Several times in the last year, people have suggested I pick up Ilona Andrews' debut novel, Magic Bites, an urban fantasy.
I never got around to it. In recent years, my available reading time has shrunk dramatically. Blogging, writing and promoting have all taken a chunk of my discretionary hours.
Then I heard recently that Andrews' second book, Magic Burns, had hit the New York Times best-seller list. It reminded me to pick up the first novel in the series. I finished it in two days.
The world-building is some of the most intricate I've ever seen. Andrews writes of a future Atlanta--a city devastated by the war between magic and technology. After centuries in which man's technology dominated Earth, magic is fighting back. When tech is up, everything works as it should: electricity, cars, telephones, modern weapons. However, when a wave of magic hits, all technology fails and weird creatures run free. Then the magic fluctuation subsides, spells fail and technology works again.
Andrews' protagonist is a mercenary named Kate Daniels. Kate trained to become a member of the Order of Merciful Aid, the knights who protect the earth from harpies in trees, stymphalian birds, rampaging zombies and other magical monsters. Unfortunately, she had a smart mouth and a serious problem with obeying authority. Recognizing the Order wasn't for her, she became a mercenary working free lance.
In Magic Bites, Kate learns her guardian has been murdered. Determined to avenge him, she agrees to work with the Order to get access to the evidence surrounding his death. Over the course of the book, she encounters the Beast Lord, who rules the shape-shifting population of Atlanta, and has run-ins with the local vampires, who call themselves "The People."
I liked this book a lot. Newbie writers should pay attention to the way she jumps right into the novel without a lot of explanation. She trusts her readers to catch up along the way.
I actually would have preferred a bit more explanation. Two examples: Andrews keeps referring to Kate's father, but never in a way that made me feel I understood him or their relationship. And some vampires become vehicles for other vampires, allowing the pilots to "navigate" and see through the eyes of those creatures. I was left with questions.
I've picked up a number of urban fantasies over the past couple of years. There have been a lot of them that I put down without finishing.
One of my pet peeves are annoying kick-ass heroines. I get tired of protagonists who are just too smart and too powerful. They come across like caricatures of male heroes. Andrews came VERY close to crossing a line with me. Sometimes Kate seemed just too unnecessarily smart-mouthed. But I stuck it out. Andrews was doing such a great job with the world-building and the plot arc that I was willing to give her some rope. I'm glad I did. Kate redeemed herself with her insecurities and her moments of near despair.
This IS an urban fantasy. While there are romantic elements, it is not a romance.
It is the most creative and interesting debut I've seen since Patricia Briggs. If you like urban fantasies, give Andrews a try.