Bantam, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58708-0
The latest installment in the Women of the Otherworld series, Haunted, features the ghost of Eve Levine, who you may or may not recall as Savannah’s late mother and a black witch, as she is called upon by the Fates to bring back a demonic entity back into their custody. This entity, the Nix, through a spell cast by one of the women that summoned her centuries ago, is trapped in the sense that she cannot return to her demonic form but she can live the host of her victims in a symbiotic manner. The Nix is a demon that compels her victims to commit acts of murder. The victims must have the desire to commit these acts and the Nix will give these people the courage, so to speak, to actually commit them. This Nix can only target women and has been doing so for a long time now, turning those sociopath women into serial killers of the most fiendish kind.
Eve has her work cut out for her even when she enlists the aid of Jaime the necromancer, last seen in Industrial Magic, because her assistant, the angel Trsiel, is one of the most incompetent dingbats I’ve ever come across. If these are standard angel procedures and quality control, atheism is never so attractive. Paige Winterbourne and Lucas Cortez make appearance, as do Savannah of course, and Kristof Nash and Eve resume their lip-smacking, apparently being ghosts stand in no way to their carnal activities.
Haunted explores an entirely new aspect of the Otherworld: literally, the other world of Otherworld, the world of the spirits of the dead supernatural beasts who live under the watchful rule of the three Fates. Here, angels serve as independent law-enforcers for the Fates. A brief glimpse is given into the hellish world ruled by Baal, the lord of demons. However, there is no clear visualization of this other world and I can never get a clear feel of it. This corporeal world comes off, to me, like some garish theme park with areas devoted to pirates and broody Englishmen and what-not. The gore content is more implied than shown, although Ms Armstrong ups the gore content later in the story when Eve descends into the territory where supernatural serial killers are banished to while the thankfully not-too-graphic acts of atrocities committed by the Nix’s “partners” are not easy reading material.
I have an issue with the author using her characters’ ineptness to drive the story into conflicts. I find it hard to accept the fact that the Fates will not tell Eve the clear and actual picture of what she has to confront until a convenient moment in the story, and the fact that the author pulls this stunt at convenient moments to bail her characters out of trouble smacks too much of deus ex machina writing. Likewise, I don’t know whether to groan or shake my head when the characters, after engaging in long sessions of angst nearly the entire book about keeping their loved ones safe, conveniently forgets to do so – thus putting a loved one in danger. And the Grand Denouement that takes place in the end can be seen coming the moment I realize what the Nix can do, especially when the author keeps dropping unsubtle hints to the possibility pretty much every time Eve catches her breath in-between mystery-solving and opens her mouth to talk about the issues in her personal life. Also, the author loves to make the Fates or the angels as incompetent as possible so that Eve will get lovely acts of sadistic torture inflicted on her self. I suppose Ms Armstrong needs a way, no matter how obvious and contrived, to keep the blood flowing.
My main issue with Haunted, therefore, is that while it is still an engaging read, the suspense is very weak and the “plot twists” can be seen coming long before they happen. I’m also not fond of the deus ex machina plot devices or contrived attempts to get Eve in trouble. It is hard to say that Eve did a great job in this book because Eve has no experience in these kinds of things and when she succeeds while others failed, it seems to be that the others failed because they are colossal idiots. If Ms Armstrong doesn’t watch herself when it comes to her increasingly lazy and cartoon plotting, she may soon end up with a series best re-titled Looney Tunes of the Otherworld.