Nuclear holocaust. Global warming. Robotic overlords. Zombie infections. These are all fairly commonplace apocalypse scenarios within speculative fiction today. Ilona Andrews’ debut novel, Magic Bites, steps outside this box with an apocalypse caused by magic.
The world has been taken over by magic. Magical surges kill most technology when they occur, causing phones to go down, cars to fail, and skyscrapers to collapse. Vampires and shapeshifters have come to public awareness, if not acceptance. The government has military organizations of magic users to counter supernatural threats. However, they are often caught by red tape, as per government usual. Then there’s the Mercenary Guild, who will take care of your problem—if you can pay their (usually hefty) fee. Finally, there’s the Order of the Knights of Merciful Aid, who will aid you in exchange for a smaller fee—but with the caveat that they do things for the good of humanity, not the individual.
Enter Kate Daniels, a member of the Mercenary Guild who is thrust back into working with the Order when her legal guardian, the knight-diviner of the Atlanta Chapter of the Order, is killed. And with him having been
the only family Kate had left, she is out for vengeance. However, things become complicated as she is drawn into a power struggle between the Masters of the Dead (the controlling force behind vampires) and the Pack (the paramilitary clan of shapeshifters). These two factions blame each other for a series of bizarre deaths—and Kate’s guardian may be part of the same mystery. To top it all off, Kate gets thrust into the middle of this magical maelstrom and finds that she might just be way out of her league…
An apocalypse like nothing you’ve seen
Andrews creates a very unique feel with her magical apocalypse setting. This is one of my favorite aspects of this novel because the magical surges are very random and unexpected. It’s almost like a tabletop RPG where the Game Master continues rolling dice until he gets a natural critical and Bad Stuff Happens™. The idea that magic wreaks havoc with the physical nature of the world entertains me to no end, and the solutions humanity have put forward to adapt to the changes are intriguing and continued to pique my curiosity throughout the entirety of the novel.
On another note, this sense of unpredictability coupled with the nature of some of the supernatural elements present throughout Atlanta give Magic Bites a distinctly darker atmosphere than other urban fantasy novels I’ve read. While not the grittiest, feels-like-you’ve-got-a-rock-in-your-eye setting I’ve come across (ahem, Harry Connolly’s Child of Fire), it definitely has a darker streak underlying everything. And, for the most part, it works.
Fantastic supporting cast
The supporting cast within Magic Bites truly breathes more life into the world and the characters. We get to see aspects of the Masters of the Dead and the vampires in Kate’s interactions with Ghastek, one of the local Masters. The Pack is fleshed out when Kate involves herself in a matter directly pertaining to the Beast Lord—the alpha of the alphas, leader of all the various were-groups within the Pack. I wish we’d get some more details on the workings of the Masters of the Dead and those of the Pack, but that’s what future installments are for, right?
However, my favorite character interactions within the novel happen between Kate and Derek, whom Kate refers to as her “teenage werewolf sidekick.” Assigned to Kate by the Beast Lord as a bodyguard, Derek is a perfect example of what I imagine a teenage werewolf in the paramilitary Pack would be—a combination of teenager angst, insecurities, “me-much-macho” bravado, and the discipline he must learn to control his inner beast. Kate’s interactions with him are loaded with impatience and humor, which brings the novel to a very relatable level. All-in-all, I’m very impressed with how much Andrews has fleshed out her primary supporting characters, and I look forward to learning more in the next installments.
Snarky heroine with a can of ass-whoop
As fantastic as the supporting cast of characters is, the protagonist herself is what drives this novel home and has made this series a permanent resident on my shelves. Kate is one hell of a snarker, much akin to Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden. Not only that, but she also knows how to kick ass. Liberal amounts of ass. About halfway through the book, Andrews begins dropping hints that there is definitely more to Kate than meets the eye and that she knows it. This is one of the more infuriating (and effective!) tools an author has at her disposal, and Andrews wields it with great precision, teasing the reader with the slightest sense of “I know something you don’t know” that had me silently begging for more. And through all of this, Andrews manages to make Kate seem completely human through her various flaws and insecurities—no small feat.
Why should you read this book?
As a debut novel, Magic Bites hits all of the points that make me want the next book, and want it NOW (as a matter of fact, I went out and bought the next two books a couple days after finishing this one). While a fantastic effort for a debut novel, there are some distinct points that could be fleshed out, and I hope Andrews takes those steps in upcoming installments, as the premise of the book and the nature of the setting have a lot of promise for much more to come. All-in-all, Magic Bites is one hell of a start to an edgy urban fantasy series that has a lot of potential, and I greatly look forward to seeing where this series leads.