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Book Review: Magic Bites

G D Penman By G D Penman Published on March 27, 2017

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Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews does a lot of things right and a lot of things terribly wrong. This book and its sequels are urban fantasy novels with a hint of a mystery as the central plot of each one, which would typically be like catnip for me, but there is a clumsiness to the story that I find infuriating. My hope is that these problems occur just because this is the author’s first book, but without delving further into the series it is impossible to tell.

Magical mercenary Kate Daniels is a blank slate of a character, we receive tiny snippets of information about her past as the story progresses but for the most part her history and powers remain mysterious throughout. On the one hand this makes for very compelling reading, there is a core mystery to this book that is never resolved, one that will likely drag me onward through the rest of the series. On the other hand, it means that Kate exists in a constant state of deus ex machina, where her inherent gifts, which we are not allowed to understand, can be whipped out to fend off any threat. There are references throughout the book to magic behaving in unpredictable ways, which is fine, but when you introduce a force without limits into a world and hand control of it over to your protagonist, it is difficult to feel much tension.

There is an assumption with urban fantasy that everything in the setting is the same as in our world except where noted, often there is even the persistent masquerade of normalcy. Magic Bites doesn’t even dip its toes into those shallow waters before diving into the deep end. Magic has irrevocably changed the world, a specific timeline for its resurgence has been laid out and every exception to that timeframe is noted and considered mysterious. The world as we know it has essentially ended thanks to the return of magic and the powerful creatures that accompany it. Unfortunately, the description of these changes is so sparse that you might blink and miss it.

Just as we join the world with this arcane apocalypse in progress, we also join Kate without any preamble. I have a personal fondness for stories that begin in media res, and in stories that trust their readers to follow along without holding their hand. For the most part this book achieves that wonderfully, steamrolling through the plot without a pause to explain who or what anything is, except for a couple of extremely clumsy sections where masses of background information is dumped into the story for no logical reason except that the author wanted to show off that they had done their homework as far as setting goes.

My final complaint about the book is contained within two specific points, both relating to foreshadowing. There is a location visited later in the book that could have done with considerably more build up and background information being layered in earlier in the plot and there is a creature, who's existence and relevance to the story are foreshadowed in what I am sad to say is the single most clumsy way that I have ever encountered in fiction. Combined with later red herrings and an illogical twist and reveal, this ruined any tension that the mystery might have had too.

Between all-powerful protagonists and fumbled mysteries, this book was tragically flat. Any tension that the interesting setting and fast pace could have created was annihilated almost immediately. I can’t even muster the energy to dislike the book. I just sincerely hope that the writing of the fourteen sequels is better and does the character and setting justice.

G.D. Penman writes about queer monsters for a living. He is the author of Call Your Steel, The Year of the Knife, Heart of Winter, Apocrypha and many other books. He is also a full-time freelance ... Show More

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