Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
About twelve years ago, there was a little girl named Danielle who read a book called Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton, and was seduced into the dark, enchanting world of urban fantasy. She went on to read more urban fantasy than she could shake a stick at. Over the years, she lost touch with Anita Blake, and mourned the loss of a tough-as-nails, kickass, urban fantasy heroine to join for exciting, dangerous, and magical adventures.
Recently, she finally picked up a book called Magic Bites, which had been sitting on her bloated, embarrassingly large tbr pile. She read it to find out who this mysterious "Beast Lord" was, and why everyone thought that Kate and Curran were the best urban fantasy couple. That young girl is a very happy camper.
Magic Bites is a hard book to describe. If you are a genuine, die-hard urban fantasy fan, you will like this book. At 260 pages, it appears deceptively slim. However, there's a lot of information, adventure, description, and incredibly good writing in that relatively small amount of pages. I will admit that this book made being confused and baffled fun for me. I had a lot of questions as I was reading. Still do. But that's kind of nice.
Kate Daniels is one of the best urban fantasy heroines I've had the pleasure to meet. I've said before that I don't care for arrogant, braggadocious, posturing characters. She doesn't posture. She simply is a bad-ass, but down to earth, at the same time. She doesn't run around in bustiers, low-riding leather pants, and stiletto heels, climbing out of bed with some random guy long enough to kick-butt. She wears clothes that facilitate her ability to kick ass and to keep herself alive. Being cute is all good and well, but in her world, being cute might get her killed. Her only vanity is her long hair, which she keeps in a braid most of the time. Lethal abilities aside, Kate is very feminine. She can appreciate a cute guy, and she had flaws and weaknesses just like the rest of us armchair kickbutt heroines. I like her no-nonsense view of the world, her snarky sense of humor, and the fact that she likes to pull the lion by the tail, sometimes literally. I thought she was an interesting character. She has some emotional wounds that she is dealing with, and tends to keep her own company. It's nice to see a thoughtful, almost brooding heroine in this genre.
Ms. Andrews earned my respect. The Atlanta that she has created is a very fascinating place. I still don't understand all of what occurred to make Atlanta very much like a dystopic wastleland, but I didn't have to understand that to enjoy this book. I do know that magic plays a huge hand in the catastrophe that hit this fair Southern city. It seems to surge and ebb, like the electricity brownouts that were hitting California when I lived out there. For all the importance that magic plays in this story, Ms. Andrews is never heavy-handed with the use of magic. In fact, she lightly and skillfully builds a storyline that is credible and interesting around the tendrils of magic power wielded in different ways by many of the characters in this novel. And better yet, she was able to create a female magic-wielder who wasn't a witch. I believe there are far too many witch urban fantasy and paranormal heroines. It's gotten to the point where it's almost cliche'. Her use of folklore is clever and well-placed. She takes a different direction with vampires, shapechangers, and mages. I must say I've never seen vampires described in the manner in which they exist in this story. They are quite gruesome and almost pitiful in Kate Daniels' world.
I have to say that Ilona Andrews writing is high class. She sets the scenes very well, using language in just the right way, to keep the story flowing forward. She employs the noir elements that I enjoy in urban fantasy and occult detective novels very well. Better yet, she treats the reader with respect, understanding that popular fiction readers like to be challenged and fully engaged. She seems to understand that just because we enjoy fantastic, escapist material, it doesn't mean that we want to read something meaningless and without substance. In fact, I felt as though I was reading a police procedural with magical and horrific elements (a sure sign of a good occult detective novel). I thought I had figured out who the killer was fairly early on (and was about to be disappointed), but I was way off. When the reveal happens, it comes at you in such a manner that you cannot help but admire how skillfully the red herring and clues were laid out.
As I read this book, my brain, which always tries to make order and sense of things, tried to think of a way to categorize and classify this book and the world within it. I never came up with a concrete classification. But that's a good thing. It's nice to find something new within a well-loved genre, and to encounter a novel reading experience at the same time. This book delivered that to me.
If I were to make any literary allusions, I would consider this book to have incorporated the story traditions of the tales of medieval knights, with a modern and often horrific spin. If I could describe Kate in any quick way, I would call her a knight-mercenary. She has the requisite sword, although she lacks the steed that usually goes with the package(To my pleasant surprise, there is quite a bit of horse-riding in this book, but Kate doesn't have her own horse). Unfortunately, we didn't get to see her wearing her armor. Maybe in the next books. Slasher, her blood-thirsty and sentient sword, reminded me of Stormbringer, the vampiric sword owned by Elric of Melniboné, written by Michael Moorcock, whom I became acquainted with earlier this fall.
Any urban fantasy heroine has to have a potential spark, if you will. That's where Curran, The Beast Lord, comes in. He's impressive, let's leave it at that. He's not just a potential love interest, but a powerful ally. These two butt heads in the most delightful ways. As the Beast Lord, and a lion shapeshifter, Curran's used to being in charge, and Kate lives by the 'you're not the boss of me' philosophy. I look forward to more fighting alongside, and flirting with Curran in the next books.
This book is quite dark. Blood (and blood magic) and guts aplenty, dark deeds, dark magic, dark creatures. This is a book for a reasonably mature reader, in that regard. Being a big fan of Magic Noir (thank you, Brad, for letting me steal your fantastic term), I enjoyed those aspects. But I did wince at a few particularly gruesome scenes. The villain is a very disturbing individual, in more ways than one. Everything in this story has an edge to it. That's not a bad thing to this reader, since she enjoys a little darkness in her fiction. But if you tend to enjoy the lighter urban fantasy stories, you'd want to be prepared when you read this one. Now there is humor, but it's of the drier, more wry, and grimmer variety. If you like the hero to get banged up and injured quite a bit, you'll enjoy that about this novel. Kate definitely faces jeopardy, again and again. The stakes are particularly high in this novel, in ways that you need to read to find out.
So, after so much rambling, I have to say that this urban fantasy fan has found a new series of which she intends to fully avail herself. Kate Daniels is my newest knight in shining armor. Let the adventures continue.
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