Recently, I’ve been re-reading the Hollows Series by Kim Harrison. For those who don’t remember this lovely series, it was one of those fun re-imaginings of our world that was contemporary to the Sookie Stackhouse novels, later adapted into True Blood, and Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series, adapted into the TV Show Bitten. The Hollows Series writes to the same demographic that loved Charmed and Buffy and it’s full of werewolves, vampires, witches, and, most importantly, demons. If you haven’t read the series and are looking for some fun Urban Fantasy, I can recommend it.
One of the things I’ve noticed in this particular breed of Urban Fantasy, and in the Hollows series in particular, is that the endings have a certain flavor. Doing this re-read has been really interesting for me for this reason – as I’ve worked on edits to the Zombie Book one of the things I’ve revisited several times is the ending to this project. The original ending that I wrote was sort of depressing, honestly, and it is a book that was otherwise very fun to write. So one of the reasons that I have been doing my Hollows re-read is to look at the endings of these books that I enjoyed so well and to try to understand what worked. The second reason, of course, is because American Demon is coming out and I will probably read it despite myself.
Some spoilers for the Hollows series, particularly For a Few Demons More.
Bad things happen to Rachel Morgan in this series from day one. She is targeted by people that she should be able to trust, she is outmatched and outgamed, and she is always on the brink of losing. But arguably one of the darkest moments in the series comes in Book 5, For a Few Demons More, when Rachel’s then-boyfriend Kisten, a living vampire, is murdered. The circumstances around Kisten’s death are particularly traumatic for Rachel – so traumatic that one of her friends is forced to dose her with a forgetting potion to keep her from essentially running off and committing suicide by proxy.
There’s a lot to unpack with how Harrison handles this plot, and a lot I admire, but one of the most interesting pieces is that Rachel doesn’t find Kisten’s killer, or even recover her memories, within this book. This is a huge lose string that is not – and arguably cannot be – tied up neatly. Despite this, the book works. While there are definitely plot points to resolve, and the reader wants to know what happens next, but the book doesn’t end in Rachel’s powerless inability to find Kisten’s killer. It ends, instead, with a birthday party.
I spent a lot of time thinking about why this ending worked when I finished this book and the conclusion that I came to was that it was still optimistic. Rachel’s birthday party – delayed, shadowed with grief, but observed with a grim determination by her friends – shows us clearly what Rachel has left to look forward to and to live for. That little moment of calm amidst the turbulence is what makes a reader want to pick up the next book. It promises that, despite the horror of what has happened, Rachel will overcome things and find moments of peace and connection – indeed, that she will overcome future trials.
That bit of optimism is what readers of urban fantasy look for. It’s what, for me, distinguishes the genre from horror. A monster may appear in an urban fantasy book to do terrible things – but at the end of the book, no matter how strong the horror elements, there is a moment of looking forward, of possibility, that makes this genre clearly its own creature. Perhaps that is why I personally have not enjoyed some more recent urban fantasy titles that do not have that moment of reflection, of hope, at the end. The emotional resolution is not there.
There are likely readers who will disagree with me on this assessment, or who don’t have the same need for that moment of resolution. YMMV, etc, etc. But for me, this is the defining piece of what makes me want to keep reading, and it’s helpful to know that when editing and assessing my own work.