Rating: 5 stars
Date begun: July 31st, 2012
Date finished: August 1st, 2012
While this is sort of a stand-alone book, it fits into the larger framework of the Kate Daniels series, and as such, this book will be best enjoyed if you've read the previous 5 books in that series. Also, this review may and probably does contain spoilers for some of the developments in those books.
Andrea Nash lives in a post-apocalyptic version of Atlanta, where technology frequently is disabled when waves of magic sweep through the world, and it keeps things interesting, to say the least. Previously a valued member of the Knights of the Order of Merciful Aid, Andrea was retired when it came out that she is beast-kin, half human, half hyena (lower in status than a were-hyena). Shortly before she was kicked out of the Order, her romantic relationship fell apart, as her boyfriend didn't take it kindly when she picked the Knights rather than the shapeshifters in a city-wide crisis. So she doesn't have a whole lot left to lose, to say the least.
Now Andrea works with her best friend Kate (Consort to the Beast Lord, Alpha of all the shapeshifters in Atlanta and the surrounding areas, and generally a pretty scary lady) at Cutting Edge Investigations, trying to put her life back in order. She tends to wake up in the morning curled in the cupboard clutching some sort of weapon, plagued by nightmares about her really shitty past. When the head of Pack security asks Andrea to investigate mysterious deaths at a Pack construction site, she agrees, both because Cutting Edge needs all the business they can get, and because she needs to keep herself busy. The construction company with the dead shapeshifters is owned by Raphael Medrano, though, her ex-lover, and he appears to have moved on in a spectacular way, with a leggy, chesty, air-headed version of Andrea.
Shapeshifters are fiercely territorial and get crazy jealous, but Andrea has spent a lifetime trying to suppress her animal instincts and desperately trying to pass as a normal human. When she's forced to work closely with Raphael to solve the mysterious murders, however, it may be that she has no choice but to tap into her inner beast - both to solve the case, and win her lover back.
I love Ilona Andrews' books, pretty much without reservation. I was thrilled when I was actually in the US on release day for this book, and able to pick it up myself in a bookstore. While the book probably works fine for a new reader, to me, who's seen Andrea's development through the Kate Daniels books, I suspect that it's even more rewarding to get Andrea's full backstory and fight for her own HEA after getting to know her as a secondary character first.
There's been some talk on the internets of late about Strong Female Characters. The husband and wife team who are Ilona Andrews write PROPER strong female protagonists. They are capable, independent, fiercely protective and loyal to those they care about, not afraid to go out there and kick ass, but just as happy to stay at home and do girly things. Andrea has an exhaustive knowledge about weapons and firearms, and due to her incredibly awful time growing up, has taught herself to use said weapons expertly, so no one will ever mess with her again, and if they do, they're probably not going to live long enough to regret it. But she also loves dressing up, doing her hair and reading romance novels.
As I said, this book gives us a back story to Andrea that it would have been strange to include in the main series. As the books are first person narrated, it was fun to see the world in the Kate Daniels books through someone else's eyes. I especially got a kick out of Andrea's description of her best friend Kate (who obviously doesn't spend a lot of time describing herself in the main series) and her mate Curran, the Beast Lord of Atlanta (who Kate obviously has different views about than Andrea).
Like all Andrews books, this novel is action-packed, sometimes terrifically violent, occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, has an amazing cast of supporting characters, as well as main characters you'd love to hang out with (and have on your side in a fight). I think it may be my second favourite book set in the Kate universe, which is very high praise indeed. If you like other books by Ilona Andrews, don't miss this one.