Book Review: Magic Bites – Ilona Andrews

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“Atlanta would be a nice place to live, if it weren’t for magic…

 One moment magic dominates, and cars stall and guns fail. The next, technology takes over and the defensive spells no longer protect your house from monsters. Here skyscrapers topple under the onslaught of magic; werebears and werehyenas prowl through the ruined streets; and the Masters of the Dead, necromancers driven by their thirst for knowledge and wealth, pilot blood-crazed vampires.

 In this world lives Kate Daniels. Kate likes her sword a little too much and has a hard time controlling her mouth. The magic in her blood makes her a target, and she spent most of her life hiding in plain sight. But when Kate’s guardian is murdered, she must choose to do nothing and remain safe or to pursue his preternatural killer. Hiding is easy, but the right choice rarely so.”

 

Okay. Time to get real. When I read the above, I was more than a little dubious. When I read the above and then studied the cover art, I was about ready to look elsewhere for my cheap thrills. But, it came highly recommended, had a bunch of excellent reviews, and, given that I would be renting a copy and not purchasing it, I figured the risk was minimal. If I didn’t like it, I could always abandon it.

I found a copy to buy from Amazon before I had even reached the twentieth page.

Magic Bites is sharply intelligent, brilliantly crafted, and fit to bursting with snappy dialogue. I was about as ready to abandon it as I am my own name. It was a wonderfully enjoyable read, every single thing that I wanted, and genuinely good fun, a rollicking roller coaster of a novel that doesn’t once slip from the tracks. My only complaint wasn’t even a complaint, but only that I could easily have read more, and would have liked it to be longer.

In short: I liked it.

The plot is, arguably, rather simple – the main character, a sharp-tongued mercenary named Kate Daniels investigates the predictably suspicious death of her guardian – but, personally, I think it works. The potentially rather simplistic nature of the plot aids coherency, ensuring that the narrative has a clearly defined beginning, middle and end (trust me, that’s an asset) and a tense climax; there are more than enough surprises to generate anticipation and tension, and the entirety is executed in a manner that’s neither predictable nor dull, and that suggests at a laudable amount of prior consideration.

As for setting, it is (I was about to say ‘in short’ for the second time until I realised that this is anything but short) urban fantasy at its finest, combing magical elements with realism to create a cohesive setting that is both complex and practical, a factor that is, arguably, missing from many other novels of a similar genre.

In Magic Bites, Andrews covers every single detail, from atmosphere to the practical differences between territory claimed by shapeshifters and territory claimed by vampires, creating a world so vibrant it practically leaps off the page. It’s easy to imagine, wonderful to explore, and, if there wasn’t enough to enjoy already, it’s populated by equally vibrant, three-dimensional characters.

From Kate Daniels, our swashbuckling heroine, who faces a colossal variety of problems from the need to locate the killer cutting a swathe across her hometown to finding a dress that will draw attention away from the practically omnipresent bandages, to Derek, a shifter saddled with a steadily increasing tendency toward sarcasm, Andrew’s characters are entertaining, intelligent, and fundamentally distinct. They have enough similarities to exist in the same world, and enough differences to inspire sympathy and interest. I felt drawn into their stories, and extremely interested in finding out what happens next.

Finally, I would be remiss in finishing this review without a nod to Andrews’ style. There’s a definable assurance to Magic Bites that I fundamentally enjoyed, a kind of sharp, knowing humour lending extra weight to every word. It was, ultimately, for that reason that I was so ready to sign up to the series after only the first twenty pages, and why I could hardly stand to put the novel down even once. It motivated a swift, thoroughly absorbed read.

It’s a special kind of narrative style that makes the pages fly by and leaves the reader eager for more, and that’s exactly what Magic Bites has. As such, I gave it 5 stars, and would have loved to give it more.

 

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