Sunday, March 28, 2010

Review of Magic Bites

Magic Bites is the first book in the Kate Daniels series by husband and wife writing team Ilona Andrews. The second and third books in this urban fantasy series are Magic Burns and Magic Strikes. Magic Bleeds, the next novel, will be released on May 25 of this year.

Kate Daniels is a sword-and-magic wielding mercenary living near Atlanta, Georgia. When a magic fluctuation hits and her careful warding spells are down, she finds a vampire in her house. The vampire is controlled by Ghastek, who has a brief conversation with Kate in which he asks her if she has seen her guardian lately. Then the vampire rather abruptly leaves, as Kate wonders why they were watching her for long enough to get in as soon as her wards were no longer functioning.

Kate immediately calls the Order of the Knights of Merciful Aid and asks for Greg, only to discover he was recently killed on the job. Since there are not many creatures powerful enough to kill the knight-diviner, Kate is quite shocked by this. Even though she normally avoids the Order, Kate goes there and obtains permission to investigate what happened to Greg personally - landing her right in the middle of a conflict between the People, who control the vampires, and the Pack, the shapechangers.

Magic Bites throws you right into the story and world, and it can be a bit confusing at first since it is not an urban fantasy setting with paranormal creatures in a modern world that otherwise closely mirrors our own. There are fluctuations in which magic works and technology no longer works and vice versa. Right in the first paragraph, one of these changes occurs - Kate's magical defenses go down and her TV immediately starts up. Since it just happened without explanation, though, it wasn't until later that I got an idea of what that really meant. While I definitely prefer being shown what is happening like this to long infodumps, there are times I would have liked a little more detail and a better idea of what was going on. (Although it's also completely possible that I missed a lot of the obvious due to being sick when reading this.)

Even though it does have some of the usual urban fantasy creatures, they are a bit different from the norm. While there are vampires, they are creepy, quite ugly and not some sort of sexy, charming almost-human being that draw women to them like magnets. They roam the streets controlled by necromancers, who use them to do their bidding. Also, instead of being limited to a werewolf pack, the Pack consists of many different types of shapeshifters - werewolves, were-rats, and assorted were-cats including a were-lion at the head of the Pack.

There's definitely a lot of interesting world-building here, but there's also a lot left unexplained that I hope is explored more in future books. It would be nice to know how the world got this way and more about how magic works as well as the magic/tech waves. That's part of the fun of reading a series, though - all the unanswered questions and the anticipation of which ones will be answered in the next book.

The first half of this book was a little hard to get into. The world was an interesting place, but it took a while for the plot to pick up as Kate went from place to place talking to various people trying to solve the mystery of who murdered her guardian. Once the story was set up some and the main characters were introduced, it started getting a lot easier to get into and I found myself really enjoying the second half, especially as I found myself caring more about Kate and what happened to her. Curran's increasing role didn't hurt, either, as I liked the Beast Lord from the moment he showed up and told Kate to call him "Lord" when she said she needed something shorter to call him than 'The Leader of the Southern Shapechanger Faction.' (And Kate completely deserved that after she decided to try to get the most powerful shapechanger in the region - who turns into a gigantic lion - to come out by calling 'Here kitty, kitty, kitty.')

In spite of being the first person narrator, Kate has a lot of secrets she's holding back. For some reason, she is afraid of leaving any of her blood around (which is a bit tough being a mercenary who ends up wounded and bleeding a fair amount of the time), but never reveals why she's so afraid to do so. She's obviously powerful, but Kate just may be even more so than she's letting on. Personality-wise, I wouldn't say she's that out-of-the-ordinary - she's tough and a bit of a smart ass. It does seem as though we're told she's competent but not really shown it since she does say things that should get her into trouble with those one might not want to mess with. Often she acts like that to cover up how scared she really is, but it does seem like someone would have taught her better than that by now. Toward the end I did find myself sympathizing with her far more as she seemed to develop more as a character and I felt I better understood where she was coming from, though.

Other than some slowness, my main complaint was some continuity issues. There was one part where someone made an accusation and then Kate was blamed as the one who made it instead. That confused me and I had to go back and reread that part to make sure I remembered it correctly, and sure enough, it was not a suggestion made by Kate. Overall, I also felt the plot was much weaker than the world and some of the characters. It seemed rather contrived at times and not like it was naturally progressing toward a conclusion.

Magic Bites is strongest for its unique setting, which is an alternate world but more original than "the modern world with vampires and werewolves." It had a somewhat rocky beginning, but the second half was a big improvement over the first one and left me eager to find out more - especially since the next two books are supposed to be much better than the first one.

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.

Read Chapter One

Other Reviews:


orannia said...

Oh, great review Kristen! You really pinpointed what I liked - the world-building, the waves of magic/tech, the various factions (the vampires being controlled by necromancers I find fascinating :) - and what I didn't like as much - the first half of the book (where I was rather lost) and Kate's rather bad habit of speaking before thinking.

Both sorted themselves out I felt, in the second and third books. I still think Kate should keep quiet, but even she admits that sometimes she shouldn't say something (and yet she does). Normally, I don't like 'capable' heroines with smart mouths, but...there's so much more to Kate, as you discover *grin*

Word of advice, I would read the third book as close to the fourth being released as possible, as, while it doesn't end on a cliff-hanger, it does leave you (well, it did me) with HEAPS of questions...and the wait is painful :)

Kristen said...

Orannia - Thank you very much! The world was fantastic - and I thought that was a very interesting and different take on vampires as well. It was nice to see them as horrifying instead of the sexy, charismatic type that is everywhere right now.

Oh good, I'm relieved to hear I'm not the only one who found the first half confusing - I wasn't sure if my brain just wasn't working since I was sick when I started it.

I'm glad to hear that both the confusion and Kate's bad habit are sorted out in the next two books. Can't wait to discover what else there is to Kate, either! She was definitely growing on me more in the second half of the book in spite of her mouthiness since some other aspects of her personality seemed to be coming out more.

And thanks for the advice about reading book 3 - maybe I should read Magic Burns in April then and save that one for May then so I don't have a huge wait. I hadn't heard the ending made it so hard to wait for the next one, so that's good to know. :)

orannia said...

Kate's still mouthy in the latter books, but...she's knows that's the case. And the second book explains the tech/magic waves a bit more (but I'm keeping my mouth zipped so as not to drop any spoilers :)

WRT the ending of the third's not a cliff-hanger per say, do I explain this without spoilers. It ends and you're left wondering what the repercussions of certain decisions will be (if that makes sense). Hence the desire for the fourth book :) I don't think a month's wait would drive you mad...but it would be nice to finish three and start four IMO :)

I look forward to hearing what you think of the second book!

Angiegirl said...

Great review, Kristen. I agree on all counts. I liked it enough to read #2, which was even better and #3, well, #3 is made of awesome from beginning to end but you've heard me say that enough already.

Amelia said...

Just found your blog a few days ago and I have to say I love your reviews. Definately adding this to my TBR pile, along with a few others. I already had it in mind, but this sealed the deal.

It's so weird. The day I found your blog you had the Thief review up, and I had just finished the Thief. I agree with what you said, by the way. It's one of the reasons I kept reading your blog. It was fate! :D

Kristen said...

Orannia - I'm glad to hear that the magic/tech waves are explained in more detail in the next book. That was rather interesting and I'm curious to find out more about it.

Thanks for the clarification on the third book ending. It makes perfect sense that it may not be a cliffhanger exactly but there may be some repercussions as a result that would make one curious.

Angiegirl - Thank you! I keep hearing that about book 3 so I'm excited about reading that. And book 2, of course, but book 3 seems to be the one everyone raves about the most.

Amelia - Thank you very much for your kind comment! I hope you enjoy Magic Bites once it gets to the top of the TBR pile.

That's funny that the review of The Thief went up the day you finished it. Have you started reading the next book yet?

Amelia said...

Not yet. I need to make a run to the library or a bookstore. Have you?

Kristen said...

Amelia - I haven't gotten a hold of The Queen of Attolia yet either. A few more days - a glitch with Amazon's wishlist has made me pretty sure I'll be getting it for my birthday.

bestresearchpaper said...

Very interesting post! Thanks a lot!