Tag Archives: Magic

The Duke of Snow and Apples by Elizabeth Vail Weaves a Magical Blend of Historical Romance and Fantasy

2 Sep

The Duke of Snow and Apples by Elizabeth Vail (Entangled: Select, August 26, 2014) – The only think I didn’t like about this book was the cover – what is up with her hair?

I honestly did not know what to expect when approaching The Duke of Snow and Apples by debut author Elizabeth Vail. The reviews I had read were overwhelmingly positive on Goodreads, but some readers voiced criticisms over the heroine’s entitled behavior at the start of the novel or the intricate but unexplained fantasy elements of the magic of the noble class.

What novel were these people reading?

This is one of the best fantasy romances I’ve read in years, blending many familiar elements of historical romance (strict social class boundaries, etiquette conventions that cannot be broken without dire repercussions and delicious historical costumes) with seamless layers of magic as part and parcel of this world. Vail pulls off her world building with aplomb, doling out place names, magical social strata and even different time conventions effortlessly, never once info-dumping on the reader or having a character launch into a tedious explanation of history. Thank you!

Charlotte Erlwood is grateful for the chance to not only visit her estranged aunt but to escape the humiliation and betrayal that awaits her at home. Her beautiful older sister became engaged to the man courting Charlotte and the world is obnoxiously cheerful despite how awful Charlotte feels. When her relative sends a ridiculously handsome and serene footman, Charlotte’s wicked side can’t help but bean him with the apple that was supposed to be her snack. His mischievous reaction is the first time her heart lightens in days and the perfect start to her friendship with Freddy, who her aunt assigns to wait upon her during her stay.

Charlotte's shot of an apple to Freddy's head is like the blooming of color in a life he covered with frost. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Charlotte’s shot of an apple to Freddy’s head is like the blooming of color in a life he covered with frost. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Frederick is content in his position of footman in this noble house, having honed his serenity and aloofness after a decade of brutal practice. He fled his home and title as a teen after wreaking havoc with his magical gifts which can not only sense but leech emotion. He’s astonished that the lovely and animated Charlotte, whose sadness and bravery he can see emanating from her in a rainbow of color, becomes a stifled and boring miss in the company of others. Determined to help her fulfill her potential, he manipulates circumstances into revealing the vibrant woman he sees during the day. Yet as time goes on, his friendship with her becomes something much more, awakening all the emotions he’s suppressed, her magic bringing his own to the fore. When his past not only smacks him in the face with the arrival of his stepfather, but he witnesses friends and acquaintances beginning to become “gray” (their inner selves leached of emotion), Frederick must decide whether to face his past or leave everyone, including Charlotte, behind once more.

Charlotte melts the ice encasing Frederick's heart and mind, allowing them both to reach their potential as individuals, both emotionally and magically. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Charlotte melts the ice encasing Frederick’s heart and mind, allowing them both to reach their potential as individuals, both emotionally and magically. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Charlotte easily could be seen as spoiled and entitled, but the fact that Frederick sees her emotions allows him to see past her mannerisms to the true person underneath, a device which fleshes her out immediately as a three-dimensional and empathetic character. Charlotte didn’t love her suitor, it’s the perceived betrayal by her older sister that has her dreadfully hurt and bent on winning a proposal from someone just as good if not better. That she still is capable of seeing Freddy as a man and a person – and indeed from the first her magic mirrors his, allowing her to see his loneliness and pain – demonstrates her good qualities, as does Frederick’s need to bring her out of her shell and gain confidence. The layers of conflict – Frederick’s very serious struggle with his magic, the evil villain (who inspired my only frustration as I yelled at the book, “Think, Frederick, THINK about the magic!”), the sister tension, and naturally how the romance would someone resolve itself – made this a masterwork I’m going to reread just to figure out how Vail managed to pull it off.

The emotional roller-coaster is on tilt-a-whirl in this story, as Frederick’s refusal to return to his title prevents any future with Charlotte, yet they can’t keep away from one another. When his secret is outed the danger increases rather decreases, culminating in a rip-snorting ending that had me turning the pages and refusing to make dinner (thank you, my Chinese takeout was delicious). Vail’s ability to keep me on the edge of my seat reminded me a little of Kathryne Kennedy, but devoid of the bogged down detail Kennedy can descend into. Mary Robinette Kowal’s magical Glamourist Histories Regency novels or Patricia C. Wrede’s Cecilia & Kate books are probably close in tone although with less focus on the romance than The Duke of Snow and Apples. The best part is that this deliciously hefty volume is fantasy sized at 351 paged but priced currently at $.99 thanks to Entangled’s intro pricing.

Will there be other books set in this world? I cannot wait to read more of this author and encourage anyone who loves fantasy and romance to pick it up and enjoy the magic created by Elizabeth Vail.

Happy reading!

 

Ilona Andrews’ Clean Sweep Adds Fantastic Characters and an Intriguing New World to the Urban Fantasy Genre

6 Dec

Clean Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #1) by Ilona Andrews (NYLA, December 2, 2013)

Anyone who adores the Kate Daniels series or the glorious Edge books understands the phenomenon that is Ilona Andrews. A spectacular husband-and-wife author team, Ilona Andrews has a definite corner on the urban fantasy market and their latest publication, Clean Sweep, only adds to their dominance of this market.

In true urban fantasy style, Andrews begins Clean Sweep by deceptively giving us the appearance of normalcy only to strip back the layers to show us how wrong we are in our assumptions. Dina Demille runs the Gertrude Hunt Bed-and-Breakfast, a beautiful Victorian home located in a sweet suburban town in Texas. Unfortunately for her, something has been brutally killing her neighbor’s dogs in the Avalon Subdivision, and while the people around her speculate that its a mountain lion, Dina knows all too well that it’s not.

You see, it’s slowly revealed that Dina is not your normal innkeeper, or rather she’s an Innkeeper with a capital “I”, a vocation held by people with magic who bond with an inn, a place of sanctuary for all types of creatures with the understanding that the location (and the innkeepers) are neutral and can therefore offer safety. Dina’s missing parents were also Innkeepers before their mysterious disappearance and while she’s been channelling her energies into revitalizing her previously abandoned inn, she’s never stopped looking for them.

But this deadly magical creature on the loose puts her neighbors into danger, and at first Dina is highly suspicious that one of them, Sean Evans, a werewolf may be involved, but it’s a supposition she quickly discards. While he tries to deflect Dina’s imperative to figure out what’s going on in his territory (not wanting to admit that he’s a werewolf to a strange human), he quickly realizes that she’s nothing to be trifled with. That he’s never heard of or met an Innkeeper is part of his confusion, but this ex-military man is deadly and very, very territorial. He’s not thrilled about a mysterious creature on the loose and he’s definitely unhappy that Dina feels she has the right to engage it. It seems he’s feeling a territorial about her as well.

The seamless blending of science fiction elements into this urban fantasy is addictive.

The seamless blending of science fiction elements into this urban fantasy is addictive. Image purchase via Shutterstock.

One of the realities Dina helps Sean face is that he’s not some morphed DNA but an engineered race and one of many. As Dina tells Sean, “For various reasons, Earth is a way station for many travelers. We’re the Atlanta of the galaxy: many beings stop here for a layover.” And she transmits this information none too soon. While Dina and Sean have managed to kill a few of the monstrous creatures stalking them, the corpses (or rather what’s inside them) attracts the unwelcome attention of vampires – and they are not the sparkly kind, but the instead the kickass, alien warrior knight kind with a very distinct code of honor.

When one of them is badly hurt, his relative, Arland, a Marshal of House Krahr, comes to protect his uncle and seek vengeance on and information about the assassin wielding these creatures. Sean and Dina realize that they are involved in something much bigger than just a crazed creature in the neighborhood and they put their heads and power together with Arland to flush out the perpetrator while hopefully saving their home. That is, if they can all manage to not get killed first.

Dina is a fascinating heroine, one more than capable of carrying a series on her shoulders (particularly with the help of her morphing broom). I liked how she was well-trained in both magical and physical self-defense but she’s not prone to the mind-altering violence we expect (and love) in Kate Daniels. Dina is truly the embodiment of her inn, a defender of hearth and home who provides sanctuary and protection to others, and she’ll go to any length to insure that safety. That her potential love interests are a footloose werewolf and a vampire who is the head of his clan’s military branch offers a natural source of conflict as it’s hard to imagine a successful long-term partnership with either man (although it’s very, very easy to imagine a successful mating!). The entire story is laced with Andrews’ fantastic sense of humor – those little references or popular culture moments that bring a big grin onto your face.

It’s a profound skill as a writer to reveal layer upon layer of a rich world while also building layers of a plot and make it all look effortless. The immediate story is the one of “who is sending these creatures and why?” – a question which ends up revealing a much more interesting plot with politics and otherworld power struggles. Yet the larger story arc reveals questions that the first book leaves unanswered in order for the series to progress: what happened to Dina’s parents? Where is her brother? What is Sean going to do in the other realm for the werewolves? What are Sean and Arland’s intentions toward Dina?

A shi tzu, the closest we can come to understanding Dina’s wonderful dog, Beast (considering that Beast can morph into something a bit scarier than this little cutie). Image via Wikipedia.

As is typical with Ilona Andrews, the amazing secondary characters blow you away and convince you that this world they’ve crafted actually exists. I love it that the house is truly a character – complete with emotions and reactions just like a human. Any follower of Andrews’ blog knows the troublesome but lovable role their animals provide and Beast, Dina’s dog, will be more than recognizable to any animal lover (her treeing Sean, the alpha werewolf, was one of my favorite scenes!). Even Dina’s permanent guest, Caldenia, clearly has a rich story to tell as she appears to be royalty or some type of powerful entity who may very well eat someone (but don’t try and separate her from her Mello Yello soft drink).

Doris Mantair not only did the cover art but also the interior, stunning full-color illustrations that bring Caldenia, Sean and Arland to life (ladies, please note that Sean and Arland are both available for download in the form of various wallpapers for your electronic devices via Ilona Andrews’ website). This book was an experiment for the writing duo, having been published for free in weekly serial form over several weeks and honed with the continual feedback of readers. That said, the original free format of its release has done nothing to inhibit sales of the official print version, as Andrews’ just announced on December 5th that Clean Sweep had reached the #2 and #3 slots for paranormal and urban fantasy on Amazon in just a few short days. I anticipate that fans (like me!) will be clamoring for scenes from Sean and Arland’s persepectives a la the Curran scenes that are so hugely popular. 🙂

Andrews’ website did announce that the sequel to Clean Sweep would come out in early 2014, but its unclear to me at this time whether there is a single sequel or multiple books which would fulfill the series name of “Innkeeper Chronicles” more thoroughly. Either way, this series (like every other series by Ilona Andrews) has leapt into my “pre-order it, dammit!” list rather quickly. Fans of Andrews, urban fantasy, or paranormal romance with more than a big dose of science fiction elements will want to rush out and grab Clean Sweep while they can.

Happy reading!

Urban Fantasy For Lovers of Badass Women and the Alpha Males Who Love Them: The Kate Daniels Series by Ilona Andrews

30 Jul

Magic Bites (Kate Daniels #1) by Ilona Andrews (Ace, 2007)

Urban Fantasy is a genre packed with badass, incredibly strong female protagonists matched by alpha males so strong and sexy that it’s a wonder they don’t take over the world (and sometimes they do). Magic abounds in these books (a hallmark of urban fantasy which is usually set in cities) and the fantasy piece involves a massive struggle of good versus evil, with swirling political forces pitted against the heroine who, with her allies, desperately attempts to thwart them and keep the world in balance.

Readers of this blog already know of my love of the Night Huntress series by Jeaniene Frost, which so many readers put in paranormal romance when I think it fits urban fantasy far better as a subgenre. The husband and wife writing team of Ilona Andrews has a corner of the strong female protagonist market with their Kate Daniels series, a group of books that I would cheerfully call the height of its genre. In honor of Magic Rises, the sixth full-length and latest book in the series published today (and yes, it’s included in this post), I thought I’d do a full series review.

While lacking the sexual explicitness of Frost’s work (sadly, but don’t worry there’s a decent amount of hot nookie), this series combines fantastic writing, a mind-blowing story arc, phenomenal world-building, characterization so strong you forget they aren’t real people, humor so funny you’ll be stealing the lines to look clever with your friends, and the best fight scenes I’ve ever read (in fantasy or otherwise).

Because of the many books, novellas and short stories in the series, the below overview undoubtedly has spoilers in it, so be warned. This is the kind of series review I like to read – one that tells you what order to read each book, short story and novella as well as gives an understanding of the conflict without giving away the farm – but some people get cranky about it. Sadly, anytime you have a series this long (and awesome) this is a necessary evil. You can’t just write descriptions with “uh…and stuff happens with Kate and…some other guys!” So bear with me.

Some Key Players:

  • Kate Daniels – professional mercenary with a lot of secrets in her past, including the source of her extremely powerful magic
  • Curran Lennart (aka the Beast Lord) – head of the “The Pack” or approximately 1500 shapeshifters in the Atlanta area, of various clans separated by type
  • Saiman – a polymorph who can change his appearance at will; businessman who supplies valuable information, tech and magic; operates according to his own set of ethics
  • Ghastek Stefanoff – ambitious Master of the Dead who operates out of the People’s casino and is the main contact person for Kate in her investigations
  • The People – the name assigned to the group of individuals who pilot vampires and who work for the global organization headed by the ancient and mythical Roland; cold, devoid of ethics, and the enemies of shapeshifters (or anyone else who gets in their way)
  • Derek Gaunt – young werewolf tied to Kate via a Blood Oath in the first book and who rapidly becomes a friend and partner; strong abilities mark him a potential future alpha
  • Julie Olsen – a young street kid whose mother is murdered; becomes Kate’s ward; has a highly sought after magical ability that must be kept under wraps
  • Andrea Nash – Knight of the Order and a beastkin, or type of shapeshifter the majority consider an abomination; werehyena who also happens to be a deadly accurate Master of Arms with any weapon that fires
  • Raphael Medrano – male Alpha of the Hyenas, partnered with his mother the female Alpha, Aunt B; runs a Pack business specializing in reclamation
  • Jim Shrapshire – Kate’s friend and occasional partner from the Mercenary Guild; Cat Alpha and Head of Pack Security

Note that I actually number these books and put them in strict chronological order in the series since the events in even the short stories and novellas end up building the overall story arc and/or characters. If a story is not written from Kate Daniels’ point of view (POV), I’ve clearly labeled it “Kate Daniels World.” This is a little different from the way that term is used and the way the stories are ordered and labeled on Goodreads, but I think it’s much clearer if you believe in tackling a series in strict order like I do.

Magic Bites (Book #1)

In the first book of the series, Magic Bites, the world of Kate Daniels is one hauntingly familiar yet startlingly different from our own. Set in Atlanta (with occasional forays to Savannah), Kate lives in the near future where our world has disintegrated under the burden of waves of magic which come unpredictably, rendering technology useless. Magic is a power most people can access to some degree, but it’s an advantage to be able to powerfully wield it, particularly with vampires and were-creatures around, mingling with witches/warlocks as well as human users.

Kate is a mercenary attempting to stay off the larger radar and simply make a living, but plans change when she is notified that her guardian Greg has been brutally murdered. Kate had been somewhat estranged from Greg as he wanted her to join him in working for the Order, a group of Knights who serve the larger community by exterminating horrifying supernatural creatures (who often wreak havoc on the populace) and investigating strange happening. Kate attempted to join before but her anti-authority outlook didn’t jibe with the larger culture of the Order.

Magic Graves by Jeaniene Frost and Ilona Andrews (including Kate Daniels #.5 “A Questionable Client”) (Amazon Digital Services, 2011)

With Greg dead, the Order decides to let Kate, a trained mercenary active in the Mercenary Guild, work as an adjunct to find Greg’s killer, particularly to discover if the murder had anything to do with his work. Slogging her way through his things, she discovers missing young women, a dead vampire, and test results that might implicate a shifter.

This does not make for an easy investigation as vampires – skeletal creatures who are “steered” by masters – fall under the power of the People and their rulers, while all were-creatures in the area are under the jurisdiction of the Pack, led by the Beast Lord. And Kate isn’t exactly going to win a diplomacy award anytime soon since her style is more “annoy people until they tell her what she wants to know.”

Using the contact of a fellow mercenary and were-jaguar, Jim, she makes contact with the Beast Lord, aka Curran, who is more than contemptuous of her and her so-called abilities, throwing obstacles at her right and left, but reluctantly agreeing to work with her out of respect for her deceased guardian. The vampires stonewall her at every turn, and even traditional investigating only turns up few clues.

Amidst it all, we see that Kate is eager to hide her abilities, which include swordplay that is like an extension of herself and magical power beyond anything anyone around her can manage. A few people suspect her abilities, but she is careful to not reveal too much, even as she and the people around her deal with an unholy being bent on murder and destruction.

Another aspect of Ilona Andrews that I love is, because the Kate Daniels novels are written in the first person, they make a point of giving you a different perspective, specifically Curran’s. Curran Vol. I, has a companion story to Magic Bites, detailing a brief version of the moment Curran and Kate meet from his (rather disdainful) perspective. You can also read the scene for free on Ilona Andrews’ website.

“A Questionable Client” (Book #0.5) in Magic Graves anthology

Curran Vol. I by Gordon Andrews – includes scenes from Curran’s perspective from the first three books (noted in text of review). You can read the stories for free on Andrews’ website or get them in a collection for $.99.

Because Kate has an acquaintance/friend, the mysterious, ethically bankrupt Saiman who helps her (for quite a price) in Magic Bites, I do recommend readers of the series purchase the dual anthology of Magic Graves in order to read the prequel, “A Questionable Client” detailing the first time Kate and Saiman work together. Not only does it shed light on their relationship and Saiman’s power and abilities, but it gives a great deal of insight into Kate’s character and her encyclopedic knowledge of magic and folklore.

Magic Burns (Book #2)

In the second book of the series, Magic Burns, Kate is now in the position of liaison offered her at the end of Magic Bites, and she has the somewhat joyless job of negotiating between the Order, the Mercenary Guild, the Pack, the People, and humans. She’s at least got a regular salary and she can live in Greg’s apartment which she inherited when in Atlanta, occasionally going back to her house in Savannah. It’s a living.

Magic Burns (Kate Daniels #2) by Ilona Andrews (Ace, 2008)

With the waves of magic coming more unpredictably, people get a little out of control, including a crazed arsonist she and Jim go to apprehend. Their preference for a live capture is thwarted when a mystery assassin puts several cross bolts into their perp.

With Jim called away on pack business, Kate is left to pursue the mystery man who can seemingly disappear into thin air. She finds him in the midst of the Honeycomb, a dangerous area of Atlanta filled with shifting magic. Kate also stumbles across a young girl whose mother and her coven have gone missing, possibly after freeing a god or goddess that they did not intend to release.

Taking the young girl, Julie, home with her, she discovers the girl herself is a conduit for powerful forces who seem to want the her, Curran and his Pack, as well as Kate’s new friend Andrea from the Order. The pressure to figure out what the hell is going on (and then defeat it) bonds them together as valuable allies in an effort to protect an innocent girl and protect the city. For bonus scenes from Curran’s perspective, our fabulous authors have given us his rescue of Kate after she almost dies after the fight with the Reeves as well as Curran’s uber-sneaky wooing of her when he plies her with chicken soup.

Magic Strikes (Book #3)

Magic Strikes (Kate Daniels #3) by Ilona Andrews (Ace, 2009)

When Magic Strikes, the next book in the series, opens, Kate seems to be settling in to her life, gaining confidence as an official mouthpiece for the Order. Exhausted by a harrowing day, Kate has a lot going on. Her werejaguar friend Jim refused her official help with a shapeshifter death, Derek the young werewolf previously bound to her with a blood vow tried to steal something from Kate’s dangerous acquaintance and now she owes Saiman a favor. He cashes in by insisting that Kate accompany him to the Midnight Games, illegal arena fighting with a smorgasbord of creatures fighting to the death, in order to evaluate the fighters for him.

Derek is not only unrepentant at getting caught, knowing Kate will not turn him into Curran for punishment, but also convinces Kate to use her time with Saiman at the games to pass a note to a beautiful young girl on the Reapers team. One look at the girl’s fellow fighters and Kate knows something is wrong – they are way too physically perfect plus they definitely have it out for Saiman. When they kill Saiman’s imported Minotaur and attack him and Kate as they leave the arena, Kate knows something is very, very wrong and Derek is in danger.

Now she’s caught up in a vortex where Jim and some of her friends have gone rogue (and the clock is ticking on Curran hunting them down to kill them according to pack law), one of her good friends might die, and she is determined to kill those responsible even though that would mean outing her and her abilities to exactly the kind of people she’s been trying to avoid. Pursuing this course also means running in the opposite direction from Curran and whatever tentative trust and feeling has been growing between them.

In the world of awesome bonus material is my absolute favorite, Curran’s perspective of the oh-so-sexy hot tub encounter at the arena between His Furriness and Kate. Prior to that amazing scene, there is also Curran’s mental fury at being trapped in the loup cage by Kate as she attempts to delay his pursuit, and his insight into Kate as he talks Julie into letting him out. Helpful in understanding exactly what Curran feels for Kate is the story that happens in the interim between this and the next book in the series when Jim’s investigation turns up some pretty dangerous information about Kate’s past and he has to show it to Curran in the best interests of the Pack.

Magic Mourns (#3.5 novella – Kate Daniels World – Andrea…with plenty of Raphael)

Magic Mourns (Kate Daniels World #3.5) by Ilona Andrews (Ace, 2011) – this story was also published in the anthology Must Love Hellhounds

Watching werehyena Raphael desperately attempt to woo Andrea (particularly with her self-hatred of her beastkin nature – a nature she must hide from the Order or lose her job) has been both amusing and wonderful. In this interim novella to the series, Magic Mourns, readers can see these two embark on an adventure together.

Andrea is busy answering Kate’s phone at the Order while her friend recovers from the wounds received at the end of Magic Strikes. A citizen complaining about a were-animal running away from a dog the size of a house qualifies as reason to investigate, so Andrea – a Master of Arms even if the Order chooses not to bestow the title on her – packs up her guns and crossbow and heads out.

Her anonymous caller was not exaggerating on the size of the dog, which happens to have three heads, but in fighting it off she’s even more shocked when a male hyena starts running her way. Praying it’s not Raphael, the man whose been pursuing her for six months, she’s dismayed when that exact man of her dreams/nightmares changes back into his glorious, naked human form and promptly loses consciousness. Now she’s stuck with a six foot hunk who stops women in their tracks and no answers to the question of what is going on.

She does eventually get some information when he wakes up. Raphael’s mother, the hyena Alpha, recently lost her human mate. The whole clan was horrified when the kind man’s corpse went missing from the funeral home. Tracking the scents at the scene led Raphael to the house in the boondocks and the three-headed dog with an anti-hyena complex. As much as Andrea desperately wants to deny her hyena nature, Raphael’s mother once saved her life and she offers to help him. The forced intimacy of the investigation spurs Andrea to reveal both her desire for Raphael and some of the facts surrounding her horrible childhood.

This is a great story which lays the foundation for not only the future books in the series but also the outstanding full-length Kate Daniels world novel dedicated to Andrea, Gunmetal Magic (see below). Andrea is a phenomenal, complex character and I love any story told from her perspective. The immortal apples in this story also have a cameo role in the next book in the series, so that’s a nice tie-in as well. It’s great to get in the head of a different character, particularly when it comes to seeing Kate and Curran through someone else’s eyes.

Magic Bleeds (Book #4)

Magic Bleeds (Kate Daniels #4) by Ilona Andrews (Ace, 2010)

Magic Bleeds is one of the most painful Kate Daniels books to date for me to read but it’s also my favorite. The activity in the book gets not only incredibly dangerous, but the novel also contains the ever present backdrop of Kate’s hurt feelings regarding Curran dismissing her right when their relationship was about to take a huge step forward.

Trying to work through the emotional pain, Kate responds to a bizarre incident at a rowdy bar, one that almost unleashes a virulent plague. Picking up a large, bizarrely colored poodle as a faithful sidekick (who provides much needed comic relief to this tension-packed story), Kate is called to her old stomping grounds of the Mercenary Guild to investigate the murder of the founder. Both Jim and Curran show up, with Kate and Curran unleashing their anger at one another about the demise of their relationship.

Needing answers to two strange murders, Kate turns to her untrustworthy acquaintance Saiman who has amazing magic and technology at his disposal, if the price is right. Not only requiring a hefty fee from the Order for his services, Saiman also exacts the fee of one elegant dinner with Kate for rendering assistance. That he times it for right when Curran comes with the other Alphas and the People for a political dinner brings that entire situation to a boiling head.

Discovering what and who is behind the latest attempt to decimate the Pack and render the city helpless is a cold wake up call for Kate, and one that could come at an unbelievably high price, possibly costing her the friends she’s made, the home she’s built, and the man she’s come to love. Ilona Andrews says in the acknowledgments that this was a hard book to write, but I feel nothing but gratitude that they managed to wade through whatever difficulties they encountered to produce this story. As always, the intersection of the series story arc and the more immediate subplots and political machinations is astonishingly tight. For me, seeing Kate and Curran work through their relationship problems to see the vision of what they might be able to have is not just heart-warming but inspiring, as these two damaged people with so much on their plate deserve some personal happiness.

Andrews has given us some phenomenal bonus scenes as well. [Ilona Andrews added the altercation that prevented Curran from making his dinner date with Kate on July 31, 2013 and, wow, talk about a rough day.] Naturally one of the key scenes is the controversial dinner scene from Curran’s POV, but the one that ties me up in happy emotional knots is when Curran wakes after the battle and realizes what Kate has gone through while he’s been unconscious. The ass-kicking throwdown of the subsequent council meeting and then Curran’s fight with his on-the-fence foster father Mahon is total icing on the Kate Daniels cake.

Magic Dreams (novella #4.5 – Kate Daniels World – Dali…with a lot of Jim)

Magic Dreams (Kate Daniels World #4.5 – Jim and Dali) by Ilona Andrews (Ace, 2012)

Anyone who has seen the Pack’s Head of Security and Kate’s friend Jim interact with the were-tiger Dali knows there is a significant spark between them. In Magic Dreams, told from Dali’s POV, we finally get a little forward progress with the unlikely pairing of a half-blind, vegetarian were-tiger and the badass jaguar who keeps the entire Pack safe.

Dali is surprised coming home one night to see her luscious Alpha asleep on the floor of her bedroom. While her fantasies have certainly run in that direction she knows there must be a reason and waking Jim up is harder than she expected. Discovering that he cannot remember the details he encountered when visiting one of the safe houses for their pack, Dali realizes that magic is afoot, and if there is anything this double Ph.D. understands it’s the cultural complexities and danger surrounding different forms of magic.

When the realization dawns that Jim is dying as a result of the magic inflicted on him at the safe house, Dali doesn’t hesitate to take on a mission that could very well get her tortured or killed, because this man means everything to her and she doesn’t want to live in a world without him.

OMG, Dali. Ilona Andrews writes smart, funny, brave female characters like they are going out of style and Dali is no exception. She’s quirky (a white tiger who faints at the sight of blood?) and feisty and it’s adorable seeing her have no clue how much Jim wants her while she’s working so hard to find the cure before all his magic is siphoned away. I always hope to see these two together in every Kate Daniels books and want to see little white tiger/jaguar babies some day soon!

Magic Slays (Book #5)

Magic Slays (Book #5) by Ilona Andrews (Ace, 2011)

In Magic Slays, Kate might be relieved not to be working for the Order anymore, but making her own viable go of a private business isn’t as straightforward as she wants it to be. Being the official mate of the Beast Lord makes things even that much more complicated and her former employer, the Order, is happy to spread rumors of the “loose-cannon-bad-at-her-job” variety.

Well, life is full of complications. Kate’s best friend Andrea reappears after she’s been missing for months. It turns out she was injured so badly during the battle at the end of Magic Bleeds that she changed into her beastkin form in the hospital while being treated as an unconscious Knight of the Order. Since the Order has a “no shapeshifters allowed” policy, this meant they essentially kidnapped her (along with Kate’s dog Grendel) and took her to Order headquarters to stand trial. While Andrea fought a valiant legal fight for acceptance, she’s been officially discharged and is clearly filled with rage toward an organization who she believed was her family.

Kate might have been pissed that Andrea was gone all those months with no word, but she’s grateful she’s back, immediately putting her on the payroll. And it’s none too soon. A freak accident with a vampire whose master loses control comes on the same day as Kate’s first real case. What seems like a kidnapping of an inventor and murder of his guard actually begins to have far more frightening repercussions – after all, anything that sends Saiman packing up and ready to flee the city does not bode well. When Kate’s daughter Julie is endangered by the secret society bent on waging war, Kate and Curran might ally themselves with the various magical factions of the city in order to save the lives of the people they love.

I adore this book on so many levels. The biggest reason is watching Kate and Curran grow as a couple, with Kate finally realizing that Curran loves her for herself, not for the power she can bring him and the Pack. Andrea’s character only gets more complex and interesting, undoubtedly serving as a build-up to the next full-length novel in the series which is told from her perspective. Naturally the evil Kate and crew faces seems to be an independent evil on its surface but actually is tied into the bigger story arc of the whole series, so Andrews’ usual mastery is at work here. Magic Slays is basically a slice of fantastic served up with a healthy dose of awesome sauce.

“Magic Tests” short story in An Apple for the Creature anthology (Kate Daniels World #5.3 – Julie)

An Apple for the Creature – anthology containing “Magic Tests” short story by Ilona Andrews, #5.3 in Kate Daniels series (Ace, September 2012)

The publishers who put out these anthologies always have me over a barrel – it’s my completionist tendencies at work. I have to read every story when I really love a series. *shakes fist at exorbitant anthology pricing*

In An Apple for the Creature anthology, each story focuses on some kind of first day at school with the Ilona Andrews story “Magic Tests” giving us the wonderful insight into Kate’s ward Julie. Julie hasn’t had a great track record with educational opportunities. She lived on the street after her mother died and then Kate sent her to a highbrow boarding school in Macon where she was so miserable, she ran away three times before being expelled. While she’s thrilled to finally be living at home, Julie is nevertheless disgruntled that Kate will not let her just work at the office and learn from the shapeshifters.

Having received ten names of Atlanta schools, Julie reluctantly chose one – the day/boarding school of Seven Star Academy. When Kate and Julie have their initial interview with the principal, Julie is shocked to discover that Kate has recommended her to go undercover to figure out the location of a missing student. In the course of her investigation, which uses the magic Julie must keep concealed from everyone lest she be used for personal gain, she makes several friends as well as solves the mystery.

Julie is an incredible character who is so filled with potential in terms of the story arc and for her own personal journey that I’m rather in awe of the writing of her. I did love this short story told from her POV since it’s easy to forget with all the smart ass comments and dangerous situations that Julie is incredibly smart and perceptive. A total bonus was the appearance of the eighteen year old, pleasantly megalomaniacal dragon shifter who Dali freed in Magic Dreams. I expect he is going to be a fantastic character, and between him, Derek, and Ascanio I’m keeping a tally in my head of all the hot guys Julie could chose from when she decides to fall in love.

Magic Gifts (Novella #5.4)

Magic Gifts (#5.4 Kate Daniels series) by Ilona Andrews (Ace, July 2012)

This novella was offered for a while as a freebie on Ilona Andrews website before it’s inclusion in the bonus material of Gunmetal Magic, and now you have to buy that book in order to read it. Since I always appreciate a chance to observe Kate and Curran up close, it’s a delight. Because the story has its own cover design on Goodreads (see visual on the right), I’m guessing it will eventually be released as a stand alone enovella, but for now you should read it in the back of Gunmetal Magic, which is so terrific, you should be reading it anyway.

After a hard day of killing psychotic floating jellyfish, Kate is happy to get back to the office and find Curran there. He asks her to go out to dinner with him, something this power couple doesn’t get to do…ever. What seems like a great carnivore experience at an Atlanta Korean restaurant quickly becomes a nightmare when a young woman is strangled by a gold necklace at the table near them. When that same necklace is slapped on a young boy who is slowly being choked to death, Kate and Curran engage in a race against time to save him.

I’ve read some great novellas in my day, but this one tops the chart. Not only is the world of the “Vikings” described in more detail but the subplot of the ongoing upheaval of the Mercenary Guild is fascinating, stemming directly from the murder of its leader which we witnessed in Magic Bleeds. Because the dead woman and her date were both upper-level journeymen controlling vampires, Kate and Curran’s nemesis Ghastek is involved, so the People offer a complicated layer to the story.

Gunmetal Magic (Kate Daniels World Book #5.5 – Andrea…with a lot of Raphael)

Gunmetal Magic (Kate Daniels World #5.5) by Ilona Andrews (Ace, July 31, 2012)

Since Gunmetal Magic overlaps the events of Magic Gifts, it helps to read the novella prior to this book. While Kate and Curran are off dealing with “Vikings” in Magic Gifts, Andrea is in charge of the investigation firm. When the Pack’s Head of Security calls to alert her that four shapeshifters have been killed on a Pack job site, she’s the lead investigator. Unfortunately, the job site is her ex-boyfriend Raphael’s current reclamation project.

After their fight before the major battle with Erra at the end of Magic Bleeds and Andrea’s disappearance while legally battling the Order, she hasn’t called or spoken to Raphael. She knows it’s cowardly and she’s been working on one hell of an apology in her mind, so Andrea takes this job for the opportunity it is and leaves a message for Raphael to please come to office to be interviewed and that she has some long overdue things to say to him. He shows up alright, along with his gigantic, human blond bimbo of a fiancee, and Andrea takes that as the dismissal it’s meant to be.

Sadly, the murdered shapeshifters still require justice and Andrea must turn to Raphael for assistance as she uncovers strange snake people, an Egyptian god and ceremonial knives charged with so much magic it leaves her breathless. Amidst the investigation, Andrea also deals with the reality of becoming part of the Bouda Pack (of which Raphael is the Alpha Male) and finally accepting her shapeshifter side. That a handsome Russian volhv keeps coming to her rescue throughout the investigation just adds to the intriguing mess that is Andrea’s life.

My fandom for Andrea is well known and I would say this novel is tied with Magic Bleeds as my favorite book of the entire series. Andrea experiences a boatload of internal and external conflict and I challenge anyone to not appreciate her heartfelt fear of losing Raphael permanently. Raphael is a selfish asshole, but one who is motivated by so much love for Andrea that it’s easy to empathize with him even when you’re just getting Andrea’s skewed take on the situation. The freaky god versus the snake people plot is intriguing and I like having more Roman time, since he was a great character back in Magic Slays.

“Retribution Clause” in Hex Appeal Anthology (Kate Daniels World #5.6)

“Retribution Clause” in Hex Appeal (Kate Daniels World #5.6) by Ilona Andrews (St. Martin’s Griffin, June 25, 2012)

This short story, partnered with several other urban fantasy authors in the anthology Hex Appeal, has Ilona Andrews venturing outside Atlanta to Philadelphia. Saiman’s much nicer cousin Adam works as an insurance adjuster, which to our eyes seems like a boring occupation, but in Kate Daniels’ world is anything but.

Adam and his mysterious partner Siroun are often called upon to investigate the theft of insured property and fulfill the clauses of unique life insurance policies. When the wife of a powerful lawyer is discovered strangled, the policy she took out with POM Insurance stipulated a “retribution clause” where her husband should be killed since he would be her murderer.

This short story is brilliant, teasing us with a hint of Siroun’s origins in magic, the world of the insurance business (pretty scary) and the unstated affection these two partners have for one another – feelings that neither feels they can act upon because of who they are. It’s nice to know that someone can be a polymorph like Saiman and have a conscience. This duo would be a powerful force in any future books or novellas since the premise of their jobs offers an almost limitless number of plot lines. Unless they crop up in future books, you don’t need to read this short story, but if you happen to enjoy the other authors in the anthology (like Jim Butcher and Carrie Vaughn, both great writers), this would be well worth it.

Magic Rises (Kate Daniels #6)

Magic Rises (Book #6) by Ilona Andrews (Ace, July 30, 2013)

Here’s what I stayed up until 4 am this morning in order to read the moment it landed in my Kindle app! Yes, the cover has gotten a ton of criticism from fans – I gather from Andrews’ website that the model featured in all the other Kate Daniels books was no longer available so the publisher found a delightful sixteen year old to pretend to be a woman in her mid-to-late twenties. Oh, publishers.

In Magic Rises, the Pack is given an incredible opportunity…for a price. The biggest fear of every shapeshifter is that their child, upon puberty will surrender to the animal within and go “loup” at which time the alpha will be forced to kill them. This happens all too often and the European shapeshifters have access to a medicine that greatly reduces the chance of this happening. Rather than simply sell it, however, they insist that Curran come and mediate a dispute between families.

Curran and Kate take a contingent of their most trusted pack members to fulfill the agreement – playing bodyguard to a pregnant werewolf whose child will inherit a crucial piece of land – knowing ahead of time that it’s definitely a trap. What they don’t know is why they are being exposed to a trap, but the appearance of one of Roland’s warlords brings a certain amount of clarity to a situation that can only be described as (pardon me) a clusterfuck of epic proportions.

Not only does this utterly kick butt book send chills down your spine as we see Kate inch closer to being exposed to her father, but there are the added layers of incredible sacrifice in the desperate bid to get this magical concoction for the children. With a shapeshifter princess making the moves on Curran and him letting her, the relationship pain is off the charts, making the political machinations that much more dramatic. I was gasping in horror in more than one location in this book – it’s an emotional rollercoaster but oh, so satisfying.

So that’s my whole review for all of the Kate Daniels stories to date, as of July 30, 2013. 🙂 I hope this gives you an inkling of why I think this is one of the best fantasy series on the market and why the writing team of Ilona Andrews is deserving of such respect. In an incredible alternate history, the rich world of Kate Daniels is one that I find myself rereading, fully enjoying the drama, humor and ultimately the escape to a place where the battle for good vs. evil happens all too often. If you are a fantasy reader, do yourself a favor and begin reading these books. You won’t be sorry.

Kathryne Kennedy’s Enchanting the Lady Not Worth the Updated Cover

1 Aug

I remember having a conversation with my mother years ago about how we hate it when publishers reissue covers. Most readers are very visual when remembering books they’ve read, picturing a distinct cover. There is nothing more crushing than picking up what you think is the latest Nora Roberts novel, only to get it home and realize after 20 pages that you read it years ago.

Updating covers are a great idea, however, when the original covers are either extremely dated (think Fabio-esque bodice ripper cover) or just plain suck (we all remember my rant about the great Midnight series from Lisa Marie Rice and how I think those covers devalue a classic romantic suspense trilogy), but publishers need to be careful the public doesn’t think you’re either a) snowing them into buying books they’ve already read or b) trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

The Fire Lord’s Lover (#1 The Elven Lords series, Dominic and Cassandra’s story) by Kathryne Kennedy (Sourcebooks, 2010)

When I saw that Sourcebooks, a company who states as part of their mission a firm commitment to promoting each author in their stable, had a “new” Kathryne Kennedy book, I was pretty psyched. After all, her fantasy/alternate history romance, The Fire Lord’s Lover, was hands down the best fantasy romance novel I read last year. I adored Dominic, the half-breed bastard son of the evil Elven Lord, who had learned to control his emotions out of necessity. His father had tortured and killed anyone who Dominic ever cared for, so when he marries Lady Cassandra, a human with no apparent Elven traits, the passion between them is a shock for them both. Particularly for Cassandra as her marriage of convenience is actually the excuse for a suicide mission for the Rebellion since she is a trained assassin bent on killing the Elven Lord. Great couple, awesome world building, lots of unexpected twists, happiness as a reader ensues.

Except that the series didn’t really keep up its momentum for me. The two subsequent books focus on other couples supporting the rebellion and possessing specialized traits that enable them to fight the evil Elven Lords. But while I was being told that Lady Cecily and her champion Giles were falling for each other in the second book, The Lady of the Storm, I never really saw it (although I liked them both). The world building still held me, so I decided to keep plugging away and bought the third book, The Lord of Illusion, direct from Sourcebooks.

The Lady of the Storm (#2 Elven Lords series – Cecily and Giles story) by Kathryne Kennedy (Sourcebooks, August 1, 2011)

At which point I became uber-pissed and the top of my head flew off. This third book in the series takes place 50 years after The Fire Lord’s Lover, which is fine, particularly since everybody seems long-lived, but there’s a big, pink elephant in the room and it’s going rogue. You see, there are seven Elven Lords to defeat and with three books, I’ve only read about three of them. Not a huge problem, except we meet all the other couples who have stolen the magical scepters, undermining the Elven despots, and hear peripherally about their adventures, but I’m not getting the whole story here. And then Kennedy wraps the series up and solves the problems.

Um, what?! Did Sourcebooks renege on the other books so Kennedy put out the last one? I can’t imagine after reading how the whole world solves its problems we’re going to have other books in the series, and I guess since neither of the subsequent two were anywhere near as good as the first one that’s okay, but I’m not thrilled with having everything tied up with a bow for me. People, don’t introduce a zillion characters when I’m never going to get their stories. So not okay.

So I was disgruntled (to say the least) about the Elven Lords series not living up to the potential of the first book in the series (which honestly is so good that I reread it every couple of months). This made for ripe fodder when I saw Sourcebooks was reissuing Kennedy’s Relics of Merlin series and that the first book, originally published in 2008, Enchanting the Lady, was coming out in August.

The Lord of Illusion (#3 Elven Lords series – Camille and Drystan’s story) by Kathryne Kennedy (Sourcebooks, February 7, 2012)

But I’ve stopped hoping that any of Kennedy’s books will live up to my favorite. Enchanting the Lady has a very cool premise. Fulfilling a gaslight craze (maybe the reason Sourcebooks reissued it?), the book is set in an England in which magic is an accepted fact of the aristocracy, to the point that you can’t inherit an estate without it. The only nobles looked down upon are the class of baronet since they are shapeshifters who can see through magic and are self-appointed protectors of the crown.

Felicity Seymour is used to being invisible. Her looks aren’t anything worthy of notice, she’s an orphan set to inherit a big estate, but the only problem is she can’t. She didn’t inherit any magic from her parents so she has no dowry to attract a husband. After the public humiliation of her magical failure in front of the court to so much as light a candle, she knows she’ll have to rely on the largesse of her aunt and uncle and obnoxious cousin.

Terence Blackwell, baronet and werelion is astonished that no one seems to notice the stunningly beautiful Lady Felicity when she comes for her magic test in front of the Prince of Wales. The only problem is that she smells like the dangerous relic magic that took his brother’s life and that Terence is committed to hunting down. The relics place the crown in danger and he’s sworn to give his life to finding them. When the opportunity presents itself to court Felicity and discover if she’s a traitor, he’s all too willing to do it. What starts off as a lie rapidly becomes the truth as he falls for her, but will her fragile emotions and new self-confidence withstand the knowledge of his betrayal?

Enchanting the Lady (the original 2008 cover)

This book should have been amazing – alternate history/gaslight with a vibrant England populated with magic users and shapeshifters combined with the mores and clothes we love about historical romance. The plot device of dangerous relics left over from the time of Merlin ties in a very English story idea, but the book sadly suffers from the same complaint as the second and third book in the Elven Lords series. Two great characters but there is a lot of declaring feelings without a greater demonstration of why those two people are falling for each other. I loved Terence and Felicity both (particularly Terence when he was giving into his lion instincts of crowding and marking Felicity) but why are they into each other again? It seems like mostly chemistry – maybe if she showed a little more chutzpah with her obviously evil and magic sucking relatives, I might have seen what Terence clearly saw in her.

So here’s the thing. How I can I recommend a full price reissue of this book with the snazzy new cover from Sourcebooks, when you can buy the exact same book with a decent cover on it for a pittance used on Amazon? It’s a fun read, but not one good enough to exhort you to buy full price. This is a library check out or used book purchase for sure. Now The Fire Lord’s Lover, on the other hand, is totally worth a full price purchase and it’s got used paperbacks aplenty available! This book is a reasonable paranormal romance but failed at enchanting this lady.

%d bloggers like this: