Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Magic Burns - Ilona Andrews

"Bring your army little god! My sword is hungry!"

Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews is the second in her Kate Daniels series, set in a world where Magic came back, ending, or at least highly disrupting the reign of technology. However it comes and goes, ebbing and flowing like the tides as the magic returns into the world. Not only does the magic bring power, but it transforms the world with its abilities, and when the magic is in control, everything from phones to cars shuts down, not to mention skyscrapers.

The heroine Kate Daniels is a mercenary working for a modern day version of the Knights Templar(called the Order), toting a flesh melting sword and a take-no-shit attitude. Which has all the makings of a good Urban Fantasy story. World shattering danger? Check. Summoning of elder gods or in general things MAN WAS NOT MEANT TO KNOW? Check. Vampires and Werewolves? Check. Magic? Check. Sword slinging violence? Check. Sexy situations? Double check.

The world itself makes for some interesting twists on what you usually see with your urban fantasy. Instead of the "Magic was hiding" or "It was there all along" types that you usually see, often accompanied by all sorts of 'don't tell the normals' rules and regulations, we have magic and tech as a pendulum, swinging back and forth(Actually, the first thing I thought about was an association with global warming and cooling periods and solar cycles, but I don't think that's exactly what she had in mind).

Secondly, the coming of magic wasn't something that just shocked the world, it shattered it. The most obvious example being the Atlanta skyline, full of ruined towers and fallen buildings, not quite post apocalyptic, but you get the feeling that it felt pretty close. Although it does have what seems to be the trend in having scientific viral explanations behind the main monster staples(vamps and weres), the Vampires are not the sexy seducers you find in most urban fantasy. Mindless, putrefying, and bloodthirsty, and hopefully under the mental control of necromancers, who are in return hopefully under control of the law. There was a hilarious line about how to make a Vampire being a dozen forms and a stack of applications.

The heroine is instantly likable. Ready to kick ass and take names, with practicality and doing right at the top of her list. And unlike some female heroines in urban fantasy, doesn't get sidetracked by sex. There are steamy situations, and it almost seems that for all her protestations about not getting any, every other person is ready to jump into her pants. However the sexual aspects don't ever become the focus of the story-something which always tends to turn me off a bit to a book. Not to mention quoting lines of cheesy movies, and despite death everywhere she doesn't become flooded with existential angst, another danger of the genre.

The other characters are also interesting. I just have to give props to the heroine's coworker Andrea at the Order for excellent pistol choice(she carries SIG226s if you're wondering). Sorry, inner gun nut coming out, anyways, every one of them have at least an interesting quirk that make them stick in your mind. However it felt very uneven in how they were covered. Perhaps it's just because of the long time it's been since I read the first book in the series(Magic Bites), but some of them don't appear long enough to get more than that single quirk. For instance, Saiman appears for a single scene, and later is referenced to another character simply for that trait(wanting to bed the protagonist). They come on stage and then disappear just as quick. Now if you know them from the first book, then you won't need any explanation, but I could easily see losing track if you didn't have at least some foreknowledge.

One of them really stood out for me, Bran, a warrior from another age who made the unwise choice of making a bargain with Morrigan. I'm trying not to give too much of the plot away, but suffice to say, it was like seeing a character Robert E. Howard or David Gemmell could have written about, but all barbarian, no heroism.

Now I have to admit, I'm a sucker for good Urban Fantasy, and that is what this is. Between getting in into my grubby little hands and turning the final page I doubt more than 4 hours passed, including the ride back from the bookstore. So it quite definitely has my recommendation, with the reservation that you really should read the first book of the series before this one. As I mentioned, some recurring characters really should be known about beforehand, and some of the explanations of the world are only glanced at during this book, whereas they're more fully explained in the first. Also, it tends to jump around, the fact pacing and quick action sometimes left me feeling like some scenes were cut short where they could have lingered a bit longer.

Anyways, the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews is top notch urban fantasy, right up there with the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher or the Kitty series by Carrie Vaughn, and you would do well to jump in while it's still early in the run.

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