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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Book Review: Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews

I just finished Magic Bites, the first novel from Gordon and Ilona Andrews. I bought it after I met Ilona at WisCon in 2007, whereupon it got a bit buried in my pile of books to be read. Which was a shame, because this was a very entertaining book, and I like a whole lot about it.

Magic Bites manages to fit both the popular definition of urban fantasy and my personal definition. The plot, in a nutshell, is that magical mercenary Kate Daniels investigates the murder of her guardian in a near-future Atlanta that has been drastically changed by a magical cataclysm.

If you enjoy lycanthrope fiction, this should be your cup of tea: there are werewolves, were-rats, were-hyenas, were-lions, werebears, and even a lynx-were (a lynx that can turn into an approximation of a man.)

If you adore Big Sexy Vampire novels, this probably won't be your cup of tea. The vampires in Magic Bites are asexual, inhuman predators with the mentality of praying mantises. Cold, clammy, horrible - they're about as far from Twilight as you can get. I was most pleased.

There's a lot of good action in the novel, and I appreciated that it goes to some fairly dark places. The back-story for Derek, a young werewolf, is particularly grim, and the main antagonist in the story (and what he does) is genuinely disturbing. Again, as a reader I really enjoyed the darkness and elements of horror in the story - I felt as though the Andrews went where the story needed to go and didn't pull any punches. But if your idea of a fun urban fantasy runs more toward Charlaine Harris, this might be too dark for you.

Protagonist Kate is a good, solid, witty, interesting character; she occasionally did things that annoyed me as a reader (would she really mouth off quite that much, and yet have the self-control to remain so stubbornly celibate?) but the character was consistent and I felt that she was driving the plot rather than the other way around. Magical Atlanta was pretty interesting, but I wanted a bit more explanation for what had happened to it. The secondary characters were all decent, although some of the Alpha Male types all seemed to be popped out of the same mold. And Derek seemed a little too well-adjusted considering everything that had happened to him.

But those are quibbles that didn't really diminish my enjoyment of the book. In short, Magic Bites is a very good urban fantasy adventure, excellent if you consider that it's a first novel. I'm very much looking forward to the sequels, Magic Burns and Magic Strikes.

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