Review: "Haunted" by Kelley Armstrong

Haunted by Kelley ArmstrongWhen she was alive, you didn't fuck with Eve Levine. A half-demon witch and master of the black arts, she didn't exactly seek opportunities to dole out pain and death, they just presented themselves on a regular basis. An unfortunate consequence of the life she chose. But she never flinched from what she had to do. Yup, in life, Eve was the biggest badass around.

In death, not so much.

Now a common spook in an afterlife of nothing but other common spooks, Eve "lives" for nothing other than the hope that one day she will learn how to re-enter the world of the living and make contact with the only good thing she ever did. Her daughter Savannah.

After one of her almost nightly visits to watch her daughter live life without her, the Searchers come and deliver Eve to the Fates. They have a job for her. A chaos demi-demon, a "Nix", has escaped from her prison in hell and has returned to the world of the living. The last three hunters they sent after her... didn't do so well. Now she'll give it a go. Normally, Eve would tell the ancient Greek spinsters what they could do with their job, but dammit, she owes them a favor, and she always pays her debts.

Ever since Buffy the Vampire Slayer came to the small screen and Guilty Pleasures, by Laurell K. Hamilton, came out in its first paperback run, the supernatural-heroine-in-a-big-supernatural-world has pretty much become a genre in itself. A genre that I've become a big fan of. So you can imagine my glee when I learned about the Women of the Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong.

The Otherworld series concerns itself with not just one heroine, but several women (and men) in interconnected stories. So, Elena, a werewolf, the hero of book one, will return as a minor character in book four, which stars Paige, who was introduced as a minor character in book two. Think Kevin Smith's View Askew movies with vampires, magic, violence, and sex, and you've got the idea. And this book doesn't disappoint in that regard. Many of the fans' favorite characters make return appearances, some in person, some in offstage phone calls, some by mention only. Continuity, thy name is Kelley Armstrong.

When I finished Haunted, the fifth book in the series, I hated to admit that I found it the weakest book of the series so far. I can't call it a bad book, not in the slightest. I enjoyed reading it quite a lot. It just pales a bit in comparison to, say, Stolen, or Dime Store Magic, for three reasons.

I think the biggest problem came from having a ghost as the central character. Though Armstrong deliberately showed early on in the book that while Eve couldn't die again, she could still be placed in serious jeopardy, I found it hard to believe that she was ever in any real danger. She had immortality on her side, as well as several people working with her. When all else fails, if anything bad happened to her, she could simply wait it out, enduring whatever she had to endure, till help came. Take away the threat of death, and a lot of dramatic tension seeps away.

Second, while the first four books of the series takes place in the "real" world, this one takes place almost entirely in the ghost world. Ghost world, like you'd imagine, is a place where almost anything can happen, sort of a muted Hogwarts, which I think hurts a story. Need to travel to a distant destination? Transport yourself there. Need a different appearance? Close your eyes and imagine it.

The problem with this scenario is that you can create whatever setting you want, and it makes for some convoluted scenes in the book. Rules seem to be set in some dimensions, just to be broken in others, to fit the story. This seemed to happen quite a bit towards the end of the book in order to lead to the ending that the author wanted. And while I suppose one could argue that every author does that, this time it seemed obvious.

And the last thing that bugs is that Eve never really lives up to the badass, powerful image she once had. In life, many witches hated her for affiliating with sorcerers and black magic. Evil and powerful Eve. Even as a ghost, Eve retains her spell-casting ability, but we see nothing more than the typical witch and sorcerer magic introduced in the other books. How about some of that frightening, banned magic. Where is the power?

I still recommend the book. When I say it compares poorly to the other books in the series, it still rises head and shoulders about most books of this kind. Armstrong writes characters with dimension and character-driven stories in a genre that often delivers stories as deep as pancakes. If you haven't read any of her books yet, I'd start at the beginning of the series and enjoy the ride.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Haunted by Kelley Armstrong
Published by: Spectra; May 31, 2005
ISBN: 0-553-58708-0
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Author's Webpage:

The first four books in the Women of the Otherworld series:

Dime Store Magic
Industrial Magic

About Joe Murphy

Joe Murphy succumbed to leiomyosarcoma on April 1, 2007. The irony of this is not lost on any who knew him and laughed with him. He was the first “official” book reviewer for The Dragon Page Radio Talk Show, and after moving to Arizona, he became a frequent contributor to Cover to Cover, Wingin’ It, Slice of SciFi and co-host of Kick-Ass Mystic Ninjas.

He will be missed.

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