Ilona Andrews’s Magic Bites and Magic Burns

cover art for Magic BitesIn the semi-near future, Atlanta has become a strange and dangerous place to live. Waves of magic sweep over the world with unpredictable frequency, canceling out all things technological for the length of their duration. The supernatural is in full force during these times, with shapeshifters, mages, vampires, and far stranger things coming out to play. But for all the chaos that accompanies these shifts between technology and magic and vice versa, there is still order, in the form of various organizations, from the Paranormal Activity Police Division, to the Order of the Knights of Merciful Aid. And then there’s Kate Daniels, a mercenary who will clean up leftover magical problems as necessary. She’s tough, no-nonsense, and capable. And it’s a living, even if it doesn’t pay the bills as well as it should.

Then her mentor is killed, and investigation leads her into an intense power struggle between the Masters of the Dead, necromancers who use vampires like non-living weapons, and the Pack, Atlanta’s resident shapeshifters. Someone seems to be playing both sides against one another courtesy of a string of murders, and Kate’s own involvement sets her up as the perfect person to get to the heart of things. All she has to do now is convince the Beast Lord, Atlanta’s most powerful shapeshifter, a werelion named Curran, to cooperate with her while she braves the treacherous streets of Atlanta. Should she fail, it’s likely that the necromancers and shapeshifters will go to war, destroying everything in their path. But who stands to benefit from such an event? Kate won’t quit until she’s seen it through to the end and avenged her slain mentor.

cover art for Magic BurnsSurviving that mess, in the next book Kate takes on a role as liaison between the Order of Merciful Aid and the Mercenary Guild, and business continues as usual. That is, until a flare threatens to hit. A thousand times more powerful than an ordinary wave of magic, a flare is a once-every-seven-years occurrence, a time when magic runs wild and anything is possible. A job to retrieve a set of stolen maps from the Pack leads Kate deep into the strangest parts of Atlanta, where mythical creatures prowl and the city itself seems alive and hungry. The arrival of a teleporting, crossbow-wielding stranger clues Kate into the fact that someone is playing a deadly game, and the stolen maps are just a tiny piece of something much larger. And when Kate takes on the protection of a teenage girl with untapped magical abilities, she takes on all of that girl’s unseen enemies, those who’d use her for their own nefarious means. A flare is coming, and gods are on the rise. Once again, Kate Daniels and her unlikely allies among the Masters of the Dead and the Pack are all that stands between success and disaster.

In Magic Bites and Magic Burns, Ilona Andrews has created a uniquely interesting setting, where magic and science coexist uneasily and anything is possible. Her world, Atlanta in particular, has an oddly not-so-post Apocalyptic feel to it, where time has clearly passed, and the alternating waves of magic and science have had very distinct effects on society and civilization and how it all fits together, and yet it’s still relatively familiar at its heart. There are a lot of great elements to be found in this series, unusual takes on the old and familiar tropes that make up urban fantasy – even urban fantasy like this – and Andrews has done an excellent job of making it all work. Vampires aren’t the dark and alluring undead of most series here; they’re piloted by necromancers as servants and weapons, making them all the more terrifying for their vicious, barely-controlled, mindless savagery. There’s no shortage of werecreatures to be found here, and it’s both intriguing and amusing that Andrews doesn’t restrict herself to the standard wolf, cat, rat types. No, she throws in hyenas, minks, bears, and other less common types, all united under the powerful, charismatic Curran.

Kate is a wonderful protagonist. Tough, stubborn, resourceful and adaptable, she handles every situation thrown her way as best she can, learning from her mistakes even as she plunges into one dangerous situation after another. There’s an excellent dynamic set up between her and the other players, especially Ghastek, the necromancer most likely to contact her when the Masters of the Dead need her unique brand of assistance, and Curran, whose authority she seems to defy and challenge without even trying every time they meet. You can see the sparks brewing between Kate and Curran as their personalities clash time and again, and while there’s a definite attraction between them, it’s just as obvious that it won’t kindle into anything major anytime soon. Kate’s too independent for that.

Andrews draws upon a wide variety of mythological creatures and ideas for her setting, and it really helps to establish this series as something wide-ranging and complex. Toss in genuinely intriguing, fast-paced plots along with the interesting characters, and you have an urban fantasy series with a twist, slightly reminiscent of the Shadowrun role-playing game but definitely standing on its own. I thoroughly enjoyed these two books, and I’ll be eagerly looking forward to the next, because I want to see just what Kate gets into next.

(Ace, 2007)
(Ace, 2008)