Haunted (Women of the Otherworld, book 5), by Kelley Armstrong

Kelley Armstrong: still Canadian, ask still no movie, still 3 kids, still computer programming background. This, the fifth novel in Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series, is a bit of a departure. While it involves witches, half-demons, and sorcerers, it’s set in the afterlife we just barely glimpsed in the last novel.

Eve Levine is Savannah’s mother. She died a few years ago. By accident, Paige and Lucas (Savannah’s guardians) fell into the afterlife briefly, and Eve traded a favor to the Fates (yeah, those Fates) to get them out alive. Now the Fates have called it in. They have a problem. There’s a demi-demon, known as a Nix (plural Nixen), who was trapped in the afterlife, and a hundred years ago or so, she escaped and got back to her old line of work: creating chaos. Specifically, she inhabits people who would be on the verge of committing murder, and pushes them over the edge. Eve will be the fourth person they send against the Nix. There are complications, though: Eve’s old boyfriend, Savannah’s father, Kristof, is around, and has been pushing for as much involvement in Eve’s life as he can have. Also, every time delay means the possibility of more people dying.

This is a serial-killer-chasing mystery, and there’s a lot of grisliness. We see Lizzie Borden’s ax murderers a few times (Lizzie Borden’s hell is to repeat her crime over and over); Eve briefly dips into a world with a whole bunch of supernatural male serial killers; we read descriptions of many more murders. This is NOT a book for children, or the squeamish. As a ghost, Eve can’t kill anyone, and frankly, most of what we read about is humans (albeit possessed by a Nix) killing humans. I did appreciate the passage set in my current place of residence, describing the Cleveland Torso Murders (or the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run).

Eve herself is a good narrator, but as much as she is described as different from Paige and Elena, her voice wasn’t that different. Perhaps it was the limitations of her ghostliness, but she didn’t do many things that were immoral or black-magic, despite her reputation. Yes, she would do anything to help Savannah, but Savannah’s her daughter. I would not have expected less of her. She definitely pushed the limits of her existence, but, again, that seems to be more a function of being a bright, enterprising individual who is stuck in a boring world. I liked her quite a bit, but she wasn’t quite as advertised.

The most confusing thing about this story was the new additions to the world-building. In the afterlife, all supernaturals who were not actively evil go to the same sets of planes. In order to get from one place to another, there are transportation codes. Eve is exceptionally good at transportation, and has collected a lot of codes. The Fates are pretty straightforward, and there are afterworld courts and things like that, but then there are angels to foul everything up. Angels, who are probably the same as demons anyway, come in two forms: born (full-blood) angels and ascended angels. The born/full-blood ones were created by The Creator thousands of years ago to be sort of the police of humanity; ascended angels used to be human or supernatural and are a second class of angels. Except perhaps some of the full-blood angels aren’t. In addition to ghosts, there are other kinds of shades who haunt single places or who just leave feelings in places; we also meet a few actual demons. One of them is even a ‘good’ demon (eudemon): one not particularly dedicated to causing chaos for humanity.

Does that sound complicated? It is, a bit. A lot of the information I gave above is gradually revealed, but at the beginning, it’s easiest just to accept Eve’s world as it is — as a new kind of fantasy world. It’s also easiest to come into the situation with no preconceived ideas about the afterlife — ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ are relative there. Should Eve, a ‘black’ witch, be in heaven or hell? That question doesn’t come into play, but the Nix is definitely evil.

While I enjoyed the story, I’d probably recommend it only to people who have at least a little fascination with serial killers and murder. With the popularity of ‘true crime’ books, that represents a larger segment of the population than one might guess. It also probably wouldn’t make much sense unless you’d read at least Industrial Magic (the book immediately preceding it). The world-building would be easier to understand if you don’t have to worry about making sense of witches, sorcerers, and half-demons in addition to everything new. It perhaps wasn’t as good as the previous volume, but it was still a worthy entry in the series. 3.5/5 stars.

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