Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ilona Andrews’ Builds Kate Daniels’ Series
To Greatest Strength in Magic Strikes

The husband-wife writing team of Gordon and Ilona Andrews build fresh strength into their Kate Daniels’ urban fantasy series with the third entry, Magic Strikes. I devoured it, right after finishing Magic Burns.

Kate Daniels is a stone killer of ghastly supernatural beings in a world where magic and technology exist as erratically alternating realities that wash across the Atlanta landscape. The origins of Kate’s considerable magical resources – and magical sword called the Slayer – are cloaked in mystery in Magic Bites and Magic Burns. They become clear in the third novel in a back story as exotic and compelling as any of the thousand-and-one tales of Arabian nights. Andrews so deftly hides this back story that the reader is hardly aware of this missing element in the first two action-packed tales. We are used to stories commencing in media res (in the middle of things), and do not require every last detail about a hero’s biography. Does anyone care whether Sam Spade grew up in Iowa or California? Probably not. But Kate's back story matters. A lot.

Another subplot that keeps the stories steaming along is the mutual attraction between Kate and the lord of the shape shifters, the were-lion king Curran. His Beastliness, as the smart-mouth Kate calls him, has been keeping closer tabs on her than she’s known until this third novel.

“'His Majesty needs a can-I girl . . . and I’m not it,'” Kate tells a friend and a were-hyena at lunch. Asked to explain, Kate “leaned back. ‘Can I fetch you your food, Your Majesty? Can I tell you how strong and mighty you are, Your Majesty? Can I pick out your fleas, Your Majesty? Can I kiss your ass, Your Majesty? Can I . . .’”

At this point, Kate realizes the others have gone eerily silent. “'Technically, it should be may I’” Curran says without missing a beat from behind her. Like all cats, he has the gift of silent feet, even in human form.

This is a couple in the tradition of Hollywood’s fast-talking babes and smart-mouthed tough guys – a Nick and Nora Charles for a world where myth, murder, and mayhem meld in a seamless, intelligent blend. Long may they reign. In the first two books, they have slaughtered legions of the undead and vanquished an evil god trying to incarnate and destroy humankind. No wonder this busy pair do not have time for romance.

It’s taken three books for readers’ to get a figurative handle on Kate Daniels and for Curran to move in to get a literal handle on this killer chick with blood that can freeze in a cannibal villain’s veins, creating needles that rip him from the inside-out.

The denouement of Magic Strikes is a richly imaginative whorl of demons and monsters. Each new phantasmagorical creature is pulled from the far reaches of creativity that awe and delight me. How do the Andrews think of this stuff? The long story arc of the three novels, including the slow character development of Kate, astonishing revelations about the secondary character Shaiman, and the simmering romance, cohere gracefully. The third book was well worth the wait, and I am eager for four promised additions to this series.

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