Title: Magic Bites and Magic Burns
Author: Ilona Andrews
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Stand alone or series: First and second novels in the Kate Daniels series
Summary: (From amazon.com)
Mercenary Kate Daniels cleans up urban problems of a paranormal kind. But her latest prey, a pack of undead warriors, presents her greatest challenge.
As a mercenary who cleans up after magic gone wrong, Kate Daniels knows how waves of paranormal energy ebb and flow across Atlanta like a tide. But once every seven years, a flare comes, a time when magic runs rampant. When Kate sets out to retrieve a set of stolen maps for the Pack, Atlanta’s paramilitary clan of shape shifters, she quickly realizes much more is at stake. The stolen maps are only the opening gambit in an epic tug of war between two gods hoping for rebirth, and if Kate can’t stop the cataclysmic showdown, the city may not survive.
Why did I read the books: These books have been getting rave reviews across the blogosphere (is that a real word?). Plus, with an endorsement from Patricia Briggs, I pretty much had to give this series a read.
MAGIC BITES (book 1)
Magic Bites introduces us to Kate Daniels, mercenary guild member, isolated loner tough gal type heroine. The story begins with Kate casually sipping on some Boone’s in her family home on the outskirts of Atlanta. Her quiet time is interrupted by a vampire—but not your typical vampire. In Ilona Andrews’ world, vamps are mindless parasitic vehicles for The People, who control them and have them do their bidding. FINALLY! Immediately, I was drawn to the story. As you probably know by now, the whole sexy vampire thing drives me batty. If well written, with established rules and in a functioning universe (like Kim Harrison’s The Hollows world) I can definitely appreciate a sexy vamp…but too often it feels like some washed out copout.
The vampires in this version of Atlanta are little more than undead minions, whose ‘minds’ are piloted by their necromantic owners, and look more along the lines of Nosferatu, as opposed to Lestat. It is one such vampire pilot, Ghastek, who has sent his herald to deliver Kate a message in the opening chapter. Through the undead body, Ghastek tells Kate that her guardian is dead…throwing Kate’s world out of whack. Her mother and father both died when she was young (for reasons still unknown to the reader), and the only other person in her life that helped raise and guide her was her legal guardian, Greg. As it turns out, Greg has been murdered brutally…by a vampire. In addition to being Kate’s guardian, Greg also was a Knight Diviner for the Order—an organization that polices Atlanta. Kate herself was in training at one point to become a member of the Order, but couldn’t take the many rules and indestructible chain of command. In any case, with Greg’s murder, Kate wants vengeance, and the Order needs a distraction while they do their work. Kate is granted access to the case as a consultant, and she immediately sets to work.
Trouble is brewing in Atlanta—the People (those who control the vampires) deny their involvement in the murder of Greg, and the other similar murders that have been occurring. Meanwhile, the other faction of power in Atlanta, the Pack (yes, as the name suggests, they are shapeshifters) become involved when some of their members are murdered in the same fashion. Called in by Curran, the Beast Lord himself, Kate must work with all sides—the Pack, the Order, and managing the People—in order to get to the bottom of the mystery.
This first book was a solid entry in the Urban Fantasy genre. The universe Ilona Andrews creates with this alternate version of Atlanta was intriguing and original. I loved the idea of the alternating, crashing waves of Magic and Tech—and the consequences these conflicting paradigms have on the inhabitants of the world (fey lanterns vs. light bulbs, use of automobiles vs. horses). I also felt that the politics of Atlanta, and the power division between the Pack, the People and the regulatory presence of the Order and the Mercenary Guild was nicely detailed and well-balanced. With this setting, Andrews creates an intriguing backdrop for a whodunit mystery.
So far as characters are concerned, I felt somewhat alienated from Kate, at least initially. She is typically abrasive, smart-mouthed, and argumentative. Instead of rolling with the punches and patiently trying to figure out what is going on, she challenges anyone that crosses her path—almost to the point where I wanted to put the book down. For instance, when she first meets Curran (the Beast Lord mind you, the most dominant of all the Shapeshifters in Atlanta), she doesn’t gently try to work together; she runs her mouth and busts out her sword. My first reaction to this sort of character is that she probably should have been dead, a looooong whiles back. Certainly, were I the Beast Lord, she would be toast. This felt like the UF version of a too-stupid-to-live romance novel heroine, just substitute lack of common sense and ninny passiveness with a lack of common sense and a deadly weapon. I was under the impression that Andrews was writing Kate this way as a way to relate to the audience who may typically be used to this sort of tough as nails heroine type. However, the good news is that about halfway through the book the reader gets a real glimpse of who Kate is minus all the snarling and argumentative challenging, and what you get instead is a funny, more believable character.
My only other complaint about this book is that it was somewhat confusing. I appreciate that there was no data dump where the entire history of this world was laid out in some long narrative, and that the reader is inserted right in the middle of the action. However, it was frustrating not to really know what exactly was meant by “the Magic was up” or “the Tech was down”. It was not explained well in this first book, and had me glossing over some of the descriptions. Also, there is this constant undertone of Kate being very different from anyone else, magic-wise. It’s alluded to a number of times (“I had to burn my bandages so that no one sensed the power in my blood” type of deal), but never elaborated. Which is cool, I like that the author is holding all the cards close to the chest, but kind of annoying after the fifth mention without any further explanation.
All that said, however, I was still drawn into the book, and eagerly awaited the second volume…
MAGIC BURNS (book 2)
At the conclusion of book 1, Kate becomes a paid liason for the Order between the Merc Guild and the Pack. After successfully avenging her guardian’s death in Magic Bites, Kate turns to bigger problems. Atlanta is being plunged into a “Flare”—that is, a time when magic flares up strongly and crashes over tech repeatedly, with an increasing frequency and strength, affecting everyone (especially magic creatures, like shapeshifters for instance). The Flare also means that creatures that may not normally manifest gain strength and gain a window of opportunity to enter the world.
The Pack contacts Kate with a quiet job—someone has stolen their very detailed power maps of the city, and they want her to retrieve them without alerting any of the official organizations (as this is very embarrassing for the Pack). Kate stumbles into an even larger mystery, as the thief is able to teleport and possesses other attributes, the likes of which Kate has never seen before. In the process of discovering the missing maps, Kate becomes entangled with a lone little girl, whose mother (an amateur witch for a small, weaker coven) is missing. And that’s just the beginning.
Magic Burns has a multilayered complex plot that unfolds clue after clue into a large, wondrous mystery involving mistaken gods, undead reeve creatures, witches, and much more.
All I can say in regards to Magic Burns is—WOW. What a difference a single book makes. I was pleased with Magic Bites, and found it a nice showing by the author. Certainly not the best debut I had ever read, a bit lagging and stumbling at times in terms of both plot and character, but overall a solid read. My expectations for Magic Burns were therefore along the same lines, something mildly entertaining and a quick fun read. Whoo boy, was I ever surprised.
Magic Burns addressed all of the issues I had with the first book. Kate’s character no longer reads like a dumb badass, as she develops a deeper, more reflective personality. She addresses some important questions concerning morality and her own past as a child growing up without family, and proves to be a sympathetic character who readers can get behind. Don’t get me wrong, she is still a badass with her sword and fighting skill—but no longer abrasive or one-dimensional. Similarly, the mechanics of Kate’s universe are explained more fully in this volume—we learn the history of why Magic and Technology are at odds, what exactly a flare is, and gain more perspective concerning how these alternating waves affect things. Also, there is more reference to Kate and her unique magical abilities (although the big secret behind everything is still under wraps). Instead of just a rehash of the same bandage burning references from the first book, however, there is more of a progression as we actually see Kate in action during the final showdown (which is all kinds of awesome). I definitely feel that the level of writing in book 2 was a huge improvement over book 1. Much less reference to Boone’s Farm and more focus on a detailed, clever plot. One additional minor nitpick—while I do think that the second book improved significantly on the first, especially in terms of writing style, I did have some annoyance with Kate’s references to sayings and pop culture that no one in her world understands. For instance, Kate references “Rambo” wanting his bandana back at one point, mocking the appearance of another character. The other characters have no clue what she is talking about, to which she briefly explains in her head that she had never been able to see the old movie in its entirety, but was able to read the book. Little throwouts like that, with the intention of creating humor and something relatable for the reader just feel hokey in this setting.
That said, however, I was completely blown away by the much improved writing, pacing, and style of the second novel. I found myself caring for Kate, and breathlessly turning each page, completely caught up in the story.
Book 3 cannot come soon enough!
Notable Quotes/Parts: I loved that Magic Burns took more of a researched, sort of mythological stand with regards to new characters and plot line. There is one section where Kate is trying to discover what exactly is going on, and she turns to the Witch coven for help. To speak with the Oracle, she enters the mouth of a giant turtle, and speaks with the three witches inside (crone, mother, and maiden). While there are many of these mythological concepts that have been introduced in numerous fantasy and speculative fiction types of stories, I felt that Ilona Andrews’ adaptation was seamless, and quite impressive.
Additional Thoughts: I should probably mention that this book is true Urban Fantasy, not Paranormal Romance in disguise. There is a romantic subplot (emphasis on SUBplot) with the characters of Kate and Curran—but it is drawn out, tantalizingly so, which is very much to my liking. And much more believable, besides.
That said, I did like the interplay between the two characters—but even more, I loved that there was no talk of breathless animal sexual attraction between the two, or that Kate was tortured by Curran’s musky scent or anything like that. You know that the characters feel something for each other, but there isn’t any of the unnecessary verbiage detailing smoldering looks or what-have-you.
There is gore, blood, pain, violence, and most of all a wonderfully imagined world full of surprises in these books—and the emphasis is solving the mystery, with a small side serving of attraction. Which is just the way I like it!
Also, regarding the “author” Ilona Andrews—this is actually a husband and wife writing team (Ilona and Gordon), who penned both books together. According to their website, Ilona writes the story after discussing with her husband Gordon, and then in turn he edits. How cool is that?
Verdict: Wonderful beginning to a new series. I was pleased with book 1, but blown away by book 2. I hope the trend continues with the next installment!
Magic Bites – 7 Very Good
Magic Burns – 8 Excellent
Reading Next: Dagger-Star by Elizabeth Vaghaun