Magic Bites is the first book in the Kate Daniels series by husband and wife writing team Ilona Andrews. The second and third books in this urban fantasy series are Magic Burns and Magic Strikes. Magic Bleeds, the next novel, will be released on May 25 of this year.
Kate Daniels is a sword-and-magic wielding mercenary living near Atlanta, Georgia. When a magic fluctuation hits and her careful warding spells are down, she finds a vampire in her house. The vampire is controlled by Ghastek, who has a brief conversation with Kate in which he asks her if she has seen her guardian lately. Then the vampire rather abruptly leaves, as Kate wonders why they were watching her for long enough to get in as soon as her wards were no longer functioning.
Kate immediately calls the Order of the Knights of Merciful Aid and asks for Greg, only to discover he was recently killed on the job. Since there are not many creatures powerful enough to kill the knight-diviner, Kate is quite shocked by this. Even though she normally avoids the Order, Kate goes there and obtains permission to investigate what happened to Greg personally – landing her right in the middle of a conflict between the People, who control the vampires, and the Pack, the shapechangers.
Magic Bites throws you right into the story and world, and it can be a bit confusing at first since it is not an urban fantasy setting with paranormal creatures in a modern world that otherwise closely mirrors our own. There are fluctuations in which magic works and technology no longer works and vice versa. Right in the first paragraph, one of these changes occurs – Kate’s magical defenses go down and her TV immediately starts up. Since it just happened without explanation, though, it wasn’t until later that I got an idea of what that really meant. While I definitely prefer being shown what is happening like this to long infodumps, there are times I would have liked a little more detail and a better idea of what was going on. (Although it’s also completely possible that I missed a lot of the obvious due to being sick when reading this.)
Even though it does have some of the usual urban fantasy creatures, they are a bit different from the norm. While there are vampires, they are creepy, quite ugly and not some sort of sexy, charming almost-human being that draw women to them like magnets. They roam the streets controlled by necromancers, who use them to do their bidding. Also, instead of being limited to a werewolf pack, the Pack consists of many different types of shapeshifters – werewolves, were-rats, and assorted were-cats including a were-lion at the head of the Pack.
There’s definitely a lot of interesting world-building here, but there’s also a lot left unexplained that I hope is explored more in future books. It would be nice to know how the world got this way and more about how magic works as well as the magic/tech waves. That’s part of the fun of reading a series, though – all the unanswered questions and the anticipation of which ones will be answered in the next book.
The first half of this book was a little hard to get into. The world was an interesting place, but it took a while for the plot to pick up as Kate went from place to place talking to various people trying to solve the mystery of who murdered her guardian. Once the story was set up some and the main characters were introduced, it started getting a lot easier to get into and I found myself really enjoying the second half, especially as I found myself caring more about Kate and what happened to her. Curran’s increasing role didn’t hurt, either, as I liked the Beast Lord from the moment he showed up and told Kate to call him “Lord” when she said she needed something shorter to call him than ‘The Leader of the Southern Shapechanger Faction.’ (And Kate completely deserved that after she decided to try to get the most powerful shapechanger in the region – who turns into a gigantic lion – to come out by calling ‘Here kitty, kitty, kitty.’)
In spite of being the first person narrator, Kate has a lot of secrets she’s holding back. For some reason, she is afraid of leaving any of her blood around (which is a bit tough being a mercenary who ends up wounded and bleeding a fair amount of the time), but never reveals why she’s so afraid to do so. She’s obviously powerful, but Kate just may be even more so than she’s letting on. Personality-wise, I wouldn’t say she’s that out-of-the-ordinary – she’s tough and a bit of a smart ass. It does seem as though we’re told she’s competent but not really shown it since she does say things that should get her into trouble with those one might not want to mess with. Often she acts like that to cover up how scared she really is, but it does seem like someone would have taught her better than that by now. Toward the end I did find myself sympathizing with her far more as she seemed to develop more as a character and I felt I better understood where she was coming from, though.
Other than some slowness, my main complaint was some continuity issues. There was one part where someone made an accusation and then Kate was blamed as the one who made it instead. That confused me and I had to go back and reread that part to make sure I remembered it correctly, and sure enough, it was not a suggestion made by Kate. Overall, I also felt the plot was much weaker than the world and some of the characters. It seemed rather contrived at times and not like it was naturally progressing toward a conclusion.
Magic Bites is strongest for its unique setting, which is an alternate world but more original than “the modern world with vampires and werewolves.” It had a somewhat rocky beginning, but the second half was a big improvement over the first one and left me eager to find out more – especially since the next two books are supposed to be much better than the first one.
My Rating: 7/10
Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.