Review: Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews

Is it just me, or are a lot of urban fantasy heroes more or less the same? They can kick serious ass, they have mysterious and as-yet-untapped powers, their parentage is often a question mark, they’re loners, and they’re also smart-asses with short fuses who can’t choke back an insult to save their lives. Meet Kate Daniels, the latest urban fantasy protagonist to check off all those boxes.

At the beginning of Magic Bites, mercenary Kate is passing a usual lonely night in her apartment and nursing an injury from her latest job when a vampire, “piloted” by an undead Master named Ghastek, interrupts her evening with a question: “When was the last time you saw your guardian?” Soon, Kate finds herself on special assignment for the powerful Order of Knights of Merciful Aid as she tries to figure out exactly what happened to her guardian, Greg Feldman — the only person her father trusted with the truth of Kate’s parentage.

I ended up liking Magic Bites, but I have to admit that I came close to putting it down early in the book because Kate felt so cookie-cutter. She’s a mercenary with a magic sword and a mysterious past who refuses help from anyone, including Greg. In a situation where diplomacy would help Kate keep her mysterious powers under wraps–which we are told, over and over again, is a must for her safety–Kate flings insults and starts a fight instead. I wanted to sympathize with Kate’s occasional loss of temper, but mostly I found myself annoyed by her apparent lack of smarts.

I was also annoyed by the book’s mysterious treatment of Kate’s powers and parentage. Kate herself knows who her parents are and what she’s capable of, but she avoids revealing this crucial information to the reader, even though the book is written in first-person narrative. I love mysteries, but I find it kind of obnoxious if the main character knows the answer and is just refusing to share. It also makes for some awkward writing, as Kate’s narration does cartwheels in order to avoid revealing facts that the authors* want to hold out on us.

Finally, the book’s pacing is jumpy. The authors occasionally skip a scene or two and let the reader know about crucial events or conversations after the fact. Sometimes this works, but at other times, I really felt like the skipped scene would have added important character development.

So why did I stick with it? First, the worldbuilding in Magic Bites really intrigued me. A resurgence of magic brought about a quasi-apocalypse, and now the world is divided into “tech time,” when technology works normally and magic is unreliable, and times when “the magic is up,” when magic flares and most tech doesn’t work.  The authors have a lot of fun imagining what life would be like in this world. (For example, what happens if you drive a magic-fueled car when the magic is up, but then have to return when the magic is down?) Kate’s world also won major points with me for bringing back gross and scary vampires. No emo Edward Cullens in sight here.

Second, Kate herself started to grow on me. Her actions became more cautious and her investigation became more interesting, she developed something resembling a sense of humor, and her mistakes made me wince in sympathy instead of roll my eyes. I also liked that she has to put work into being an ass-kicking mercenary. We see her lifting weights and training, which is a nice change of pace.

I’d recommend Magic Bites as beach or airplane reading for urban fantasy fans. It’s a debut with some flaws, but overall I enjoyed it. I’ll be intrigued to see if the sequel, Magic Burns, makes me want to keep reading.

Rating: Library Loan

* The books are written by a husband-and-wife team, Ilona and Andrew Gordon.


2 comments on “Review: Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews

  1. jtoufar says:

    I would keep reading. Granted the protagonist is a little urban fantasy cookie cutter but I prefer it to some others. You know the type: the woe is me (I don’t know why these things happen to me!), and get out of pickles by sheer luck and keep making bad decisions and then wonder how they get into those pickles in the first place (I am looking at you Rachel Morgan). I would argue this first book is their weakest and the series gets better from there.

    • Oh, ugh, the woe-is-me, oops-I-stumbled-into-an-apocalypse-again protagonists are the worst! (I hate to say it, but later Sookie Stackhouse books fall into this category for me.)

      I actually just read the second Kate Daniels … check back next week for a review! Not to give too much away, but I’m glad I gave the second book a chance and it’s really encouraging to hear you say the first book is the weakest in the series.

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