Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews
I didn’t know how much I’d missed Ilona Andrews’ writing until I started reading Magic Strikes (2009). Part of it is the prose. It’s vivid, it has a great streak of humor running through it, and best of all, it’s smooth. The reader is never jolted out of the story by a grammar snafu or an awkward phrase.
Part of it is Andrews’ continued use of a wide variety of myths. Andrews is one of the few urban fantasy authors who seem to realize folklore is a huge sandbox. The human imagination has dreamed up all sorts of things that go bump in the night; why stick to just vampires and werewolves? I won’t reveal what creatures lurk within Magic Strikes, as that’s part of the central mystery, but it’s different from anything Andrews has done before.
Then there’s the chance to see these characters again. Kate has grown beyond the misanthropic loner she used to be, though she still has some trust issues, and she certainly still has a sharp tongue! (She gets in some excellent jabs in this novel. I grinned.) We get to see further development in her friendships and a ratcheting up of the tension between her and Curran. We also learn more backstory, for both Kate and Curran, and get a better idea of what makes them the way they are.
The plot is tight and tense. Kate’s young werewolf friend, Derek, is caught breaking into the home of the mysterious shapeshifter Saiman. Saiman is willing to let Derek go in exchange for a favor: Kate must accompany him to the Midnight Games. This is a supernatural gladiatorial tournament, highly illegal and extremely bloody. The situation spirals out of hand, and soon Kate and all her friends are in great danger.
I loved Magic Strikes, especially the last few chapters. All I can say without spoiling the plot is that I was deeply moved by the characters’ heroics.
This is urban fantasy done right.
Ilona Andrews has done a wonderful job of walking that fine line between tough, sassy heroine and ridiculous, overly powerful superwoman. Kate Daniels is a unique character in a genre that is largely populated with carbon copies of the same woman. Kudos to Andrews, who has once again managed to balance the qualities of power and vulnerability to perfection.
Magic Strikes doesn’t pick right up where Magic Burns left off. Time has passed for Kate and Andrews didn’t feel compelled to fill in every little detail that happened off-screen. But, events have again conspired to lure Kate into situations where her loyalty to friends and fears of her past come into conflict. That tension is part of what makes these books worth reading.
An underground gladiatorial games of sorts provides the backdrop for the story as new villains emerge and looming threats from previous novels begin to actually take shape. The reader is not required to have perfect recall of the previous books, but minimal familiarity will help.
What Andrews does best is to create tension. Whether it’s between Kate and her value system or Kate and Curran, the local lycanthrope leader, it’s intense. But there’s enough humorous dialogue to relieve the tension and actually make you chuckle a bit.
I particularly like that Kate remains vulnerable. Whether it’s her feelings, or actual physical attacks, she knows that there are some fights she can’t win and there are some fights that she is willing to lose. That sense of possible death is what separates Ilona Andrews from most of the other urban fantasists.
That, and the fact that she doesn’t put Kate to bed with every gorgeous creature who enters the story. Another wonderful installment.
I enjoyed the first two books in this series, but Magic Strikes reached new levels of fun and games (of the gladiator death match variety) and just sheer awesomeness.
Kate Daniels and her werewolf, were-hyena and other shapeshifter friends get mixed up with some shady goings-on in connection with an underground organization that puts on cage fights of the magical variety. Meanwhile, Julie (Kate’s teenage friend from book #2) is having trouble adjusting in school, so Kate decides some impressing of Julie’s schoolmates in order, which results in one of the best scenes in the book. I reread that scene probably four times. And Curran, with his Beast Lord magnificence, is slowly closing in on Kate. (I hypothetically might have read the hot tub scene two or three times as well.) Characters make mistakes, but they’re not idiotic mistakes where you want to slap them upside the head and/or hurl the book against the wall. And we start getting some real answers to some of the mysteries I’ve wondered about since early in book #1. Total win!
I was originally thinking 4 stars for this book, but then I realized a couple of things: First, like I’ve said, I kept going back to the book to reread my favorite scenes. (I also love that legal throwdown Kate does when Jim tries to stonewall her. Legal prowess FTW!)
And second, I had to remind myself that it’s not fair to compare this book to Pride and Prejudice or other literary masterpieces. This is urban fantasy. It’s meant to be smart (and smartass), and enjoyable, and fantastical, and maybe sexy. Magic Strikes is all of these things, and I really can’t think of a better book in this particular genre. If we’re comparing apples to apples, this is like the best UF apple ever.
All the stars!
I’m starting to really warm up to both Kate Daniels and Renee Raudman, the narrator of the audio editions (Audible Studios). In this installment, we get a lot more information about how Kate’s world works and we learn a lot more about her family background.