I’m a fan of the Kate Daniels series, and recently I was looking for a guaranteed re-read. It wasn’t too long before Magic Slays caught my eye, especially as the next book in the series is coming out at the end of July (and probably because I shelve my books alphabetically). Now past the giddy first and second reads, it is time for a thorough review. Fans of the series won’t be disappointed by its action-packed story, continued world-building, and trademark humor, but I miss the finesse of earlier books.
For me and my sketchy memory, its always worth noting when the jacket blurb gets it wrong–this time by essentially summarizing the first twenty pages. My own non-spoiler synopsis would be a little more comprehensive: “Andrea returns after a two month disappearance, and before long, she and Kate are investigating a kidnapping for Rene of the Red Guard. A successful case for the Guards could make Kate’s career. However, the investigation is complicated by several seemingly random instances of magic disappearing. Tracking the solution down will take require connecting the Russian volhvs, who seem to be involved, and with Atlanta’s witches. At the same time, Kate is struggling with negotiating her relationship to Curran, her role in the Pack, and how to safely raise Julie in an unsafe world. Kate and her loved ones are about to face one of the greatest threats to their existence.”
Now, the analysis. It took me until the third read to analyze it, but this book feels lacking in the finesse of the earlier ones. I know, I know; subtle may not be the term you think of with UF, but this one felt more extreme, the kickbocking version versus fencing. The emotions are dynamic. The conflict is extreme, and written in a way that starts to feel a little like sermonizing
[spoiler: There’s more than one instance of someone explaining to Kate “why a small group of people would want to kill everyone else,” including Dolittle, Curran and Saiman].
The relationship dramas are bold
[spoiler: She does the existential “why would he want me” debate, made worse by taking to the witch].
The reveals for Kate fundamentally alter her concept of her own history. Certain events are life-shattering. While some of these concerns are plotting and others characterization, I feel like Andrews usually smooths them better, with appropriate transitions applied and maybe a shade less drama.
I also have to admit that Curran is fairly close to insufferable in this book. Again, I understand; he’s the leader of a group of shapeshifters, he has to control his own enormous power, etc. However, he’s very controlling of Kate’s behavior, manipulative and conditional. What do I mean?
[ spoiler: The office bordering vampire territory being a surprise to Kate. Dropping the petitions on her. Pushing her to allow Julie to stay with the Pack. Giving her Derek and Ascanio. ]
Just when it seems Kate has stood her ground, he changes his mind after extensive healthy discussion
[spoiler: (specifically, the blood transference scene when he says, “If you think that I will every let you pull that fucked-up shit again, then this thing between you and me is done. We are fucking done)]
If that isn’t a hallmark statement of an controlling partner, then I don’t know what is. That final scene pushed my sense of balance between them over the edge.
From my behind the scenes readings of the Andrews blog, they intended to write a book that ramps up both action and consequences. I can commend that as a series arc, and think they manage to do that well while still resolving major plot arcs within each book. However, some of it felt a little forced, a little contrived and didn’t quite work for me. One of the obvious oddities was Andrea leaving the kids.
[spoiler: Why would Kate keep Julie at the office at all, when her whole stress was about keeping her safe? Why would Andrea leave the kids knowing a loose vampire had just been there recently? It seemed more necessary for moving events forward than internally consistent. I was also surprised at how many people were killed by the magic bomb when it’s only been three or so generations since magic hit.]
A small point that to me illustrates the extremism: all the males are physically enormously attractive–Rapheal, Ascanio, Barabas, the Russian mage. Its an example of the concept of exceptionalism of all the characters, the larger-than-life perspective of the soap opera mentality. Oh, and one more small oddity–Kate is told that the Pack has a library– “both paper and digital.” Um? Is it me, or is that incongruent?
As usual, there were a few marvelously absurd laughs including knitting vampires and pretty much all the encounters with the Russian mages:
“‘Oh, Is that so?’ He raised his hand to his goatee.
That does it. ‘Yeah. And what’s with the beard and the horse mane? You look like Rent-a-Villain.’
The volhv’s eyes widened. He waved his hand at me. ‘Well you don’t look… female… in your pants.’
“That”s a hell of an insult. Did you think of it all by yourself or did you have to ask your god for help?”
Don’t get me wrong, it’s an action packed book that kept me planted on the couch, reading until I reached the end. The mystery Kate begins investigating with Andrea is an interesting puzzle. Once again, it was fun meeting new magical types and having them re-interpreted. I did appreciate that the relationship between Kate and Curran avoided the stereotypical “hothead” reaction of the misunderstanding and stomp-off until dramatic reconciliation (although they are doing that with Andrea and Rapheal). Overall, although it isn’t my favorite in the series, its still far more entertaining than most of the female UF out there.