Chapter thirty-one opens with a death. (Sort of!)
Francis’ in fact.
He’s why Rachel is in this mess once more – yes, she alsohas poor risk assessment and self-preservation instincts but I will give her a pass for now – so I’m not playing my tiny violin for him just yet. Especially because the reason why Francis is dead-in-the-moment is because Rachel reacted before thinking and swung him in front of her. He took a curse from a ley line witch that was meant for her and, to Rachel’s senses, he died as a result.
Predictably, Rachel loses her shit because this is the onething Rachel doesn’t do. She doesn’t kill. And the fact that she was essentially made to kill? Really pisses her off.
“Why did you make me do that?” I said softly, turning to the short man. I took a step forward as the air started to tingle. I couldn’t say that what I’d done was wrong—I was alive—but I hadn’t wanted to do that. “Why did you make me do that?” I said louder, anger swelling as the sensation of pinpricks broke over me like a wave. It was the beginnings of the net. I didn’t care. I scooped up my bag as I passed it, kicking my uninvoked amulet out of the way.
The ley line witch’s eyes grew wide in surprise as I came at him. Face going determined, he started chanting louder. I could hear the other two whispering like an ashaden wind. It was easy to move in the center of the net, but the closer I got to the edge, the harder it became. We stood in a blue-tinted bowl of air. Past it, Edden and Nick struggled, trying to push their way in.
“You made me do that!” I shouted.
And then Rachel proceeds to kick ass.
What makes Rachel a character I remain fond of after all of these years is that she is a badass. She’s facing a bunch of ley line witches – who are incredibly powerful and ready to kill – and she doesn’t try to go up against them with her magic. No. She launches herself at one of them and punches one dude before breaking his fingers. She fights until she thinks she can’t fight anymore and then just when she thinks she’s done-zo…
There comes the FIB officers to save the day!
And then at the last possible part of the chapter, Rachel realizes that Francis isn’t dead… he just got knocked out deeply. So… no death. Which is great because that means that when we return to him and Rachel in the next chapter, he’s ready to sing like a canary:
“Listen!” Francis shouted, spittle flying from him in his fervor. “I’ll tell you everything. I want a deal. I want protection. I was only supposed to do Brimstone takes. That’s all. But someone got spooked and Mr. Kalamack wanted the drops switched. He told me to switch the drops. That’s all! I’m not a biodrug runner. Please. You gotta believe me!”
Straight up… Knowing what little I remember about Trent Kalamack, if I was in Francis’ shoes, I’d keep my mouth shut. I’d snitch on someone unrelated. I would Not Be Involved. Trent is a messy murderous man. Lord. I would suddenly develop amnesia and need to be hospitalized for it.
And yet, here Francis is… snitching.
In popular parlance, “snitches get stitches”… Except if you’re Francis snitching on how Trent Kalamack’s operation has hidden biodrugs in tomatoes – because, if you remember the first installment, humans won’t touchtomatoes because of a lingering fear of the harm that those little fruits caused.
When you’re Francis and you snitch on a man like that?
What you get is to go BOOM.
Feeling like a mule at the plow, I rose. My stomach lurched, and with Nick’s help, I hobbled out into the noise and confusion. I hunched under my blanket and held my injured arm tight to me. I knew what I’d find. I’d seen Trent kill a man for less. Expecting him to sit idle as a legal noose slipped around his neck was ludicrous. But how had he moved so quickly?
The lobby was a confusing mess of broken glass and milling people. Cool night air came in through the gaping hole in the wall where glass once hung. Blue and yellow FIB uniforms were everywhere, not that they were helping matters. The stench of burning plastic caught at my throat, and the flickering black and orange of a fire beckoned from the parking lot where the FIB van burned. Red and blue lights flashed against the walls.
And at the end of the chapter, Rachel spots Trent and Jonathan in the crowd and has the realization that the demon that went for her in the previous installment, the one that nearly killed her? That wasn’t from her old boss. That was from Trent which is a bit weird because he also wants to uh… hire her?
In the following chapter, we have a tiny timeskip and Rachel reading Ivy and Jenks a message that reads, “TK seeking to reopen communication with RM concerning possible business venture.”
Either Rachel works for him in some capacity or he kills her. Great.
So her options are… corpse, or criminal.
(I would pick criminal, of course.)
But Rachel is headstrong and fierce so she chooses to make herself a third option… being a straight up pain in Trent’s ass and stealing a disc from him in the middle of the night. This chapter has a great moment that inspires fear.
Armstrong brings her A-game with Rachel running away from Trent’s hounds – and I didn’t catch this as a teen but in adulthood I realize that they are absolutely supposed to represent the hounds of the wild hunt – as visions of being torn apart fill her mind. It is a brief but absolutely anxiety inducing moment because you can taste her fear.
The penultimate chapter ends with Rachel, Ivy, and Jenks looking back at Trent’s property and he and two other riders looking back at them. It’s an unsettling moment for sure (and again, overt wild hunt references):
I stared, riveted. Three horsemen stood on the ribbon of moonlit road. The hounds were milling about the horses’ feet as they pranced with nervous, arched necks. I had just made it. Chilled to the core of my soul, I watched the middle rider touch his brow in a casual salute.
An unexpected pull went through me. I had bested him. He knew and accepted it, and had the nobility to acknowledge it. How could you not be impressed by someone that sure of himself. “What the hell is he?” I whispered.
“I don’t know,” Jenks said from my shoulder. “I just don’t know.”
(I know!! I think I know!! But I won’t tell y’all because I don’t want to be wrong!!)
Dead Witch Walking closes out at a nice, even thirty four chapters and… an early evening dinner with Rachel and her found family a week after their final-for-now escape from Trent’s nonsense. Some urban fantasy writers (like the lady LKH) use their final chapter to cram a bunch of details in the final sprint. It’s fine and I think I’ve actually done this…
But it’s not my preferred ending.
This sort of ending – the found family coming together to vibe and celebrate success – is. Without last minute infodumping, Armstrong wraps up the first book in her series so well. The energy is fresh and fun. The characters are in way better places than they were in chapter one… and the way that the Trent Kalamack story is wrapped up leaves room for future frustrating shenanigans.
Overall, Dead Witch Walking is an engaging book. Going through it in 5-chapter chunks was fun and while there are still ISSUES – like the Ivy/Rachel relationship and how orientalism features heavily in Ivy’s early writing – I still like it.
Thanks for sticking around for this! Next time will be an all new book, but then we’ll return to Rachel Morgan!