Monday, August 24, 2015

Magic Shifts (Kate Daniels #8) by Ilona Andrews

Kate has now magically claimed the city of Atlanta – in direct opposition to her father, Nimrod, the Builder of Towers. She and Curran, the former Beast Lord of Atlanta, have also left the Pack and are trying to build a new life and home in the suburbs. It’s a lot of changes to get used to.

And they have no time to get used to it  - not with an ancient and powerful being awakening in the city, one that may be immune to Kate’s magic and whose power is growing after every terrifying event

And Curran has a project – the Mercenary’s Guild is falling apart and he is determined to get it back in shape. Whether they want it or not.

This is my happy book face.

It’s a combination of sheer glee that I got to read a book this awesome, utter depression that it is now over and an undercurrent of exhaustion because I was up all night and nothing short of heavy weapons would make me put this book down. That is my happy book face

I actually pick up a new Kate Daniels book with a little bit of trepidation because I expect this to be the one to disappoint me – my expectations for this series are so high that eventually I will slam into a huge wall of disappointment

I thought this book would be that wall, after all, so much changed in the last book: They’ve left the Pack, Kate has established herself much more as a power, everyone knows who she is and Roland – that big mysterious bad who has overshadowed the whole series, has become directly involved rather than some shadowy, potential evil. That’s a lot of changes.

Thankfully all of those changes worked so well and made me take back a lot of my misgivings. I was, originally, little irritated by Kate and Curran leaving the Pack; but here we see not just Kate leaving the Pack to protect them but Curran underlining that he also left the Pack because the Pack failed him. This is something that has developed over the series in a wonderfully subtle way – both Kate and Curran, while fighting for others and epicly sacrificing for others, have also established that it’s ok to make room for yourself, to demand your own happiness. Kate has grown to let people into her life, to love Curran and her friends, even though it puts them at risk from Roland and goes against everything her surrogate father taught her. And here we see Curran turn to the Pack - the Pack he has worked for, sacrificed for, battled for and risked everything for – and say “you failed me”. Curran has turned round and said that, yes, he deserves better than how the Pack treated him and Kate – and he walked away. No ridiculous over-the-top-martyrdom we see so often in the genre (though they do risk and sacrifice a lot), but firmly saying “no, there’s a limit. I did all this for you, I deserve better than this.” Curran and Kate’s walking away was not just about protecting the Pack but about asserting their own worth and value

I love that. And I love that this excellent point was also rolled into an epic and awesome callout of Mahon – a paternal/mentor figure of Curran. For a long time he has been there, an awkward but powerful force in the Pack and it was epic to see this character dragged out on the carpet for his stubborn arrogance, sexism and blatant manipulation of Curran and his daughter George. I love this because we’re clearly still supposed to respect Mahon – but even characters we like and respect can be terribly, epicly wrong, have terrible ideas and behave in ways that are beyond unacceptable – and need calling out for that. It was glorious. It was awesome. Curran was awesome during it – and so was George, Mahon’s daughter who is certainly not standing for his bullshit.

Points especially to George and her beyond epic skewering of the parental guilt trips used to control and manipulate their children

And I’ve just written several paragraphs about how much I loved one relatively small aspect of this book.

I have praised the amazing world building of this series with every book – and though it seems redundant to repeat it with every book – I still have to do so. It is amazingly original and really well thought out and layered – how the magic and tech switch back and forth, the way magic has destroyed buildings, the organisations and industries that arose after the Shift all worked out with incredible detail. It’s not just the concept – it’s how it’s developed, detailed and made rich and real by considering all the potential ramifications of this world, magic and dystopia. It’s an excellent world

But not only are the creative aspects of the world amazing – there’s also a lot of research that goes into these books. Here we have a lot of Middle Eastern mythology being invoked and I think there’s been a huge amount of research into the subject before writing this book (including ghouls – which is a common problem with Urban Fantasy – taking ghouls as random cannibal monsters with no nod to the origin of the ghoul mythology). Coupled with the really detailed world building it makes this one of the best settings I’ve come across. I can’t stress enough how much I love it.

I also loved the plot which excellently balanced the ongoing meta as well as the plot of this book. I loved the growing meta with Kate and her father’s highly complex relationship as Kate’s plans adjust and she is now facing him directly while his motivation seem to be both mysterious and certainly not as simple as trying to kill her. Kate and Curran moving into the house in the suburbs was fun and had some issues for them to deal with – as well as tier. Curran and Kate becoming more involved in the Mercenary’s Guild promises to be an excellent story. It’s all excellent meta.

The plot for the book itself has lots of wonderful research, a huge amount of action (and if I could dredge up a teeny tiny criticism it would be that there are, perhaps, too many action scenes – but they’re so well written and Kate is so awesome) and worked excellently with the setting, the characters and the ongoing meta. It was exciting, well paced and reminded us of the hugely powerful, epic forces in this world.

On top of all this, it’s often very funny. From Cuddles the giant donkey to Kate trying to stop Andrea eating mystery meat – it’s funny. I give special points to Kate openly lampooning the whole “I will make myself a nuisance until someone tries to murder me” school of Urban Fantasy investigation

Speaking of funny – I love Kate and Curran’s relationship. He keeps trying play Alpha boss on her and each time she mocks him cruelly and righteously, summed up with this excellent line:

“Argh! Why don’t you ever do anything I ask you to?”
“Because you don’t ask. You tell me”

Also her excellently telling Curran that the early days of their relationship when he broke into her house was indeed creepy. Their relationship works because they both, occasionally, screw up and hurt the other but they talk it through, point out the mistakes and work on it. They’re not perfect, they do annoy each other but they don’t let that slide.

Diversitywise we have a huge number of POC in this book. Kate is a WOC of Middle Eastern descent as her father, the great and powerful Roland – or Nimrod – is from Ancient Babylon. George, a main character in this book, is a Black woman (as his her mother, Martha, who is described as “a Terminator” and the alpha of one of the shapeshifter clans). George’s kidnapped partner, Eduardo of Middle Easten and Latino descent. Bahir, a Muslim contact and major ally and force against the big bad in this book is of Arabic descent. The new Beast Master is Jim, a major character in past books, is a Black man and his consort is Dali, a woman of Indonesian descent who has grown increasingly awesome over the course of the series. Several members of the Mercenary Guild are POC, several members of the Order of Merciful Aid, some of the characters involved in the plot – there are multiple POC in every group at every stage of this book. The book not only mentions race but also often includes ethnicity and culture (so, for example, a woman from the Order isn’t just noted as a Black woman, she’s a woman of Tongalese descent. Dali isn’t just Asian, she’s a woman of Indonesian descent, very much involved in her culture and her magic and her family). Honestly, usually when I forget to mention a POC character in a book it’s because their role is vanishingly tiny and forgettable (and not nearly as important as the author likes to claim). This time it’s because there were so many

In terms of LGBT people, we had a brief reappearance of the Rat Alphas, a gay couple – but it was very brief unlike the last book. We also have Barnabas who… continues to be more iffy. Barnabas, along with many members of the Pack, is now separating to be part of Kate’s household… the book makes a point of telling us why Derek is doing so – the lack of any role for him in the pack as well as the long running in-book relationship between him and Kate. They’ve been together for so long it would be unthinkable. I know why George and Eduardo are leaving the pack – because of issues they have in Clan Heavy. But why is Barnabas, the pack’s chief legal council, quitting his job which he loves for a much less lucrative and involved job working for Kate and Curran? Barnabas has served as Kate’s “nanny” (actual joke made in the series) for a long time and, unlike Derek, there’s never really been an attempt to establish this relationship or give any real reason why he is in service to Kate. He is throwing away his life to run off and serve Kate and there’s no story reason why he would do this beyond continuing to be her gay servant… it’s a problem.

We do have several disabled characters – Doolittle only plays a minor role in this book and Christopher is something of a mental illness trope – he’s brilliant, a complete genius but is cryptic and often nearly impossible to understand. George is a one-armed were-bear and having one arm in no way detracts from how capable she is, talented she is, powerful she is our outright dangerous she is. Her being one armed is never avoid, but nor does it in any way make her less.

There I have spoke on the problems and I may now return to my unreserved fanpoodling of this book and this series – one of my all time favourites. This is one of those series where every new book release makes me excited. I am torn between reading the book in one mammoth setting and trying to slow down and make the awesomeness last – which I never manage, inevitably I read it in one night and then struggle not to re-read it instantly Now I am faced with a terrible dilemma – it will be months before the next book in this series is released. Months.