Magic Burns is the second book in the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews, who is actually a married couple instead of one writer. The books in this urban fantasy series are in order as follows: Magic Bites, Magic Burns, Magic Strikes and Magic Bleeds, which was just released at the end of May (fortunately, because this series is very addictive around the time Magic Strikes begins). There is also a related novella about Kate’s friend Andrea in the Must Love Hellhounds anthology called Magic Mourns, which takes place between the third and fourth books.
Note: The plot description may not make a whole lot of sense if you haven’t read the first book and are unfamiliar with some of the different organizations.
It’s actually somewhat of a relief when Kate is awakened by her phone at 2:00 AM: it’s Jim asking her to team up on a mercenary job and she could use the money. The two then proceed to hunt down a psycho intent on setting as much of the city on fire as possible. Although it’s preferable to capture the culprit alive, he ends up dead but not because of Kate or Jim – a crossbow bolt came out of nowhere and killed the pyromaniac as soon as they caught up with him. The marksman is gone, and Jim is summoned to deal with Pack business, leaving Kate to deal with getting the dead body back on her own.
Later Kate is visited by Derek, her werewolf friend from the Pack, enlisting her aid in finding the very same man with the crossbow who disappeared. After Jim left, he was shot by the same type of bolt and several of the Pack’s maps were stolen by the shooter, who then vanished into thin air. As part of the Order, Kate has contacts the Pack doesn’t and they’d prefer if it wasn’t known that they were searching for their missing property. Kate’s search leads her to a teenage girl whose mother disappeared with her coven of witches… making Kate wonder just what kind of forces they awakened during a time when magic power is at its strongest.
Although I liked the first book once the first half was over and it got to the better-paced second half, Magic Burns is a definite improvement. It grabbed my attention much earlier and the plot is more solid than in the first book, which had a lot of wandering around trying to solve a mystery involving the death of Kate’s guardian. There were a lot of scenes that felt like they were solely serving as an introduction to the various characters in the first book, and even though this novel introduced more new characters, their appearances flowed with the rest of the story much better instead of feeling somewhat stilted. This book’s mystery also unfolded more naturally instead of seeming like Kate was just going to one place then another place trying to gather information.
After reading the first book and becoming acquainted with the world, it is also much less confusing. The series is set in the year 2040 in an alternate earth with magic and mythology come to life (this particular book weaves a lot of Celtic myth into the story). Magic and technology alternate in waves – warding spells fail once the magic ebbs and technological devices no longer work when the magic waves hit. Magic Burns also explains more about when and why this happened, and it deals with one of the magic flares that occur every seven years (resulting in much stronger than usual magic). It’s a very interesting idea for a universe and makes for enjoyable reading, although I still can’t quite wrap my mind around why an influx of magic would cause guns to cease to work. Perhaps I’m just thinking about it too much since it is after all magic, but why would the mechanics of a gun cease to work but not a crossbow? Why would a sword or crossbow no longer be counted as technology just because they’re not more advanced weaponry? Don’t they follow the same basic laws of physics? Since this does mean the setting is so innovative and fun to read about, I try not to let myself get too hung up on the details or wonder just what I’m missing about how this works, though.
Although there are some similarities to other urban fantasy books, this conflict between magic and technology and the way the supernatural is handled sets it apart. There are vampires but they are not sparkly or handsome. They’re beasts that will just kill everything if their minds are not controlled by a necromancer. Werewolves exist as well, but there are also many other types of shapeshifters that comprise the pack such as jaguars, minxes, rats, bears, and hyenas. Learning more about the People (the cult/research facility that has a lot of vampires) and the Pack is another bonus to reading this novel.
The characterization is also much better than in the previous book and Kate herself is much more likable, which is good since she is the first person narrator of the story. She can still have a smart mouth, but I rather like that she’s also very blunt and straightforward unless she has a good reason not to be. Also, she also seems to be letting go a little more and letting readers in on more of her thoughts than in the previous book. As more of Kate’s secrets are slowly revealed, it really gives a sense of why she acts like such a tough girl sometimes and really works with her character. In addition, there are a couple of new relationships that make her seem much more soft-hearted. Early in the story, Kate takes responsibility for the teenage girl Julie but she’s more than a duty to Kate as she comes to really care for the child and is very protective of her. Another aspect that makes Kate seem to have more sympathetic is the start of her relationship with Andrea, a knight of the Order.
In addition to Kate, there are many other intriguing characters and she has some memorable conversations so many of them – of course, the aforementioned Julie and Andrea as well as some familiar faces from the first book, mainly Curran and Saiman. Curran and Kate still get on each other’s nerves but there’s potential for romance, and Saiman goes a bit nutty with the magic flare approaching, which made me even more curious about his magical abilities. All the other shapeshifters have human and animal forms, but Saiman can morph himself into any human form he’d like. The appearance of Derek, the teenage werewolf from the first book, was also quite welcome. There is not a single character I did not enjoy reading about – even Ghastek, one of the necromancers who Kate is not all that fond of.
The plot did seem to move a little too swiftly at times and crammed in a lot for a short book and sometimes the transitions felt a bit disconnected. Overall, it was much better than the first book, which moved too slowly at times, but this one did have some cases of too much happening too fast.
Magic Burns is much stronger than the first installment in every way – the plot is better although it is still weaker when compared to the world-building and character development, the novel is better paced, Kate is more sympathetic and there are some very memorable scenes between characters.
My Rating: 8/10
Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.
Reviews of other books in this series: