Wednesday 12 September 2018

#CBR10 Books 66-78: "The Kate Daniels series books 1-9", "Magic Gifts", "Gunmetal Magic", "Magic Stars" and "Iron and Magic" by Ilona Andrews

Total page count: 3747 pages

#CBR10Bingo: Throwback Thursday

Spoiler warning! This is my re-read of the first nine books in the Kate Daniels series, in addition to the two books books set in the same universe, Gunmetal Magic and Iron and Magic, as well as two of the more essential novellas to complete my revisit of the complex and fascinating world that Ilona Andrews have created. If you read through this review, I will assume you are familiar with the series already.

If you haven't read the books yet, but are looking for a good introduction, check out Den of Geek's very cool article here.

Magic Bites - rating: 3.5 stars

This is the first novel that husband and wife duo Ilona Andrews ever published. They've said several times that it's rough, and this is certainly true. When recommending the series (which I've done to SO many people) I always insist that said person read books 1 and 2 before making up their mind about the series, as it really just isn't fair to judge the series on just this first effort from the writers.

The main problem with the book is that Kate, our protagonist, doesn't feel quite like herself yet. She's a bit too much of the stubborn loner and her absolute refusal to trust or work with anyone else is the reason it takes her much longer than necessary to solve the book's main mystery and figure out who the nasty kidnapper/murderer is.

Nevertheless, much of the Andrews' excellent world building is already in place. The post-apocalyptic Atlanta, where technology and magic constantly battle to be the driving force, where there are powerful shapeshifters and magic users in society, where you can encounter all sorts of scary beasties if you're not careful and anyone who wants to survive long term should be proficient with bladed weapons or know someone who is.

While Kate doesn't feel quite right yet, a lot of the supporting characters are there pretty much from the get go. We get Kate's first meeting with Curran (who is oh so very alpha, and I can see why quite a few readers have a problem with him in the first few books), the Beast Lord who rules Atlanta's huge Pack of shapeshifters; Jim Shrapshire, Kate's sometime mercenary partner and were-jaguar. Derek, who becomes Kate's loyal sidekick as the series progresses. Saiman, the scientific expert who can twist his body into any shape, and seems determined to find one Kate finds pleasing.

This is the weakest book in the series, but it's also one of the shortest and should be read just to get a proper feel for the world Kate Daniels inhabits.

Magic Burns - 4 stars

In my mind, this is "the one with the magic flare and the legendary hunter". I suspect that if you don't like the series after finishing this book, it's just not going to be for you. So far, absolutely NO ONE I've introduced the books to (and we're talking double figures by now) has decided not to keep going after finishing book 2.

Every seven years or so, the world is overwhelmed by powerful magic flares, when magic is super strong for several days and even gods can manifest if given the right enticement. Kate is asked to help the Pack locate some stolen maps, that keep being snatched by a mysterious bowman who can appear and disappear into thin air.

Already, Kate is becoming less of an ornery loner, we are introduced to Andrea, who becomes Kate's best friend. Andrea is a petite blonde and the Order of Merciful Aid's Master at Arms. She's described as being able to shoot the eyes of a die at long distance. If you can fire it, be it a gun or a bow, Andrea is probably lethal with it.

Kate also picks up a stray. A girl, Julie, is placed in her care. Her mother has gone missing, along with her coven, and Julie needs Kate's help in locating her. As it turns out, Julie's mother has met a rather grisly end, and by the end of the book, cranky loner Kate is also "crazy aunt" Kate, with a magically adept young woman to look after.

In this book, we're also introduced to the Bouda clan for the first time, the were-hyenas who are led by the formidable Aunt B, and Dr. Doolittle, the Pack medic. Kate reveals more of her powers and the readers get more hints at her heritage and upbringing, which is one of the reasons she's lived much of her early life alone and without making lasting connections.

Magic Strikes - 4.5 stars

Or "the one with the underground tournament" - said tournament always looms very clear in my mind, so imagine my surprise when I discovered that the actual "fight to the death" tournament that Kate and a bunch of the other characters enter only takes place in the last quarter or so of the book. Before that, Derek, Kate's faithful "boy wonder" is badly beaten and injured. Kate, along with Jim, try to figure out who's behind it, all the while hiding information from Curran, who gets increasingly more paranoid and angry about the whole thing. We discover Saiman's background and how he can change his shape so comprehensively. We're introduced to the Red Guard. Hugh D'Ambray is mentioned for the first time, and the readers get conformation of Kate's mysterious biological dad, who she's been hiding from her entire life.

This is the first book where we meet Dali, the severely short-sighted white Indonesian were-tiger, who is vegetarian and obsessed with drag racing. Here she's mostly delightful comic relief, she becomes more important later in the series.

Magic Bleeds - 5 stars

After a rather antagonistic relationship in the first book, more overt flirting in the second book and some pretty serious foreplay in book 3, this is the book where (after a somewhat rocky start in he book) Kate and Curran finally embark on a relationship. Not all of the Pack are entirely happy about Curran's choice of partner, even less so once it becomes clear that the new big threat to Atlanta is a sinister and extremely powerful relative of Kate's. Over the course of the book, Kate leaves the Order of Merciful Aid because of ideological differences, has a falling out with Andrea and has to spend much of the end of the book proving her worth and tenacity to the shapeshifters of the Pack.

I like Erra, she's a very good villain. This book shows more than any before it that Kate is no longer a bitter loner with no support network. While mutual stubbornness and a lack of communication keep Kate and Curran apart at the start of the book, when they resolve their differences, it's pretty spectacular and it's made quite clear over the course of the book that this is it for both of them - no going back now. While the readers had their suspicions about Kate's parentage confirmed in the last book, she tells the man she loves about it here, even fearing that he might reject her. While Curran's adolescence was bad, Kate's whole family background is a whole other level of f*cked up.

Magic Slays - 4.5 stars

Kate has left the Order of Merciful Aid behind and is trying to make a living as a paranormal investigator on her own, but at least initially, no one is hiring her. Then it becomes clear that a missing inventor is responsible for a device that could pose a massive threat to anyone with magical abilities, meaning all the shapeshifters or even vaguely magically adept people in Atlanta could die. While trying to enlist help to locate the fanatics who have the device, Kate needs to talk to several of the magical factions, including the witches and the vholvs. She comes to discover that what she has believed her entire life about her mother and stepfather was a complete lie and when her ward, Julie, is in danger, she needs to come to terms with how far she's willing to go and use her formidable powers, even when it goes against good reason, to save her.

Despite having read this twice before, I remembered very little about the details of the story. I remembered that Julie was put in danger, but I had forgotten all about the major plot stuff, and Kate and her allies having to track down the anti-magic nuts. Hence it came as a happy surprise that this book was the introduction of Roman, handsome and sarcastic black vholv and high priest of Chernobog. Evdokia, who we first meet in book 2 also plays a more prominent role and her family relationship to Kate is revealed.

Magic Gifts - 4 stars

This novella is classified as 5.4 in the Kate Daniels series. Its action takes place at the same time as Gunmetal Magic and it was included at the end of said book, but was originally released as a newsletter present to the fans. Kate and Curran are going out for dinner, when they the death of a young woman after a necklace was gifted to her by her boyfriend. Said necklace ends up around the neck of her little brother, and it's clear that it's cursed in some way and will need to be removed soon or the boy will die too. In order to help the child, Kate and Curran need to confront some neo-vikings, negotiate with a very deadly creature and speak to a dwarven smith.

While you don't HAVE to read this story to get a full picture, it's inclusion as a bonus at the end of the Andrea book makes it obvious that the authors thought it might be good for the readers to have access to it. It mainly shows that Kate is perfectly willing to put her life on the line just to save one single child, it doesn't have to be the end of days or an upcoming massive threat.

Gunmetal Magic - 5 stars

Otherwise known as Andrea's book. Dumped by her Bouda boyfriend Raphael, rejected by the Order of the Merciful Aid (the only place she'd felt at home) and generally not in a good place, Andrea Nash is not having a good time of it. Having made up with her best friend Kate, all she can do is try to piece her life back together slowly and try to avoid thinking of Raphael. Which isn't easy when she's assigned to investigate four dead Pack members at one of Raphael's construction sites. To add insult to injury, it seems Raphael's rebound girlfriend is some sort of stuck up supermodel. While Kate's off with Curran dealing with who knows what, Andrea tries to track down the giant snake creatures that seem to have killed Raphael's work crew.

I love this book for many reasons. First of all, it's so much fun seeing Kate and Curran through the eyes of another character. The authors wisely have them only showing up in small doses, so as not to overshadow Andrea's achievements in her own right. Secondly, Roman the black vholv plays an important supporting role in the book (he wears Eyore pyjamas!). Third, the romance between Andrea and Raphael, while on the rocks at the start of the book, is pretty epic and the way Andrea finally gets her revenge for him parading a vacuous supermodel through her office made me laugh out loud when I first read the book and again on my re-read. As always, there are some truly spectacular fights with some really nasty beasties in the book (the Andrews have a terrific imagination for enemies and threats of all kinds). Ascanio, the teenage Bouda, is around as Andrea's hormonal and sometimes exasperating teenage sidekick. Andrea has to work through the abuse and horror of her childhood and make a decision about who she wants to be, and once she makes up her mind, she's not going to settle for being anything but the best at it.

Magic Rises - a grudging 4 stars, if I gave quarter ones, this would be a 3.75. It's the second weakest book in the series, after book 1.

The one where they go to Europe. Desperate for panacea, the herbal remedy that can massively reduce the risk of shapeshifter children going loup (basically their animal instincts taking over and them having to be put down), Kate and Curran agree to travel to the Black Sea to mediate in a shapeshifter conflict, even though it's obviously a trap of some sort. They can only take a support crew of about twelve other shapeshifters, which is unlikely to be enough if there's any kind of massive threat.

This book sees the proper introduction of Hugh D'Ambray, Warlord to Roland (Kate's ancient and incredibly powerful dad). While Hugh's handsome and charming and has his own European castle, he's also tremendously dangerous and, being trained by the same man as Kate since childhood, a ruthless and extremely efficient killer. Over the course of much of the book, Kate and Curran are at odds, as he's not telling her his real plans and making her crazy insecure and jealous by pretending to flirt with a young, beautiful werewolf. Hugh happily takes advantage of Kate's jealousy (although as is pointed out in Iron and Magic by his lovely wife, he takes entirely the wrong track in trying to seduce Kate away from Curran and the shapeshifters). There are also strange, scaled and flying shapeshifters trying to kill not only Desandra, the werewolf the Atlanta Pack are there to protect, but pretty much everyone in the American delegation.

I can sort of see what the authors were trying for here, but Curran's plan is no less frustrating for the reader on a second read. I knew what he was trying to do and why and I still wanted him dropped from a great height onto really spiky things. Hugh is a wonderful antagonist and really gets to shine here. As Kate observes, he is pretty much what she could have become and probably what Voron, her stepfather (and Roland's first Warlord) wanted her to be. He's her biological father's right hand and while Kate tries to be wary of him, she cannot help but be curious about Roland and the things Hugh can divulge about him. The situation is obviously not helped by Kate being unsettled and worried about the attacks and Curran's utterly moronic tactics. Thankfully, Curran grovels profusely towards the end of the book and completely and wholly admits to being wrong. That helps a little. There are also were-dolphin pirates at one point, which is a wonderfully creative idea. That this book also introduces Desandra, who is, to an extent, mad as a box of frogs, but so much fun as well.

Magic Breaks - 5 stars

Initially, the series was only ever supposed to be seven books, and as a result, a lot of the storylines established earlier in the series come to a head in this one. Curran is called away on Pack business, and while he's gone, Hugh D'Ambray shows up in Atlanta and tries to get the Pack implicated in the grisly murder of one of the top Masters of the Dead. He wants to stir up a lot of trouble, and when Kate cleverly manages to find a way through, he abducts her and nearly starves her to death in a water-filled pit. Accidentally teleported along with her is Ghastek, one of the other powerful Masters of the Dead - he and Kate have a lot of time to bond while trying not to die. Kate finally faces her father and the power struggle that ensues has unexpected results.

I love this book. I love Kate's crazy family. Much as I like Kate and Curran as a couple, I like that Curran is sidelined in the story for more than half of the book, so Kate needs to interact with and rely on other characters to solve her problems. I love the way the authors twist and subvert the reader's expectations when it comes to Roland and his expectations of Kate.

Magic Stars - 4 stars

Jullie and Derek work together to avenge the death of a local family and try to prevent a magical artifact from falling into the wrong hands. I reread this one because I couldn't remember if it was essential to the overall plot of the series or not. It's not, really, but again, I enjoy seeing our main cast through the eyes of other supporting characters

Magic Shifts - 4.5 stars

A book with rather lower stakes than book 7, following such a game changing story. Kate and Curran are separated from the Pack and living in suburbia. Kate is asked by Curran's adopted sister to find Eduardo, her boyfriend, while Curran, bored from no longer having fifteen hundred shapeshifters to boss around, decides to take over the Mercenary Guild.

Another interesting villain taken from a previously untapped source of mythology, some spectacular battles, a lot of cool character interactions and fun scenes of Kate and Curran getting used to their new neighbourhood.

Magic Binds - 4.5 stars

Kate and Curran are close to getting married, but Roman, who is going to officiate, discovers that she's done absolutely zero about the wedding planning and takes over that side of proceedings as well. Meanwhile, the witch oracle have dire visions of what Roland is planning next, and it doesn't look good for Curran or Kate's potential future child. In order to stop the dire prophecies from coming true, Kate decides to do something truly crazy, so her father can't possibly predict her actions.

Roman is one of my favourite supporting characters, so seeing him trying to be Kate's wedding planner is naturally a hoot. Andrea is massively pregnant at the start of the book, and it's lovely to see what she and Raphael end up naming their child. We get the unlikely return of Erra, Kate's unorthodox aunt - who turns out to be a very useful ally. I'm very glad I reread the book, as I had forgotten a LOT of the details, including most of the big battle towards the end of the book, before the long awaited wedding.

Iron and Magic - 4.5 stars
Audio book length: 12 hrs 51 mins

Obviously, it's not been all that long since I first read this. My original review can be found here. This time I listened to the book in audio, having discovered that Steve West (whose voice I really like) was narrating it. As is often the case when I'm excited by a new release, I go through it very quickly. It was good to revisit the book and have it read to me, so I had to take a bit more time out of it.

As I said in my original review, I very much appreciate that the authors didn't in any way go back on their previous work and try to soften just how bad a person Hugh was. The book reveals that in order to have an efficient Warlord, Roland manipulated Hugh's emotions, making it harder for him to question orders he may otherwise have hesitated to carry out. No excuses are really made for Hugh's past, but it's clear that now that he is his own man, having to figure out what to do next, he isn't necessarily quite the monster he has appeared to be. Also, his new wife is more than a match for him.

The only gripe I had with the narration was that it was obvious that no one had informed the narrator that Andrea, unlike Rafael and Ascanio (who both appear in the book) is not a Hispanic character and should not have been given the accent she is. Apart from that, I have no complaints and am considering getting the next two Iron Covenant books in audio as well.

Judging the books by their covers: Ilona Andrews famously have some dreadful covers for a lot of their paranormal fantasy books. I have lost count of how many different cover models there have been portraying Kate over the course of the series (especially since sometimes the foreign editions or e-books have a different dark-haired lady with a sword than the original paperbacks). The common theme on all the books is your dark-haired, tough looking young woman with a big sword (that would be Kate) and a lion (that would be Curran). I think my least favourite of the covers is Magic Slays (Kate's face looks weirdly skeletal on one side), whilst the one I dislike the least (can't really say I love any of them) is book 8, Magic Shifts.

I frequently think of the Kate Daniels series as Magic verbs, because each book in the main series begins with the word "Magic" followed by a verb in the present tense. Even the spin-off books, about Kate's BFF Andrea and one of her main adversaries, Hugh D'Ambray have the word in the title, so you can see that they're connected to the main story, even if they can be read independently.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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