Friday, 21 September 2012

Review: Dead Witch Walking

Dead Witch Walking
Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I asked on Google+ for recommendations for a new series to try, I was given this one. Partway through, I thought I remembered it, and when I checked on Goodreads I had read it before - and given it one star (with no review).

That was a while ago, and I've read a lot of worse books since, so I've upgraded it to a slightly reluctant three stars (the reasonably good, though far from conclusive, ending just barely tipped it over from two).

So what didn't I like? Firstly, there's a lot of infodumping early on. And in fact this book has taught me a valuable lesson about one of the reasons for "show, don't tell".

Not only is showing more interesting, but when you just tell the reader something in a big infodump, what you risk is what I now dub the Kim Harrison Effect, in which the infodumped backstory hasno detectable impact on the events that unfold.

What I mean is this. In the backstory, we have an alternate world that departed from ours in the late 60s, when there was a bioplague spread by genetically engineered tomatoes. (Yes, really.) Most of the world was completely devastated, but the good old USA closed its borders (somehow) and missed the worst of it. Because so many humans died, and because supernaturals (called, for no good reason I can see, "Inderlanders") were immune, the supernaturals have come out in the open now. They're a minority, but now a substantial one. This is explained in first-person narration by the protagonist in a way that makes no sense unless you assume she's dropping backstory to someone from a very different world, i.e. us, by the way. "We never went to the moon..." Why would you say that?

Meanwhile, in the actual story, nothing much other than the Inderlander outing appears to have changed. For example: Starbucks.

In our world, Starbucks (founded in 1971) is ubiquitous. There's a historical reason for this: the Third World, where all coffee is grown, did not become a "charnel pit" at the end of the 60s, the USA did not close its borders, and so coffee is easily available. But in Dead Witch Walking, there's a Starbucks, large as life. One on every corner, is the feeling you get. Just like our world.

Other than the presence of supernaturals, the only impact that we actually see from the supposed apocalypse, as distinct from being told about, is that humans are afraid of tomatoes now.

No, sorry, backstory fail.

Other than that, the rest of the weaknesses are the usual ones. The author has a smaller vocabulary than she thinks she does and uses words which don't mean what she thinks they mean (seriously, "pocketmarked face"?), or would mean what she thinks they mean if they were spelled differently, and the editor needs to play more Pokemon, because he or she didn't catch them all.

More seriously, as usual in urban fantasy, the sassy, and supposedly smart, female protagonist is both more skilled than she rationally ought to be (her spellcasting keeps impressing people, even though she's apparently hardly practiced), and also at the same time is too stupid to live and has to keep getting rescued when her absurd schemes go awry in what seems like every third chapter. In particular, she has to be rescued by a mysterious sexy man who she unaccountably trusts even though he won't give her a straight answer about his background. Sigh.

I don't think I'll read the rest of the series. I'm vaguely curious about the answers to some of the many questions that are left unresolved at the end, such as "why are any of the characters apart from the protagonist and maybe the pixy doing anything that they're doing"? But there are enough better books out there that I don't think I'll bother reading these ones just to find out the answers.

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