. You can read the first chapter of Storm Front at this link for a sample of the style.

jim butcher

Jim Butcher

The Dresden Files has now reached fifteen books with the upcoming publication of Skin Game. One of the things I applaud Mr. Butcher for doing is once he lays down something in one book that is meant to be resolved in a future book the reader is not left waiting for three or four books before returning to that loose thread. I think it is that attention to driving the overall story onward that makes The Dresden Files such an entertaining read as each entry pushes the story forward significantly and that is not always the case in serial fiction of any genre.

As you’re starting to get your beach chair and sunglasses out of their winter hibernation don’t forget to add a few books to your beach bag. If you add The Dresden Files to your summer reading list I think you’ll have a great time standing by Harry Dresden as he shouts, “Forzare!”

Mark Behnke