Review: Magic Bites

Magic Bites (Kate Daniels, Book 1) by Ilona Andrews

Any book that can give a main character the title “Beast Lord” without making me snort in derision automatically earns a bonus point.

All the cool kids are doing dark urban fantasy right now, and it’s even made the hop from the pasty-faced sci-fi channel to sexy HBO.

To win my favor, a book must offer uniqueness, cleverness, or sheer ballsy fun.

Magic Bites falls into the first and third categories. It’s not especially clever; the witticisms only made me snicker two or three times in 260 pages. (Come on, only a serious stick in the mud wouldn’t laugh at an Order of Merciful Aid who will “kill shit on your behalf pro bono.”)

That said, writer to writer, Ilona Andrews won me over with a unique and engaging world.

Here’s the plot: Mercenary Kate Daniels cleans up magical messes in a world where magic and technology can’t simultaneously exist, causing alternating tech and magic black-outs. When her protector/father-figure/we’re-not-sure-what is brutally murdered, Kate teams up with the Order of Merciful Aid (a magical and violent sort of Red Cross, complete with knights and batshit crazy crusaders) and the sexy lion shapechanger Beast Lord to hunt down the killer. Dark and violent hijinks ensue.

Yes, I know I make it sound like less than high literature. But that’s the beauty of it: in spite of a relatively generic plot, static characters, and gruesome violence, I was hooked. Andrews manages to blend science and fantasy in a way that makes the world believable and drives the action forward page after page.

Kate is a gritty heroine, by no means perfect, but without the glaring issues typically found in these novels. Don’t read the book expecting lots of gushy romance or steamy sex, because (surprisingly) that’s not what this book is about. Kate’s focused on the task at hand: she doesn’t take a break to get on the Beast Lord’s fuzzy feline sexy body –sorry furries. (But now that I’ve mentioned it, Rule 34 of the internet states that some sad, sweaty cartoonist is drawing the fanfic cartoon furry porn as you read this.) 

The writing leaves a bit to be desired, by I’m willing to forgive Andrews because she’s not a native English speaker. (The integration of Russian myth, perhaps, is part of what gives this world its unique flavor.) The writing itself could use a finer polish. The sentence structure varies little, the action gets a little choppy, and the repeated allusions to Kate’s mysterious power is a little annoying. I get that we’re reading through Kate’s head and that the author must have some secrets to keep us reading, but Andrews is heavy-handed in her tactics; but maybe that’s the key to the genre, like noir or Quentin Tarantino movies, I don’t know.

In terms of characterization — oh wait, this is urban fantasy, there is no characterization.  Kate is intriguing, but she really doesn’t have that many feelings, or if she does, I didn’t notice. To some degree that’s a relief, when you look at other fantasy heroines that spend the novel obsessing over their sadomasochistic relationships.

All in all, the series has a lot of promise from this first book. I read it in a day, partly because I stayed up way past my bedtime in the first 100 pages. I never rolled my eyes at the protagonist’s actions, never told her she was being an idiot. That may not sound like high praise, but for me and this genre, trust me, it is. I scoff at things in books I reread every year.

As escapist fantasy, this one goes on my list of keepers. Four stars: room for improvement, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go order Magic Burns, the sequel.

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4 thoughts on “Review: Magic Bites

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