Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews (the pen name of husband-and-wife team Ilona + Andrew Gordon, apparently) is a pretty good book and I liked it. Young mercenary Kate Daniels investigates the murder of the man who had been her mentor and uncovers a plot to destabilize the peace between shapeshifters and vampires. Or maybe it’s shapeshifters and elves, I’m not sure. There were definitely vampires involved, though.
– Setting: The world feels fully thought out, lived-in, and real. I usually don’t like Urban Fantasy: most “oh, it’s like this world, only, heh, get this: magic is real!” worlds feel pretty damn shallow and unrealistic, relying heavily on lazy plot devices such as “intolerant damn religious nuts,” “intolerant damn racist nuts,” “intolerant damn government bigoted nuts.” The latter especially is prone to misuse. Almost every Bureau of Magic is generally poorly used, poorly thought out as a social structure, and mostly exists to obstruct or annoy the protagonists for x amount of scenes, but have no other utility in the world. (which–be honest. The supernatural IRS is going to be way scarier than any kind of vampiric monster any author can come up with.)
In Magic Bites, however, what seems to be the protective magical cop/US Marshals/whatever system (the Knights and Crusaders), isn’t explained very well at all–but that’s OK, because the author does know what they do, where they fit into society, and what they are capable of. I, the reader, only have an image, but it’s a consistent image and I am satisfied with it. (It also helps that that image is: badasses who take no supernatural backtalk).
– Plot: The plot is faced-paced and exciting without being over the top. There is no, “the world is going to blow up and we, a dysfunctional group of heroic screwups, are The Only Ones (TM), etc”. A father figure has been killed and must be avenged. A monster has done monstrous things and needs to be fought and stopped. The threat is immediate and palpable, the heroes are outmatched enough for a good fight, and motivated enough to make the victory feel earned.
– Characters: my main beef with Urban Fantasy is that it is generally thinly-veiled romance. There is just way too many Alpha Males, rippling muscles, black leather, and two-bit sexual tension–generally at the expense of plot momentum.
This is not the case in Magic Bites.
Here, the sexual tension takes a back seat while the heroine runs time-sensitive tests on a cadaver, avoiding losing a valuable lead. A black leather jacket appears in one scene and is roundly mocked. And detailed descriptions of each and every character’s musculature are, thankfully, scant.
The Alpha Male loses his temper…and his trusted lieutenant tells him to simmer down. He gives orders to his Pack…and characters who have no reason to obey him or who are not members of said pack, don’t snap to attention. He intimidates the hell out of the heroine–but she stands up to him without flinching.
And aside from being an alpha-ass, he earns the heroine’s respect and mine when he literally goes through fire to protect his people (and Kate). Props to Ilona Andrews: Curran is the first self-described Alpha I can stand to read more of.
Kate herself is an interesting heroine who sounds cliche on paper: a loner, a merc, tough-talking, has throwing knives and hidden past traumas…except she’s both genuinely tough and genuinely a decent person. Her motivation is the death of her guardian, a man whose posthumous actions speak more for him than any scene could.
– Humor: This book is also funny. Kate having apparently used a cattleprod on the escaped pet giant serpent of one character was one of my favorites, while the end scene (Curran fixing Kate’s roof) had me rolling. There was also the incident of a homeless-fanatic Crusader in a werewolf infirmary: “We dipped him. He had fleas.”
– What else…oh yeah. The action in this book is quite good, not the best, but good. There is a midway setpiece that might have served as a climactic battle just as well. The end battle was even better.
Rated: I was eager to get back to this book and finish it, eager to start the next one once I did. Four collapsing vampire lairs out of four.