Sunday, July 24, 2011

On Violence and Magic: A Review of Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews

I stayed up late into the night finishing Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews. That's something I try not to do, since sleep deprivation makes me a dangerous biologist/library assistant/penguin keeper, but this book was too good to put down. The following review is therefore bursting with praise. Please beware of MINOR SPOILERS, particularly if you have not read the first two books. You've been warned.

Plot Summery: Kate learns of The Midnight Games, a gladiator style fighting tournament. The shape-shifters of the pack are forbidden to participate in the games. Kate's former werewolf sidekick and good friend Derek is found near dead after investigating the tournaments in secret. She learns from her friend Jim (a werecat) that several of the fighters in the games may have intentions to take on The Pack. She and Jim defy Curren (the Beast Lord) and proceed to infiltrate the games in an effort to save their friend and stop the threat to the Pack.

When I first started this series I didn't care much for Kate. I couldn't see past the fact that she was yet another butt-kicking alpha female in an urban fantasy novel. Three books later, she's grown on me (like fungus). She has a sense of humor all her own. She's reasonably smart and competent. And she's tough not just in her ability to make sarcastic and defiant remarks, but in her ability to fight and kill. Over three books, little by little, it is revealed that she has a lot of heart and some weak spots that make her a more sympathetic character. Once you understand her back story, you can't help but like her and want her to succeed.

Kate is far from the only likable character in this series. The cast of secondary and minor characters is actually quite large, but not yet too big for my liking. They each serve a purpose in the plot or in helping Kate to develop, and they show up when it's appropriate to the story. I like Julie, Kate's ward, because she brings out Kate's big sister type impulses. I enjoy the friendship between Kate and Andrea because it seems genuine and heartfelt. And of course, there's Curren. After three books of building sexual tension between them, I can honestly say that I would relish their ending up together. I like that there is a romance, a hot but imperfect  romance, that is building over several books worth of time.

The plot of this book was fairly simple but still very enthralling. It's been my experience that with series, the second and third books are often so much better because they aren't burdened with world building like the first books always are. The author is free to tell his or her story within a world that readers are familiar with. That was certainly the case here. The pace is quick, the action is plentiful, and everything is easy to follow.

I like the way that magic is utilized within this universe. So often in fantasy, magic based fighting is bloodless and kind of boring. You end up with two wizards shooting sparks at one another, or there are a lot of passive parlor tricks. In Magic Strikes the magic is violent and vividly described. It adds a touch of horror that I really appreciate.

I struggled to grade this book, because I try not to give out five star ratings lightly. The bottom line is, I can't come up with any sincere criticisms that in any way affected my enjoyment of this book. I highly recommend trying this, even if you didn't love the first two books. I'm very happy to have stuck with this series. 5 stars.

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