Magic Burns, by Ilona Andrews.
As a rule, first person narrative irritates me. By its own nature, it requires the author to make sure every single thread of the story comes back to the narrator—or initiates with her—in order to keep the reader up to date with all the developments in the specific world. This is difficult enough in itself; when done in an alternate universe, it tends to translate into a few too many unlikely coincidences for my taste.
Added to this, I happen to be rabid-about internal consistency within fantasy and science fiction stories. Nothing will yank me out of the story quicker than breaking the rules.
And finally, short books usually leave me wanting—the list of writers who, in my opinion, can pull off world building in short stories or novellas is in the single digits. At 260 pages, this one doesn’t quite meet my needs as a reader.
With that said…
Here’s the back cover blurb:
Down in Atlanta, tempers—and temperatures—are about to flare…
As a mercenary who cleans up after magic gone wrong, Kate Daniels has seen her share of occupational hazards. Normally, 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. Now Kate’s going to have to deal with problems on a much bigger scale: a divine one.
When Kate sets out to retrieve a set of stolen maps for the Pack, Atlanta’s paramilitary clan of shapeshifters, she quickly realizes much more is at stake. During a flare, gods and goddesses can manifest—and battle for power. 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…
Our usually-down-in-her-luck, Order-trained, authority-impaired, mercenary-turned-liaison heroine has spent the last few months recovering from her last big job, and getting used to a regular position at the Order of Merciful Aid. In the course of a much needed moonlighting gig for the Mercenary Guild, Kate comes across a few things out of the ordinary—or rather, things even weirder than usual, in a world where weird is commonplace. There are magical creatures she has never come across before roaming the streets, a missing witch coven, a lost girl, an Order knight who turns to be a shapeshifter, and a cocky and mysterious crossbow-wielding guy who keeps stealing the Pack’s maps while flirting with Kate.
I have to start by saying that I was unable to relate to the heroine for a good bit of the book. This, as you can imagine, is a huge obstacle to enjoying the book when she’s also the narrator. One of my biggest objections: the reader is made aware, often enough to become tiresome, that Kate’s carrying a big, scary, hinted at but never explained, secret—yet almost every time that she finds herself in a jam, she chooses to act in ways that risk exposing said secret. Huh?
And yet, there’s something very compelling about Kate. She’s definitely flawed, and quite aware of both her shortcomings and her own mortality, but there she is, trudging along, trying to reach a goal that’s only hinted at. Her stubbornness is all too realistic and, frankly, appealing to me. I really liked the way Kate became so protective of Julie after the girl becomes her responsibility, as well as being able to relate to the girl’s feelings over the disappearance of her mother and the death of her father; and I admit that I literally applauded at Kate’s determination to keep Julie safe when it becomes clear that some of these magical beings are after her.
At times the writing is almost poetic, and at times stark. I particularly enjoyed the last third of the novel, when tension builds up until the big battle. (I think this author truly shines in the action sequences, by the way.) Two of the secondary characters, Julie and Bran, have a peculiar charm all their own, even though they are not traditionally likable. I appreciated the interaction between Kate and Curran, leader of the Pack, with all the sexual undercurrents, as well as Kate’s budding friendship with Andrea.
Although this book flows better than the first one, there are still some issues that bogged it down.
I have issues with the attempts to explain why magic exists and how it works in this alternative universe. Instead of allowing me to suspend disbelief, these explanations moved me to wonder at their implausibility. A prime example would be the inconsistency of phone availability. Overall, the world is set up in such a way that whenever magic rises, technology fails. Cars, elevators, computers, etc. won’t work during magic waves. However, the author explains that magic has a weird effect on phones—some times they work, some times they don’t. Somehow each time this is mentioned I go off in a tangent in my mind, debating the mechanics of magic vs technology.
Then there are things told to the reader twice or more; as an example, the purpose of the bubble around the magic cauldron is told to Kate first by Bran, and then, barely three pages later, it’s told to another character by Kate.
And Kate’s habit of using words such as obscene, misshapen and nightmarish to describe the shapeshifters’ transformations bothers me. One would think that for someone used to magic, and used to truly disgusting things like oh say, vampires, zombies, and worms that live in the sewers, etc., shapeshifters and their idiosyncrasies would be pecata minuta instead of the big deal they are made out to be.
There are two elements in this novel that I truly enjoyed: the witches Oracle (maiden, mother and crone), and their temple… which is inside the womb of a living tortoise. (I was strongly reminded of the Neverending Story).
Weighing both what I liked and what I didn’t like, this book still comes out ahead, and I’ll likely read the rest of the series.
7.5 out of 10