Monday, July 04, 2011

Book Review(s): "Magic Bites" and "Magic Burns" by Ilona Andrews

One of the benefits of an extended vacation is the ability to catch up on books you've been meaning to read but never got the chance. I'm a 'beach-read' kind of person while on vacation because I'm far too easily distracted to concentrate on anything too involved; which is why paranormal fiction becomes my go-to genre on these occasions. Having been a fan of The Edge series by Ilona Andrews it was a no-brainer to pick the first two books in the Kate Daniels series for my leisure time reading this time around.

Magic Bites was the first book published by the husband and wife team of Ilona Gordon and Andrew Gordon who write under the pseudonym Ilona Andrews. Set in a future Atlanta Georgia that is radically changed thanks to magic waves that "crash" and alternate with technological waves that render technology and magic supreme at different times. When the magic is high gasoline-powered cars lose function, along with everything else technological, and magical creatures roam the night. In the new world the two most powerful groups are The People and The Pack. The People are a secretive group of necromancers who have the ability to "pilot" vampires through a strong mental control that keeps their blood-lust in check-- though the loss of that control will send a vampire on an uncontrollable feeding frenzy. The Pack is a tight hierarchy of shapshifters who must join The Pack or risk "going loup" when the first change comes at adolescence and the urges of the change rip apart their sanity.

Kate Daniels works as a mercenary who is often called upon to help in cases of magical emergencies. Armed with a saber appropriately named Slayer, Kate is a mysterious bundle of magical ability and attitude. When Kate's mentor is murdered Kate finds herself entangled with both The People and The Pack as both groups are caught up in a series of related murders that may send both groups to war with each other. The strength of Kate as a main character, and her saving grace, is her heart. She might throw out some sarcastic remarks but she has strong personal integrity and tons of compassion. Her magical abilities aren't really spelled out beyond the understanding that she inherited a magical legacy of some sort and that the magic is so strong in her blood that anything with her blood on it must be burned or it can be used against her. She does some neat tricks with her sword and has the ability to use "power words" that give her a certain command over other people, but the extent of her power isn't clear.

"Magic Bites" is, in some respects, boilerplate paranormal fiction. Kate is written in the now typical kick-ass heroine vein full of smart-alec remarks and the ability, or willingness, to take on all comers. But the overall package offered in "Magic Bites" takes it a level above the standard paranormal fare. What makes this books (and series) is the overlap of magic and technology. It's a bit confusing at first as the narration of the story offers tidbits about how the world functions in bits and pieces and it isn't clear for awhile how far into the future the story is set and how the magic first appeared. But the overlap is so intriguing and imaginatively done that it's difficult not to be impressed by what is created in this story. There's a terrific sense of anticipation as you read the book and wait to see what mythological creature is going to appear next.

However, there are times when "Magic Bites" does read like a debut novel. There are a lot of characters thrown at the reader and the story jumps around just enough to make the overall flow somewhat confusing-- you will find yourself backtracking to reread previous paragraphs in order to figure out where the story may have jumped or if you missed something. And while I think that books by Ilona Andrews make more effort than most to bridge logic gaps that are common to fast-moving paranormal fiction, there are times when the narrative doesn't make sense on a logical level and it feels as if certain elements are thrown in for emotional impact without ironing out the wrinkles. Those looking for paranormal romance will be somewhat disappointed because the romance angle is almost non-existent, though there are hints that it will materialize eventually.

Overall I liked "Magic Bites" though I find myself torn on what kind of grade to give it. I guess I'd give it 4 out of 5 stars for likability and imagination and 3.5 stars for execution.

The second book in the Kate Daniels series, Magic Burns, shows good growth in the series and smooths out some of the rough edges that detracted from the first book. Kate, now working as a liaison between The Mercenary Guild and The Order of Merciful Aid, is asked to look into what initially appears to be a simple theft of some maps belonging to The Pack and ends up trying to find the missing mother of a teenager. Kate's investigation leads her to a coven of witches who worship a Celtic goddess who have gotten in over their head due to their inexperience and may have attracted the attention of a god who wants to set a horde of demons loose in an attempt to destroy humanity.

"Magic Burns" gets further into the mythology of the series and we finally get some insight into how magic first began to appear-- and why-- as well as further explaining how The Pack and The People operate. Most of the secondary character development focuses on The Pack as Kate's potential love interest is Curran-- The Pack alpha who also happens to be a massive lion in his shifter form.

There's a lot to like about "Magic Burns." The relationship between Kate and her teenage charge is sweet but not cloying as Kate doesn't go the mother route and instead settles on "crazy aunt Kate" as her role in the kid's life; though she does frequently refer to the child as "my kid." The Pack is also interesting as we get a glimpse into the various groups including the were-hyenas and their particular kinks. Somehow the book manages to make were-creatures and vampires interesting in an over-saturated genre. But my favorite thing is something that all the books by Andrews features particularly well-- the magic. Every myth, every religion, every magical thing you ever heard of has the potential to show up and I love it. Whether it's a mobile-home park gone crazy, high-rises that turn to granite or crazy mermaid-like creatures with prehensile hair, there's always something new jumping out at you.

The only negative I'd give the series is the super slow reveal of certain plot points. As before the romantic elements are beyond anemic, but that doesn't really bother me. Many allusions are made to Kate's heritage and it's easy to make some educated guesses about her parentage, but so far Kate's mostly a cipher. The main revelations are limited to The Pack and the magic system of the series.

There is still a tendency toward a lot of busy action but overall I'm really liking the Kate Daniels series. I'm home now and have my nose buried in book number three. I could nit-pick here and there, but I'm still of the opinion that the writing team known as Ilona Andrews writes some of the most enjoyable paranormal fiction on the shelf right now. "Magic Burns" gets a solid 4 out of 5 stars.


Blodeuedd said...

The books do get better and better :) And now I really need to get my hands on book 4 since I just got book 5

SQT said...

Good to know! They are a lot of fun. I recently got the newest one in the mail so I need to catch up.

wheels209 said...

I enjoyed Magic Bites very much. However, Magic Burns I could not get into at all. Maybe it's because I read so slowly that I get bored with the plot by the second or third book. The author has a lot of fans out there so it probably has more to do with my reading style than anything else.

Take care my friend. Glad to have you back on your blog.

SQT said...

Hi Steve,

Interesting. I thought "Magic Burns" was the better of the two. I think it's a mood thing. Sometimes paranormal fiction doesn't grab me at all and other times it's just the thing.

wheels209 said...

Your right my friend I am a very moody reader. If the flow of the story doesn't hit me just right I will put the book down in nothing flat. Blogs like yours and others have really helped me stay away from bad books. For some reason having a nook helps too because if I buy a book for it I will read it. I think it has to do with my level of research for each e-book. I make sure I really like it.

Take care have a great night.