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Friday, May 28, 2010

A Lion, a Tiger, & a Bear (& a Jaguar, & Hyenas & Wolves & Foxes & Snakes)... oh, my!

Okay, let me pull out my handy-dandy Urban Fantasy checklist. Kick-butt heroine? Check. Kinda mouthy, with attitude to spare and a stubborn streak half-a-mile wide? Check. Complicated family, work, and/or relationship issues? Triple-check (and gosh, that’s like the holy trinity of kick-butt heroine problems right there, isn’t it?). Forever in serious peril, alwaysthisclose to cashing in her chips for the very last time? You betcha. 
It sounds so simple, doesn’t it, and somewhat derivative of far too many other works in the crowded UF field? Well, yeah... and it likely would be, too, were it in hands other than those of the über-talented, wife-husband writing team better known as Ilona Andrews.
Now with four books (plus a short story) in the “Magic” series under their collective belt, you could say that the Andrews duo are really hitting their stride with this story and these characters... although for me, that sort of implies that their earlier stories weren’t as good, which isn't the case, at all. I’ve enjoyed each book--featuring Ms. Kick-All-Sorts-(and-Species)-of-Butt, herself, Kate Daniels--immensely, and book #4, Magic Bleeds, is no different; I LOVED this book. 
The premise of the "Magic" series, of course, is that the world therein exists in a sort of flux, with magic and “tech” fighting for dominance. When the magic hits, tech is wiped out, and things everyone takes for granted--like electricity, phone lines, and gas-powered vehicles, for example--cease functioning, forcing people to rely on more old-fashioned methods (think kerosene- or wood-stoves for heat and cooking, and horses for transportation, and you get the picture). When magic falls again, the standard mod-cons come back on-line. There’s no set schedule for any of this, either; magic and tech are each as likely as the other to be active at any given moment, and this unpredictability leaves the world wide-open for all sorts of chaos. (Humans will be humans, you know.)
Enter several different factions, all seeking varying degrees of control, power, and influence. First, there are The People, who have achieved something like a cult status with their combination of learned scientists and corporate structure, gaining egress into the minds and homes of regular folks with the serious, learned front they project publicly. (The flip side is that they also operate the vampires, which in this world exist as kind of creepy, undead marionettes that are “piloted” via mind control by highly-trained masters, into doing... well, things. The ordinary Joe is much better off not thinking too much about any of that business, though.) Next is the Order of Merciful Aid, which is the more elite detective/policing unit (a magical Scotland Yard, if you will). Its counterpart is the Paranormal Activity Division (PAD), the actual arm of the regular police who are first in line when trying to deal with magical mayhem. The Mercenary Guild is just what it sounds like, for-hire “fixers” of magical messes (when other methods have failed, or when other methods won’t net the payer the desired results). Then, there are the usual assortment of religious and quasi-religious groups all trying to exert some influence too, and smaller rogue bands of like-minded people running around doing their thing. And then, in Atlanta--where the series takes place--there’s The Pack, one of the largest organized groups of shapeshifters in the U.S., with their own sorts of powers and magics. Kate Daniels’ current job, as an employee of The Order, is to play nice with all of the other groups; you might almost call her a glorified liaison, if only she didn't get so filthy and bloody all the time in the course of her job.
And what else do we know about Kate? Well, she’s the natural-born daughter of an ancient god (Roland) who wants--who has always wanted, actually--to see her dead. She was raised by her stepfather after Roland killer her mother, in fact. (Apparently gods don't do well with "family".) Fortunately for Kate, the stepfather was also a warlord, and understood what it would require for Kate to be able to take care of herself. She studied history and magic extensively, and honed her fighting (survival) skills to a razor-sharp edge. She grew up alone (and lonely), with her studies and her skills her only focus. Kate's real purpose (in the eyes of her stepfather)? To someday kill Roland, avenging her mother (and later her stepfather, himself, after Roland did away with him, too). If it seems a little unbelievable that Kate would be so very skilled, so incredibly tough, well... it’s really all that she was born and ever raised to do or to be. (Friends? She didn't have any. Shopping for fun girl-stuff for her bedroom? Lazy days watching movies or reading sparkly vampire novels? Attending a prom? Didn't happen.) 
This time out, Kate is dealing, first, with a broken heart. Her much-anticipated date with The Pack’s leader, Beast Lord Curran-the-annoyingly-full-of-himself-yet-flirty-&-irresistible-lion, was a wash; the muscly man-cat was a no-show. (But... standing up the woman he’s been chasing hard for the last three books, who made him a home-cooked-to-order meal, and was going to serve it in her underwear, according to the terms of their agreement? You don't seriously think he didn't have a REALLY good reason for missing that, do you??) Still, it happened, and she is dejected. Of course, a broken-hearted Kate isn’t exactly going to throw herself off a balcony or console herself with mopey sudsers on Lifetime TV; no, our Kate is going to be prickly and grouchy and dangerous (erm, more so than normal, that is; this gal is pretty dang feisty under the best of circumstances). Luckily, all that pent-up bad attitude is about to find a really good outlet, when the latest certified baddie comes to town, creating havoc the likes of which she’s (and we’ve) never seen. (No, really.) 
See, it turns out that this baddie isn’t just your run-of-the-mill evil-doer, out to cause a little bit of mayhem before moving on. No, this one has a specific mission (involving Kate)... and has seven (count 'em, SEVEN!) really scary henchmen to help carry out said nefarious plan. It takes Kate every ounce of her brainpower--not to mention every bit of her physical strength--plus help from members of most of the aforementioned other factions, to try to vanquish the plague which has hit her city like the sledgehammer of the gods. Because if she doesn’t succeed? Well, let’s just say that Atlanta will soon be a whole ‘nother kind of place, for everyone (left) living there. Not good, not good at all. (And since the rise of magic has already knocked down, crumbled, and otherwise turned into ruins and rubble the majority of Atlanta's former skyscrapers, highrises, and other fancy-schmancy establishments, well... we're talking really bad news, here.)
It's not exactly the best time for her boss at The Order to be causing her grief (second-guessing her methods and her loyalty), but he is. Not the best time for her new (and first!) best friend to be having problems with her boyfriend (and work, and The Pack), but she is. Not the best time to be looking for--or at least, finding--a new pet, but she does. And certainly not the ideal time to be stuck in a turbulent relationship maelstrom with the Beast Lord of Atlanta (whose 1,200-plus followers are actively following every step forward, backward, or sideways in their relationship), but that’s just the way it is. In Kate’s world, there’s never really a good time for anything... but a girl has to live, right?
It will hardly be spoiling anything to say that Kate does, indeed, emerge victorious at the end of the story. Bloody and bruised, just as you'd expect, but alive. (There are at least three more books in the series, so her victory is sort of a given. That doesn't mean it isn't a roller coaster, edge-of-your-seat ride getting there, though.) For anyone who has been sorely missing some major kick-butt action sequences in his/her reading of late, well, look no further; there are awesome battle scenes aplenty, here. There's also considerably more backstory, which is always fascinating to read--particularly as that history manages to wend its way throughout each book in the series, cluing us in to the greater meanings behind the things that happen; the Andrews team continues to excel at world-building. You want humor? There’s no shortage of funny bits, particularly when Kate and Curran are interacting. The witty banter just flies between the two of them, with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments to lighten all the heavier, scarier parts. (A couple of scenes, in particular, are just brilliant. You'll probably go back and reread them a couple times before you can turn the page; I know that's what I did. ;)) Perhaps best of all, Kate continues to evolve. She isn’t some static, one-note character who always acts or reacts predictably; she is changing just as the world is changing around her. Although she’s never been "childish"--her upbringing was far too serious to allow for juvenility--it kind of feels like our Kate is growing up... or at least, growing into the person she needs and wants to be. And honestly, who can complain about that?
I highly recommend this book. Afficionados of the whole "Magic" world already know it's a must-read; but hopefully, the Andrews duo will gain some new fans with this one. It's totally worth all the hype... and the wait. :)
GlamKitty rating: 5 catnip mice (out of 5 possible)

2 comments:

  1. I've got this one in paper and on the Kindle (and probably shortly on the iPad). I want it to always be near so as to reread. :D (And also I want to encourage IA's publisher to appreciate 'em!)

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  2. I have two paper copies and Kindle version, myself! (Yep, it really is That. Good. :D)

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