RogerBW's Blog

Magic Bites, Ilona Andrews 13 September 2018

2007 modern fantasy novel. In a world where magic ebbs and flows unpredictably, Kate Daniels is a mercenary who specialises in magical creatures. But her mentor has been murdered, and someone seems to be trying to start a war between the vampires and werecreatures of Atlanta.

A side note first: I've met a lot of stores and game settings where magic is opposed to technology in some way. This is one of the few that tries to make some slight sense of it: phones often work even in magic times, because most people have no particular idea of how they work and they might as well be magic anyway, but cars are perceived as things that go wrong and need to be fixed, and so they consistently fail when the magic rolls in. (Kate has one conventional car and one that runs on magic, and pays a lot of towing fees; it seems to me that, if you can't have one vehicle that runs in both sets of conditions, you'd probably be better off with a horse.)

But mostly this is a story about a reluctant, not to say cliché-ridden, investigator; there's even the scene where the cop who's good but restrained by rules says "I can't show you the file, but I'm just going to go away for a bit and leave this here". The change is that Kate isn't a trained investigator at all: she's a mercenary, and people hire her to kill things, not to find out which things need to be killed. (She's also got magic way more powerful than she admits to, which presumably will become more important later in the series but here mostly makes her a target.)

"Gotta be tough or dumb to go down into the sewers these days. So, which one are you?"

"I'm not dumb, but if I tell you I'm tough, you'll peg me for a bravo, so I'm going to smile cryptically." I gave him my best cryptic smile. He did not fall down to his feet, kiss my shoes, and promise me the world. I must be getting rusty.

But Kate manages to be a strong female character without turning into a Mary Sue or a Strong Female Character. When she screws up it feels as though it's for reasons that make sense to her, rather than because the plot needs her to; when she succeeds it's on her own terms. She gets scared, but she knows she can't afford to show fear to many of the people and things in the post-manaclysm world, so she gets snarky. Her sex life isn't all it might be, but really, there's a world to save first. (Also, she's no Anita Blake, fixing the world by sleeping with all the hawt boys.)

OK, it's not revolutionary and new; when I read it ten years ago I didn't seek out the second volume. But the inevitable romance isn't overbearing, the world is interesting even if some of it isn't explained in detail (the experienced SF reader will have no trouble putting things together), and the plot hangs together and leads sensibly from information to incident to new information. Followed by Magic Burns, and this time round I think I'll give it a try.

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