The Outlaw Demon Wails  - Kim Harrison

~~Moved from GR~~

The Outlaw Demon Wails

by Kim Harrison


"My name is Rachel Mariana Morgan. Conjure by it at your own risk. When demons get deadly, when vamps get vicious, when pixies get pesky, when the Ever-after gets eerie, give me a call. I'm in the book."
No, Rachel doesn't say this. But she so totally should.

[When someone actually did summon her, I started laughing--and this was why.]

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Kim Harrison's series is one of the most well-known and well-regarded urban fantasy/paranormal romance series out there, and I can completely understand why. Her principal character, Rachel, is engaging, her world is full of creativity and sly humour, and there is a large and entertaining cast of characters. My favorite aspect is the premise of the world itself: at some point in the 60s, a genetic experiment with tomatoes went horribly awry and got most of the human population killed. The paranormal creatures decided that with over half the humans dead and the remainder shocked and weakened, this would be an opportune moment to come out of the closet. Apparently, this worked out fine (which I personally find rather surprising), and now the humans and supernatural creatures live in harmony in their post-tomato-apocalypse world.

Unfortunately, this book isn't for me. **My rating has nothing to do with the book's quality and everything to do with my personal enjoyment.**  Now, before you judge the book by my opinion, there's one thing to keep in mind: this may be the sixth in the series, but it was my first Harrison book. I often try books deeper in a series to avoid the awkwardness often present in first books and to gauge character development. Unfortunately, this was difficult to jump into, and I was left with a laundry list of questions about the world: what is it about ex-Christian churches that makes their hallowed ground hallowed? What exactly is demon smut? How on earth can helping demons with their destruction and evil remove said smut? Etc, etc. My other motive for jumping in late also proved false: the series is often considered PNR, as I detest romances, I figured that six books in, the romantic angst must have subsided. I was rather surprised to discover that my hypothesis was completely in error: it appears that being Rachel's love interest is a high-risk occupation; she's currently mourning at least one lover while starting the hunt for a new one--or possibly more than one. I wish him (or them) better luck.  I've been told since I posted this review on GR that this series is not a good one to read out-of-order, so a lot of my objections may be moot if you actually do things properly.  However, I'm an inveterate out-of-order reader, and I doubt that will change any time soon--just keep it in mind before placing weight in my opinion.

The Outlaw Demon Wails helped clarify some of my personal issues with romance. I read a lot of hardboiled detective stories, so I'm basically inured to their ubiquitous and ever-present Male Gaze. However, most of the female-protagonist stories I have read are older, from times when the explicit romance aspects tended to come down to a "flutter in her heart", "dear reader, I married him," and, of course, the Risque Scene Ellipsis ("..."). This book convinced me that there is indeed a Female Gaze. Rachel assesses every man she comes across, as well as some women, in sexualised terms. She describes how close their clothing fits, how handsome they are, how attractive she finds them, etc--in fact, her objectification of them is precisely the converse of the Male Gaze. I may be inured to the male gaze, but the female version made me oddly uncomfortable. This book also demonstrated one reason I am wary of female UF protagonists: show me a female UF heroine and I will show you someone who will either be raped or come under very close and explicit threat of rape. I have real issues sharing headspace with someone involved in this trauma, especially when it is sexualized, partly intended to titillate, and clearly viewed by the character as "romantic."

[In this case, I'm talking about the scene between Ivy and Rachel. The whole scene, including the portions where Rachel is unwilling and not in control, is written in a sexualized and romanticized fashion. I just couldn't get over being disturbed by what I saw as basically rape--Rachel was initially pressured emotionally, then physically, then the same pressure was used to force her to display the marks of the abuse. There's also a lot of weirdness going on with Al. Put it this way: I just don't understand the vampire allure. 

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Forced rape of the protagonist is significantly rarer for male UF protagonists, and even when it occurs, it tends to be offscreen and is usually not romanticized and legitimized. Male UF protagonists tend to be the aggressors and tempted by femme fatales, and while this infuriates me, I think I'm able to shrug it off more easily.

The lack of force between the main conflict meant that these issues eventually tempted me into dropping the book. Jumping in at book 6 was a mistake: I didn't have emotional ties to the characters, and since Harrison doesn't give much background, I had trouble untangling precisely what was going on. The main plot thread bothered me as well: Rachel is being pursued by a demon, but she doesn't let it interfere with her love life or her various other forms of angst. If I were her, I wouldn't be obsessing about my dates and whether or not to get it going with my vampire roommate; I'd be focusing on the whole "demons are after me" aspect. Rachel is different; she takes time out of saving her own arse to have tea, go ice skating, go on dates, etc, etc, and the rather weak and meandering plot meant that I was easily able to disengage. I will note one thing: the plot definitely picks up after the 75% mark.

Overall, I very much perceive the appeal of Harrison's books. The worldbuilding is creative and entertaining and I really appreciate that, unlike the typically isolated and lonely UF protagonist, Rachel routinely interacts with her large set of friends and allies. All of my issues came down to my personal difficulties with standard aspects of romance stories. As it is, I still appreciate certain aspects; the idea of The Dreaded Tomato Apocalypse is so amazing that it defies superlatives. If you're a first time reader, I suggest starting earlier in the series. If you've loved the rest of the series, I think this one won't disappoint.