Jumpdrives & Cantrips


Magic Burns
April 11, 2008, 2233
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , , , ,

Magic BurnsMagic Burns by Ilona Andrews is one of the fastest reads I’ve had in a while. This urban fantasy book is the second in a series (following Magic Bites) featuring kickass-heroine-with-a-sword™ Kate Daniels. “Ilona Andrews” is actually a husband and wife writing team, and they are currently contracted for a novella and two more books in the series according to their site. Which I’m happy about, because they’ve hit on something good here. Magic Bites was a nice read, but not outstanding. Magic Burns is a definite improvement.

In Magic Burns, Kate Daniels shares time as a Guild Mercenary and a member of the Order (think of them as oft-magical knights with swords, books, sometimes guns, and an interest in helping people). Rampant gods, weres, vampires, undead, witches, and other magical sorts show up as Kate tries to protect a young street girl with a rare magical talent. And figure out why a disappearing crossbow-bearing thief keeps stealing the Pack’s maps. And find the missing witch coven. And survive the magic flares.

…And pay the bills.

Kate is nothing if not pragmatic. She’s not a genius, but she can figure things out with persistence and she has street-smarts. I love this, because it always annoys me when characters figure things out for no apparent reason. She is tough, and much as in the first books, her big mouth and impulsive nature gets her in frequent bouts of trouble. While she is far from perfect–especially emotionally speaking–her fighting ability and super-human ability to wield magical Words of Power sometimes seemed a bit much. Kate’s mysterious magic-laden past gets some air-time, but only teasers so we never really find out her full history.

As in Magic Bites, one of the main pleasures in this book is the world-building. Magic returns to the world after humans push things to the technological end of the spectrum (Andrews describes it as a pendulum in the book), but it flares in unpredictable waves that knock out some technology as this change occurs. Sometimes the magic works better, sometimes the tech does. But the magic keeps getting stronger. This makes for a neat plot device and also adds tension. The story takes place in a magical yet crumbling Atlanta. It has an apocalyptic feel, peppered with ruined skyscrapers and slums in areas with unstable and dangerous magic.

Two other things grabbed my attention. Most notably: the witty banter between various characters. It was paced well and often warranted at least a chuckle. The second is Kate’s love life, or lack thereof. Kate is a loner, and while she has hormones she is definitely afraid to listen to them. The well-constructed sexual tension between Kate and her main love interest, who just happens to be the Grand High Muckety-Muck of the Pack, is thick enough to plunk into a Jello mould and save for dessert. Which, in a way, makes me hope it doesn’t get consummated because it is so delicious.

However, while the book was a quick read, it kept speeding up in terms of action and events. It was as though there wasn’t enough time to unpack everything that happened in the last portion of the book. I understand some of the story needed to be cut for length, but I found things flying too fast and furious–except for an odd section that dragged as Kate tried to elicit a plot-turning gift from another character. I suspect the flow would have benefited from a slightly higher proportion of description to action in some parts to break up the action. I also would have liked to see more of other characters, especially Julie, the girl Kate spends her time protecting, and Kate’s colleague Andrea.

The fight scenes didn’t parse well for me; the flash and shine in the words felt as though it concealed a lack of knowledge and detail. For instance, Kate (who is kickass™ and all) suddenly decides to wield two swords instead of one, and I’m not sure she’s that kickass. From my limited experience wielding one sword is plenty hard enough to do without chopping off your own leg, much less two, and using both would be a lot more tiring if Kate doesn’t regularly train for it–which is something we never see as a reader.

Despite its faults, the words fly by and Ilona Andrews presents engrossing characters in a fascinating world. Magic Burns really caught my attention and held it despite the lulls. This is one urban fantasy series that pulls the scattered mythos of urban fantasy together into a cohesive mosaic. I’m curious to see where this series takes Kickass Kate™.

Andrews, Ilona. Magic Burns. New York: Ace Books, 2008. 260 pages. $6.99 (Canadian).

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