If there’s something strange in the neighborhood, who you gonna call? Well, the Ghostbusters, obviously; but if they aren’t available, there’s always the Women of the Otherworld. Let’s took a look at Haunted, by Kelley Armstrong.
The afterlife isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…
Former supernatural superpower Eve Levine has broken all the rules. But she’s never broken a promise—not even during the three years she’s spent in the afterworld. So when the Fates call in a debt she gave her word she’d pay, she has no choice but to comply.
For centuries one of the ghost world’s wickedest creatures has been loosed on humanity, thwarting every attempt to retrieve her. Now it has fallen to Eve to capture this demi-demon known as the Nix, who inhabits the bodies of would-be killers, compelling them to complete their deadly acts. It’s a mission that becomes all too personal when the Nix targets those Eve loves most—including Savannah, the daughter she left on earth. But can a renegade witch succeed where a host of angels have failed?
Eve Levine is probably the most interesting of the Women of the Otherworld introduced thus far. A witch who dabbled in the dark side and began leading her daughter along the same path before meeting her premature demise; and who following death has not meekly resigned herself to the afterlife but continues to obsess over ways to regain power in the material world so she can continue to watch over Savannah. Particularly interesting is her interaction with the ghost of Kristof Nast, Savannah’s father, who previously only appeared as the one-note villain of Dime Store Magic. Here he’s fully fleshed out into a real character, making it possible to understand why Eve was attracted to him and to believe that he really was seeking custody of Savannah for personal emotional reasons rather than to exploit her as a resource for the Cabal. He serves as a strong foil for Eve: he has accepted his death and separation from the material plane, despite his children being left in arguably worse circumstances than Savannah, and wants Eve to stop clinging to her mortal past and come to terms with life, for lack of a better word, in the spirit world.
The villain this time is an evil spirit called a Nix, which has escaped from the afterlife and which Eve is tasked with tracking down. The book is peppered with occasional flashbacks to the Nix’s past misdeeds. They get a little repetitive, since the Nix isn’t very creative in its crimes – murder, murder, and more murder – but they contain enough information to not be a waste of time: each manages to include some actually relevant detail such as how the Nix was captured the first time, how it subverted one of the previous agents sent to capture it, the circumstances under which it is vulnerable, and so on. Slipping in important information like that prevents the flashbacks from seeming excessively gratuitous, even taking account that Eve manages to acquire all the same information through other means; showing is after all more effective than telling.
Though if there’s one thing I don’t like about Haunted, it’s the cameo appearance by Lizzie Borden. It makes me a little uncomfortable when authors use actual real historical figures in fantasy novels. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it can be done perfectly well; I’m a big fan of the Doctor Who episode “The Shakespeare Code”, for instance. But as dictated by Sturgeon’s Law, it’s done poorly more often than well; and there’s this nagging unpleasant feeling I get when a real person is demonized – sometimes literally, in the case of fantasy novels. In this case, Haunted makes Lizzie Borden one of the former hosts of the Nix and has a scene where Eve finds her suffering in hell. You do know that Lizzie Borden was acquitted, right? There’s a real chance that she was in fact an innocent woman who was unfairly ostracized and demonized for most of her life for a crime she didn’t commit? But sure, go ahead and use her in your novel for shock value. Oh, that Nix; it’s, so evil it’s responsible for Lizzie going to hell. Of course, I can’t really hold it against Kelley Armstrong alone when it’s so prevalent in pop culture. Personally, I blame Dante Alighieri for starting this trend in the first place – heck, he put people in hell who weren’t even dead yet.
And hey, look on the bright side – it could have been worse. I mean, she could’ve had the Nix partner with Jack the Ripper. What a horrible cliche that would have been; it’s become practically standard for a supernatural Jack to show up in every goddamned urban fantasy series under the sun. Yes, it sure was wise for Haunted to avoid introducing Jack the Ripper as a character. And I’m sure that the Women of the Otherworld series will never in the future stoop so low as to make him to focus of a book. That would just be stupid. (*Nervous laughter*).
Anyway, that small gripe aside, I think this is probably the best Women of the Otherworld book so far. A definite highlight of the series.
Final Rating: 4/5