When I first started writing fiction again two years ago, I forced myself to read through my first novel since around my high school years, Dracula. The more I’ve read since, the more I’ve enjoyed it and the faster I am at reading. There’s been some good stuff, like the first four Harry Potter books, She-Hulk Diaries and Dracula, and a couple disappointments. But my favourite series since returning to the world of prose is Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series.
Kate Daniels is a magic wielding mercenary in a post-apocalyptic world where magic comes and goes with the tide. When magic is on, technology doesn’t work, and the reverse is true when magic is off. The resulting world is full of shapeshifters, vampires and those who “drive” them, mythical deities who attempt to gain physical forms and ancient beings of incredible power. Most of the books are entirely from Kate Daniels’ point of view, but this book instead focuses on her best friend, Andrea Nash.
Andrea is a were-hyena, and thanks to a rough childhood, she hates being a shapeshifter. She spent years trying to hide her true self from the world and avoiding joining Atlanta’s primary shapeshifter group, The Pack. Recent events have forced her to come to terms with herself. Without spoilers, she’s in her darkest place in life, barely gripping onto her own sanity after losing what she cared about the most in life, just because of what she is. But does she even have time to recover when four shapeshifters have been murdered and she’s the only one available to investigate?
There are two things that really make this series work. 1: Each entry forces the perspective character to work out serious emotional issues, whether internal or interpersonal. 2: Despite how dark these stories are, they’re also entertaining and often quite funny. Andrea’s sense of humour is just as good as Kate’s, even if it’s more direct and playful while Kate’s is more snarky and at times, confrontational. She also deals with serious drama in this book, both internal with figuring her life out and with an ex-boyfriend, who she’s forced to work with for much of the investigation.
The mystery leads to kind of an epic climax, and several smaller fight scenes that make great use of Andrea’s sharpshooting and her “warrior form”. But while the action scenes are fun, the drama is where this book works best. The only thing that really bothers me is that it feels rushed when Andrea and her ex work things out without him truly apologizing for some of his dumber moves. That said, the ending still feels nice.
And for those who are worried that there isn’t enough Kate in this book, not only does she show up from time to time, but the print version includes a 100-page novella starring Kate and Curran as they perform a search for a deadly necklace’s creator in order to save someone’s life. It’s a fun little story that retains everything that’s great about this series, intertwines with Gunmetal Magic on a few occasions, and has a few moments that may affect the main series going forward.
This series in general is great. It’s labelled as an Urban Fantasy, but with the post-apocalyptic world and the high emphasis on action and mythology, I’d sooner label it as bordering on High Fantasy. Yes, there is a long-running romantic sub-plot, but it’s never the main focus, and it feels completely warranted with the slow build-up. Meanwhile there are villains ranging from anti-magic terrorists to evil Egyptian Gods struggling for power with the heroes caught in the middle. And of course, there’s the building threat of Kate’s ancient and powerful family that grows more exciting with each book (so far). If any of this sounds interesting, check this series out. This isn’t the best book in the series, but it’s a worthy side-entry.
Although Gunmetal Magic explains everything you need to know, it’s probably best not to start with this one. So far the best Kate Daniels book I’ve read is Magic Bleeds (Kate Daniels 4), but I’ve enjoyed every book so far and I can’t wait to reach the next one. If only I didn’t have my “read 3 other novels and at least 2 non-fiction books in-between each one” rule. I haven’t decided what book I’m reading next, but I’m leaning heavily towards Freda Warrington’s Dracula: The Undead, an unofficial sequel to Bram Stoker’s classic that released on the book’s 100th anniversary.