Magic Binds is the ninth—and penultimate—novel in the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews. It’s been one of my favorite ongoing series since reading the phenomenal third and fourth volumes, and I was particularly impressed by how the author(s) balanced plot and action with character development and relationships. The world mythology and the mystery and revelations surrounding Kate’s power and family were also quite well done. However, I’ve been disappointed in the series since book seven, and this trend continues with Magic Binds: despite a thoroughly entertaining first half and a lot of new developments, I found myself underwhelmed by it in the end.
Kate’s wedding day is rapidly approaching, but flower arrangements, cakes, and bridal gowns couldn’t be further from her mind. Roland has been building what he calls a “small residence” on the edge of her territory (I suppose when one has been alive for thousands of years and lived in palaces, thirty thousand square feet may seem small), but Kate goes from aggravated to furious with her father when she learns he kidnapped Saiman. She cannot let him take whomever he wants any time he pleases, especially a resident of her territory, and she decides that she must confront her father.
Kate sets out after being warned not to burn any bridges but returns declaring that there is no longer a bridge. Not only did Roland refuse to free Saiman but Kate also learned that he’s been trying to influence her kid and has a field full of people he had crucified, and Kate let her fury fly without mincing any words about what she thinks of her father’s tyranny. To make matters worse, the Witch Oracle summons Kate about her visions of the future, all of which show a battle in which Atlanta is destroyed and Roland kills someone Kate loves—and the only person who has even the slightest chance of altering the course leading to this outcome is Kate herself.
Magic Binds had its moments—like world domination!—yet I thought that its more entertaining qualities masked a lot of problems. It does contain plenty of Ilona Andrews™ dialogue that made the first half fun to read, but I was bored throughout much of the latter part. The plot and characterization are uninspired, the pacing is rushed, and worst of all, it just didn’t make me care despite what should have been high stakes.
Earlier parts, especially the first chapter, are immensely entertaining. There are some hilarious, memorable lines, largely aided by the return of Roman and the prevalence of Roland. I did love the focus on Kate and Roland’s relationship and that it’s not simple: Roland is proud of Kate and does seem to love her in his own bizarre way, and Kate’s surprised to discover she does have affection for her father despite his being a tyrant. Kate also struggles with her power and the fact that she is her father’s daughter, which is a great personal conflict.
However, I was let down by the lack of actual character development. Though Kate does face some obstacles that make her seem less one note than she did in the last couple of books, they don’t actually end up showing much about her personality that we didn’t already know. On the one hand, it seems fitting with her character and I do love her spirit and drive to do what’s right, but on the other hand, she does seem rather stagnant, especially when compared to her growth earlier in the series. Recent books have mainly been focusing on her traits that have already been established, and though this novel is chock-full of revelations, they tend to have more to do with background and history than anything new that cuts to the heart of who any of the characters are as people. The secondary characters once seemed vibrant and fresh, but it’s starting to seem as though it’s just more of the same old snark and attitude whenever they show up.
This may be related to another issue I had: the pacing. There is so much packed into this book that it’s incredibly rushed, and that includes some of the character moments (although there were some I liked, such as Mahon’s change of heart). It flits from scene to scene without taking time to breathe, and some major revelations are conveyed in a brief conversation that came across as a way to fit in an infodump before dashing into the next scene. In particular, the ending was anticlimactic because it was so brief after all the buildup leading to it—but then, the main plot was rather unexciting.
Plots revolving around preventing a terrible future are difficult to make compelling, and even with the high stakes, I found this one rather dull. There’s been enough of an ongoing pattern of playing it safe lately that I just don’t feel any tension when a major character may be in danger anymore, and even aside from that, this was a lazy method of plotting since the visions sometimes propel the actions. Although Kate does at least have her own idea about how she can attempt to change the future, she executes some details based on what the oracle sees. There’s also another time she ends up in a specific place only because of a vision, and this is such a frustratingly transparent way to move characters from point A to point B without actual motivation beyond “it was seen.”
One of the many revelations in Magic Binds addresses an issue I’ve had with the series since Roland’s introduction in the seventh book: how someone as powerful as Roland tried but failed to kill Kate. However, I didn’t feel that the explanation made it more sensible. Since he’s human, I can absolutely understand the matters of the heart involved that led him to make a mistake in the first place, but I find the reasoning given for why he merely tried rather weak. It sounds as though this being (who is, after all, thousands of years old) doesn’t understand how his own magic works, and this just doesn’t fit with the way Roland has been portrayed at all.
Despite some promise and some thoroughly entertaining parts, I thought that Magic Binds fell flat overall. The authorial hand is too obviously hemming in the characters and plot instead of letting them flow naturally and it comes across as calculated, especially the “subvert the prophecy” story and the unconvincing depiction of Roland as extraordinarily powerful unless it suits the need to keep him from defeating Kate before she has a chance to level up. In my opinion, the books were much stronger when teasing the mysteries than they’ve been at providing answers and I found Magic Binds sometimes fun but mostly disappointing.
My Rating: 5/10
Where I got my reading copy: Finished copy from the publisher.