Review: Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews

Review: Magic Burns by Ilona AndrewsMagic Burns by Ilona Andrews
Series: Kate Daniels #2
Published by Penguin on April 1st 2008
Pages: 272
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Magic Bites

As a mercenary who cleans up after magic gone wrong, Kate Daniels knows how waves of paranormal energy ebb and flow across Atlanta like a tide. But once every seven years, a flare comes, a time when magic runs rampant. When Kate sets out to retrieve a set of stolen maps for the Pack, Atlanta's paramilitary clan of shape shifters, she quickly realizes much more is at stake. The stolen maps are only the opening gambit in an epic tug of war between two gods hoping for rebirth, and if Kate can't stop the cataclysmic showdown, the city may not survive.

Thoughts: The Kate Daniels series has so many fans, it’s ridiculous. It’s one of the top-selling, most anticipated Urban Fantasy series out there. But, after reading Magic Burns, all I can think is: the books must get a hell of a lot better than this if they’re still so popular.

Don’t get me wrong, Magic Burns is a good book. It’s solidly written, with interesting world building and high-stakes action. There were some elements here that, even as a relatively seasoned UF fan, really stood out: namely, I loved the idea of the central city park over growing to become a hub of witchcraft, complete with a giant turtle into whose belly you crawled. I have such a clear mental image of it – and it’s really stuck with me.

I also really enjoyed a number of the secondary characters: I’d read a series starring Kate’s were-shadow, Derek. He’s a sweetie in that silent-but-observant-and-may-also-kill-you sort of way. I also thought it was pretty awesome how quickly Kate latched onto Julie – the orphan introduced in this book. I was expecting her to be written out by the end of the novel, but colour me surprised.

That being said, there was a lot in this book that just made me roll my eyes: Kate is a special flower, but no one can know – except, of course, until she really needs to use that power. What even. Then there was the senseless dog death – how does having the main character kill a dog help endear her to me? Oh, and Curran? I’m sorry, but he was really creepy in this book. Some of his “famed” “seductive” lines just came off very assault-y. If Adam (from the Mercy books) had said this crap, Mercy would have had his butt kicked. And I would have helped.

Bottom line? Technically a good book, but there were things in it I just found abhorrent. I’ll be reading on, as it can only go up from here… right?

Review: Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews

Review: Magic Bites by Ilona AndrewsMagic Bites by Ilona Andrews
Series: Kate Daniels #1
Published by Penguin on 2012-12-31
Pages: 384
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Magic Burns

When the magic is up, rogue mages cast their spells and monsters appear, while guns refuse to fire and cars fail to start. But then technology returns, and the magic recedes as unpredictably as it arose, leaving all kinds of paranormal problems in its wake.

Kate Daniels is a down-on-her-luck mercenary who makes her living cleaning up these magical problems. But when Kate's guardian is murdered, her quest for justice draws her into a power struggle between two strong factions within Atlanta's magic circles.

The Masters of the Dead, necromancers who can control vampires, and the Pack, a paramilitary clan of shapechangers, blame each other for a series of bizarre killings—and the death of Kate's guardian may be part of the same mystery. Pressured by both sides to find the killer, Kate realizes she's way out of her league—but she wouldn't have it any other way…

Thoughts: People have been nagging me to read the Kate Daniels series for years. I distinctly remember a friend sneaking the first book into my basket at Forbidden Planet way back in 2010. “You love Patricia Briggs,” they said, “so you’ll love Ilona Andrews.” I am glad to say they were right! As Magic Bites was this month’s pick on the VF Goodreads group, I finally had a great excuse to start reading it. Now I am thrilled to have found a new series to love!

Let me start off with the “negative”: Magic Bites could be called stereotypical urban fantasy. It features a badass-yet-vulnerable!female heroine, a murder mystery and a whole lot of scary-hot!shapeshifters. If you aren’t a fan of those things – or if you are fed up with seeing them over and over in your books – you might be put off by Magic Bites. I for one don’t mind a stereotype if it is well executed – which is exactly what Magic Bites succeeds in.

On to the good: the world building in this verse is fantastic. Set in a world where technology no longer dominates and magic has resurfaced after a 4000 year break, the book merges familiar elements of our world with some old-fashioned elements. What if you could no longer rely on your car because “magic” kicks in at noon? Well, it makes sense to go out and get a steed. Rich men ride Mustangs, but not the type with an engine. I just… love that!

Magic Bites throws you straight into this universe with little explanation. This technique can sometimes backfire, but for me, it made uncovering the details and politics all the more exciting. To be honest, that was the most interesting part of the whole book, as the murder mystery was somewhat lackluster. It wasn’t that it wasn’t interesting, rather I was not yet invested in the characters enough to really care whether they succeeded.

But the great potential here for me to fall in love with the characters. Kate Daniels is snarky in that charming way – sending a saucer of milk instead of a cocktail to the local pack’s head were-lion. While Curran, the aforementioned cat, seems to have a lovely sense of humour underneath all his macho-alphaness. I can easily see how – with a bit more exposure – they could become favourites.

Bottom line? Magic Bites sets up a fantastically complex and original universe that I am eager to explore. While I don’t quite have that emotional pull towards the characters, I can see the potential and cannot wait to start the next book.

Review: Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

Review: Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine HarrisMidnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris
Series: Midnight Texas #1
Published by Gollancz on 2014-05-08
Pages: 320
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Received for review from publishers
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From Charlaine Harris, the bestselling author who created Sookie Stackhouse and her world of Bon Temps, Louisiana, comes a darker locale—populated by more strangers than friends. But then, that’s how the locals prefer it…

Welcome to Midnight, Texas, a town with many boarded-up windows and few full-time inhabitants, located at the crossing of Witch Light Road and Davy Road. It’s a pretty standard dried-up western town.

There’s a pawnshop (someone lives in the basement and is seen only at night). There’s a diner (people who are just passing through tend not to linger). And there’s new resident Manfred Bernardo, who thinks he’s found the perfect place to work in private (and who has secrets of his own).

Stop at the one traffic light in town, and everything looks normal. Stay awhile, and learn the truth...

Thoughts: Midnight Crossroad is a hard book to review. I can’t say I enjoyed it – I admit I was glad to finally turn the last page – but I cannot say it is a bad book. It isn’t. It’s a good book written by a skilled author… but it isn’t her best work by a long shot.

Charlaine’s writing has always been rather laid back. She takes a while to get to things, but you enjoy the ride so much that you forget nothing substantial has happened for 30 pages. Midnight Crossroad fits that same trend, it’s just that we don’t know the characters well enough to enjoy the ride. Perhaps that’s because this series stars characters from her Harper Connelly series, Lily Bard series and Aurora Teagarden series? (I haven’t read these books, nor really plan to although, yes, I own most of them.)

But Midnight Crossroad is the start of a new separate series, they said! No need to keep up with her other books to enjoy, they said! Hmph… I don’t know about that. I, for one, did not enjoy 120 pages of watch-this-character-move-into-house. Maybe if I knew the guy… and then, only maybe. But as introductions go, lifting boxes and meeting the new neighbors do not make for a meet-cute.

That being said, once past the first third of the book, Midnight Crossroad does at last start to take off. There was mystery, intrigue, murder – all that good stuff. But it took an inexcusable amount of time to get to the substance of the novel and – to be frank – the mystery was not so intriguing as to overwrite the blandness that had preceded it.

Bottom line: I can’t recommend this book to a new Charlaine Harris reader – but if you are already a fan, you will probably enjoy it. New readers? Start with the Sookie series like the rest of us!

Review: White Hot Kiss by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Review: White Hot Kiss by Jennifer L. ArmentroutWhite Hot Kiss by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Published by Harlequin Teen, MIRA on 2014-03-01
Pages: 304
Genres: Paranormal YA, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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One kiss could be the last.

Seventeen-year-old Layla just wants to be normal. But with a kiss that kills anything with a soul, she's anything but normal. Half demon, half gargoyle, Layla has abilities no one else possesses.

Raised among the Wardens—a race of gargoyles tasked with hunting demons and keeping humanity safe—Layla tries to fit in, but that means hiding her own dark side from those she loves the most. Especially Zayne, the swoon-worthy, incredibly gorgeous and completely off-limits Warden she's crushed on since forever.

Then she meets Roth—a tattooed, sinfully hot demon who claims to know all her secrets. Layla knows she should stay away, but she's not sure she wants to—especially when that whole no-kissing thing isn't an issue, considering Roth has no soul.

But when Layla discovers she's the reason for the violent demon uprising, trusting Roth could not only ruin her chances with Zayne…it could brand her a traitor to her family. Worse yet, it could become a one-way ticket to the end of the world.

Thoughts: Some books take you completely by surprise. Last year, that was These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. And the 2014 winner for the title seems to be the fantastic White Hot Kiss by Jennifer L. Armentrout.

First off, let me address the cover. More confident women than I could no doubt read this book on the tube, but I was glad to have it on my kindle. I know, I know. Society’s misogynistic view of the romance genre should not be indulged – trust me I’m not proud. That being said: this book’s genre isn’t quite reflected in its cover. It is much more a YA Urban Fantasy novel so… yeah. Can’t say the cover really fits it in this case.

Moving on.

White Hot Kiss is absolutely fantastic. It’s an action-packed, well-plotted novel that borders the Young Adult and Urban Fantasy genre. The main character, Layla, had that ideal mix of gumption and self-doubt that makes for the perfect teenage narrator. And as a half-demon, half-Guardian (an Angel-ish type species – just go with it), Layla is quite rightly conflicted. She has been raised in a household where she is actively hated because of her blood and her only wish in life is to fit in. It is ludicrously relatable. But she isn’t just her angst: she wants to be of use to the world and is tough enough to pull off the role as a urban fantasy narrator. Thing Rose from Vampire Academy, only with fewer mood swings.

Of course, like all good Urban Fantasy novels, along come a few big reveals. Parents come out of the woodwork! No one is who they seemed to be! Evil is the new awesome! “No really, I’m a Prince”! If you read the genre, many of these may seem overly familiar, but they are all well handled as to feel fresh. I’ve read about Armentrout’s skill as an author, but I needed to read it to believe it.

Armentrout also managed to handle the dreaded romantic triangle flawlessly. I had not been looking forward that aspect of the novel but it really, really worked. You’ve got two leading men who are spectacularly different and yet so very likable… you can see the cause of Layla’s conflict. I could go on and on about them both for quite a while, but I’d rather not show my “team” hand. Just trust me when I say it will be a tough choice!

Bottom line: White Hot Kiss is, in a way, a very familiar book for the Urban Fantasy genre. What sets it apart is the skill of the writing, the stellar pace and fantastic character development. Go forth and read, my people!

Review: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

I tried Grammarly‘s check for plagiarism free of charge… because cool cats aren’t copy-cats.

Review: Neverwhere by Neil GaimanNeverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Published by HarperCollins
Pages: 400
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Richard Mayhew is a young man with a good heart and an ordinarylife, which is changed forever when he stops to help a girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk. His small act of kindness propels him into a world he never dreamed existed. There are people who fall through the cracks, and Richard has become one of them. And he must learn to survive in this city of shadows and darkness, monsters and saints, murderers and angels, if he is ever to return to the London that he knew.

 

Thoughts: Neverwhere is one of those classic novels that everyone loves to love. It is heralded as a masterpiece in urban fantasy and… maybe it was when it was written. Neverwhere was published in 1996 which – while not exactly the stone age – was a primordial era for the UF genre. And unlike the early Anita Blake books – which have aged beautifully – Neverwhere doesn’t make the muster.

That’s not to say it isn’t a wonderful book. It is an homage to the city by someone who obviously loves it. It is a creative piece of work that – now that I think about it – made me feel like I was visiting the Night Vale version of ol’ Londontown. That said, there were two major issues I would be remiss not to point out.

The first: the characters. Despite the 300+ words of the novel, the characterizations were weak. Very, very weak. I had no sense for any of any of their motivations – not even those of our narrator and protagonist. Gaiman spent his words on the world building, and not on the characters. I honestly can’t believe this is by the same man that wrote The Doctor’s Wife… but I’m willing to forgive because on the whole it-was-pioneering-at-the-time thing.

My second issue was with the overwhelming familiarity of the plot: London is weirder than we’d suspected, male protagonist is thrown into aforementioned weird world, and male protagonist learns the ropes and falls in love with it. Dull. If you loved Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch or A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin, you will probably adore Neverwhere. It is feels like the inspiration for both of those books and – as the original – is significantly better. But I just couldn’t learn to love it.

Bottom line? Neverwhere is well-written but lacked any and all emotional depth. That said, it is a classic urban fantasy novel. You may want to pick it up just on that.

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