Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews
Published: 2007, Ace
Series: Kate Daniels, #1
Genre: Adult Urban Fantasy
Source: Library book
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“What kind of woman greets the Beast Lord with 'here, kitty, kitty'?”
I've been meaning to start the Kate Daniels series for a while now. Reading young adult fiction almost exclusively for a solid period of time can become a bit tiring. As much as I love coming-of-age stories and stories of self-discovery, sometimes it's nice to have a protagonist already be self-aware of the person he/she is and work with that. And Kate Daniels is certainly a physically strong female protagonist whose emotional maturity and self-confidence make for a refreshingly more mature read.
In a futuristic Atlanta, technology and magic vie for dominance. Signs of modernity have begun to crumble in this new world, replaced by new challenges, new governing bodies, and new rules. This is the world that twenty-four year old Kate Daniels lives in. Kate has been (barely) getting along by herself when she finds out that Greg, her mentor and one of the few friends she has, was violently murdered, along with a vampire. Greg's murder is not something that Kate can just disregard, so she reluctantly drags herself back into the politics that make up her world, collaborating with The Order of the Knights of Merciful Aid in order to find Greg's killer. Her investigation leads her to discover more deaths and other, even larger problems, and Kate finds herself working alongside the were-humans of the Pack, as well as the necromancers from the Masters of the Dead. As she struggles to make sense of the strange events, Kate discovers that she can no longer avoid the paranormal scene, and perhaps she no longer should.
At its heart, Magic Bites reads like a work of detective fiction. Kate first tries to solve the mystery of her guardian Greg's death, and, in her search for truth, discovers more and more questions that must be solved. Narrowing down lists of suspects, figuring out clues, examining motives. Perhaps that's where my issues with this novel started. Besides the rare exception of the television show Veronica Mars, I really am not a fan of mystery or crime shows; my mind simply doesn't work that way. Needless to say, in that aspect Magic Bites and I did not get along very well.
Fortunately for me, however, the main redemption of this book came in the form of its protagonist, Kate Daniels. Whenever she gets into tight binds, Kate relies on herself, her knowledge, her skills, and her determination, to make things better. Her reliance on herself makes her admirable, but just as admirable is her ability to admit that relying solely on oneself is lonely, that that's not always the best way to live and operate. Contrasted with the sarcastic, practical, and tough-as-nails heroine are hints of a milder, more insecure one. Although Kate is good at her job and efficient, she does not completely disown her more feminine side. Those details are what truly make Kate into a three-dimensional protagonist.
One of the reasons that I love all types of speculative fiction is that I love the worldbuilding that goes along with them. Is this speculative world one much like our own, with subtle differences here and there? Or is it something utterly different and fantastical? The world that Kate Daniels inhabits ultimately isn't too far removed from our own world. What distinguishes it is the power play between technology and magic, which is a clever reversal of a common trope. How often do we as readers experience worlds where magic equates to an older world, while the use of technology makes the world seem more futuristic? In Kate's world, it is the magical side that is more powerful, while the use of technology and "modern conveniences" severely limits people.
While I think that the premise behind the worldbuilding is great, I found it suffered a bit in its execution. In direct opposition to the dreaded information-dumping technique, I felt as thought Andrews didn't supply me with enough information on what caused the world to become the way it was. There are allusions to events here and there, but nothing that was quite as substantive as I'd hoped to learn. The magic in the world seems to be controlled by two main groups: The Masters of the Dead, run by necromancers who control zombie-like vampires, and the Pack, were-creatures organized into a paramilitary group. I couldn't say why that is. Nor do I understand the dynamics behind The Order of the Knights of Merciful Aid, beyond the fact that they're there to help govern the world, along with the police and other, more typical governing bodies. Perhaps some of my lack of knowledge can be attributed to being distracted as a reader, but, really, if I have trouble recalling any details of the major power groups, I consider that to be a problem. The characters, their allegiances, and their relationships to Kate also did not feel clear enough. At least I know that Kate Daniels is a series, so this unfulfilled knowledge is something that has the potential to be better understood over time.
Magic Bites offers tantalizingly enticing snippets of great characters, plenty of intrigue, and an interesting and complex new world. This first novel just didn't provide quite enough of any of those aspects to really satisfy my questions. From what I've heard, this series only gets better, so I'm hoping I'm able to form a stronger attachment with Kate's story in the upcoming installments.