The Kate Daniels Series
Reviewed by Berni Phillips Bratman
[This review originally appeared in Mythprint 47:8 (#337) in August 2010.]
These days, a book buyer in the SF section is confronted by an overwhelming selection of urban fantasies featuring a hot babe on the cover in a challenging pose, brandishing some weapon. Often there will be an equally hot dude or animal in the background, signifying that the love interest is a were-beast of some kind. Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series is no exception. The competition for these series must be intense. With such similar covers, authors must come up with innovative ideas to make their series stand out from all the rest. Andrews accomplishes this well by drawing us into her post-apocalyptic fantasy set in Atlanta.
It’s twenty years in the future, and the future is not what it used to be. Kate Daniels’ world is one in which magic and technology both prevail in random succession. When magic is dominant, your car won’t work, you have no electrical power, and maybe the phone will work and maybe it won’t. Your transportation is likely to be a horse or, less glamorously, a mule. Magic is also unkind to what technology has built, resulting in an Atlanta of crumbling skyscrapers and twisted mazes of former trailer parks. Regardless of whether you can work a spell or use your toaster, there are vampires, werewolves, and other things that go bump in the night.
Andrews does not go in for traditional with her vampires. No sexy Draculas or Angels are found here. Her vampires are undead corpses “piloted” by the People, skilled navigators of the undead and generally creepy folks to be avoided. If the People are one corner of the triangle of the power in Andrews’ Atlanta, another corner is the Pack, the conglomeration of the various were animal clans. The tip of the triangle is the Order, a sort of magical FBI, bureaucratic and dogmatic. Which brings us to our heroine, Kate Daniels.
In the first book, Magic Bites, we meet Kate Daniels, a professional mercenary with a powerful sword named Slayer. She is mourning her mentor, Greg, a Knight of the Order, who has been brutally and mysteriously murdered. The Order grudgingly and condescendingly permits her to join as a sort of junior member (despite her having dropped out of the Order’s training school some years earlier) as a last favor to Greg.
In the course of her investigations, she brushes up against Curran, the were-lion Beast Lord, leader of the Pack. They fight a lot, as is standard in these types of books, but you can tell from the lion’s head on the book’s cover that he is intended to be the love interest. (One quibble I have about this series and many of its kind is that the lovers fight more than is believable.)
What I like about these books is that they are well-paced and have a definite arc. Reading them in immediate succession, it’s easy to see both the evolution of Kate as a person, changing as she interacts more with people, and as a character about whom the author gradually feeds us more and more information. Kate is not quite what she appears to be. The reader finds out who Kate really is as Kate is bound by circumstances to progressively uncloak her heritage and abilities. At the same time, Kate is compelled to turn her back on her training which stressed the importance of not letting people into her heart. Kate not only feels love for Curran, she also feels motherly towards orphaned Julie and has a best friend for the first time in her life with Andrea, a Knight of the Order.
Andrews plays with the pantheons of many cultures. In Magic Burns, Kate runs into figures from Celtic mythology as she does some work for the Pack. She also acquires her foster daughter, Julie. Magic Strikes gives us some Norse creatures and Indian rakshasas and a titillating story of Kate being forced to fight in an arena as if she were a Roman gladiator. In Magic Bleeds we are treated to the explanation of the first vampire, a twist on a familiar Bible story, as Andrews brings her series to an apparent end.
These books (like most of my preferred reading) are not great literature, but they are entertaining, rousing brain candy. They fulfill the requirements for Bechdel’s rule. (A work should have at least two females who talk to each other about something other than men. It’s charming to see Kate experience having a BFF years after most women do.) They kept me wanting to turn the pages and eager for more. What else could a reader want?