Thursday, June 27, 2013

Magic Gift (Kate Daniels #5.4) By Ilona Andrews

Curran and Kate just want to have a date – especially since Kate has just had a difficult day hunting slimy flying octopus things. A simple date at a simple restaurant

But in post-magic shift Atlanta, nothing is simple. First someone dies over dinner, then there’s rampaging vampires – then there’s a child with a deadly cursed artefact around his neck. And only a limited time to find a way to remove it before it kills him as well

Such knowledge isn’t easily found – and Curran and Kate embark on a rapid race involving dwarfs, Vikings and draugr to save the kid’s life.

When I got this book, I expected it to be a short story. And in some ways it was – except for the length

At which point you all roll your eyes and assume that Sparky has been drinking early today – but no, hear me out

To me, in a long series like this one, a short story is one that doesn’t advance the metaplot a great deal. It provides a more day-in-the-live look at the lives of the main characters. It expands the world a little, but more likely reinforces it and it provides a book that new comers to the series could technically pick up and enjoy.

By most of those accounts, this book fits. It focuses on Kate and Curran, but is less about various big epic battles they fight. You could probably skip this book and not miss anything of their story (though the side characters may become rather confusing).  This is showing Kate and Curran getting on with – well, I hesitate to say their daily lives because it’s probably a bit more adventurous than that – but then, with the chaotic world that Atlanta has become it might very well be! We get to see them working together, not focusing on their relationship or developing their relationship – but just living their relationship with each other. It shows what they have to deal with - the Pack, the Mercenaries Guild and we get a better sense of their place in the world as well, what they mean to the city and why they matter.

I think we’d had a sense of this, obviously, throughout the books – but the story is so complex and the world is so completely unique that this is an excellent book just to reinforce all the things you kind of knew or assumed or expected, without the grand epic mega story to focus on. It also gets to plant some interesting plot hooks for future books – like Kate taking an active role in the Mercenary guild while also showing off her expertise and why she is an asset beyond just her magic and her power. I think that is one of the things I love most about this book is that it emphasises her extensive knowledge, her investigative skills and her wide range of experience and good strong common sense to make her far more than just Kate with the shiny sword and really really shiny magic.

Though she knows several power words – including ones for kill and, as I recall, control – so why she continually uses “kneel” I don’t know.

So, in all we’re left with a story that is fun and exciting. There’s danger, but it’s not world shattering. There’s urgency because the life of a child hangs in the balance so there’s definite cost – but it’s a private, small tragedy. It will be tragic and sad if they fail, not “ALL OF ATLANTA WILL BE DESTROYED!!!” as is more common through the series. It made the book even more fun than the series is usually (and it’s always fun), but less epic. Exciting, but not world shattering. Which is great – and just what we needed to reinforce this world, remind us all about the magic and tech waves and really underline them all – without having the desperate rush to save everything from certain doom.

Writing-wise, it’s excellent Ilona Andrews: well paced, a great balance between exposition and description without being bogged down, nice little internal monologues that don’t drag or feel contrived or extended. The same fun style has adapted nicely to the lower gear of this book.

Curran and Kate are white, and I don’t think there are any characters that approach their prominence in this book or in this series. But the series in general has an impressive amount of racial diversity – though I have complained before about tokenism since they’re so often in the background behind Kate and Curran. In this book the focus is still very much on them, but these recurring POC in the background are moving more into the foreground, they’re secondary characters that are always there and are developing their own characterisation. The next most prominent members of the Pack are Jim – head of security and Cat Alphas and Doolittle the pack medic (and a were-honeybadger which you KNOW means you don’t mess with him) are both POC. The mercenary guild has a large number of POC, the pack has a large number of POC – even the Neo-Vikings have open inclusion and several POC including their chief. Even a group where most authors wouldn’t have felt the need to be inclusive is expressly diverse. It’s a nice touch to see a story where there are POC everywhere, not just one or two tiny roles, in every single area.

GBLT characters technically exist but they’re mentioned more than present, alas.

Kate is also backed by some decent female characters and isn’t the classic only woman we see so often in Urban Fantasy. In particular, Andrea is definitely stepping up as an equal and able partner to Kate, even if she’s only passing by in this book (which becomes more clear why when you read Gunmetal Magic) and there is some strong female leadership in the Pack.

All in all, this book is excellent – and, I think, perfect for what this series needs. It’s fun, it’s exciting and brings our favourite characters back for another amazing adventure – but without the apocalyptic horror of Magic Slays or Magic Bleeds. It needed to tone it down for a couple of books before going all out again. An excellent book at an excellent point in the series.