Magic Slays - Ilona Andrews

~~Moved from GR~~

Magic Slays

by Ilona Andrews

 

In Kate Daniels' dystopian world of post-Shift Atlanta, waves of magic and technology alternately shut down spellwork and machinery, the cultish "People" control the minds of vampires, and tensions between shapeshifters and humans are growing. (Yes, this is a dystopia. My proof: the massive chocolate shortage.) Kate, recently mated to the Beast Lord Curran, is well aware of the dislike that human organisations such as the Merciful Order feel for the weres; in fact, shapeshifter backing might explain why Kate's new business venture as a private investigator has flopped so thoroughly. However, Kate is about to rue the day her boredom was broken. When she receives a call from a vampire navigator that one of his creatures has gone rogue, she soon realises that the sudden loss of magical control is far from an isolated incident. Since things clearly aren't complex enough, Kate finally receives her first case: find a missing inventor and his brand new doomsday device. On the positive side, at least she has a more interesting answer when asked how her day went...

To tell the truth, this is one of the many reviews I've been procrastinating on, in this case, because of an internal war between the irresistible urge to vent my viewpoint versus a bit of shame for being That Person. You know when you go out to see a fun comedy/adventure movie, and you invite your uptight friend along, and they ignore all the pulse-racing action scenes and hilarious one-liners and focus humorlessly on how politically unsound and sexist it was? Worse still, not only do they utterly fail to enjoy it, but on the ride home, they insist upon telling you precisely why? Fair warning--in this review, I'm going to be That Person. (Even more than usual.) I'm well aware I missed all the good stuff and focused on all the inessential underpinnings. Feel free to do the literary equivalent of turning up the volume on the radio to drown out That Person's voice.

As always, one of the most problematic aspects of the book for me was the relationship between Curran and Kate. Kate's sudden bout of angst irritated me; out of the blue, she decides that, despite Curran's repeated self-sacrificial heroics, he must just be using her and not love her at all. Especially since I didn't see a similar attitude in the last few books, I felt that this was a rather superficial introduction of conflict and didn't ring true to Kate's logical nature. However, as always I found Curran's domineering attitude more problematic. I'm not big of romance, and I've come to realise that I have very negative reactions to forceful, domineering alpha males, even in fiction: to me, their jealousy, possessiveness, and tightly wound anger reads as emotional abuse and domestic violence. If you don't share this reaction, then the vivid scenes where Curran is aggressively jealous may be enjoyable. Even I had a visceral reaction to them--just not a pleasant one. Here's some of the scenes (spoilertagged):

First one to bother me was this:

 

"My leg screamed in protest. I sighed and started climbing. I just had to keep from limping...I had once mentioned my desire for an elevator, and His Majesty asked me if I would like a flock of doves to carry me up to my quarters so my feet wouldn't have to touch the ground.

What a loving, kind, thoughtful man. He cares about her so much that he imposes his own definition of strength and weakness upon her without once even pausing to consider what would be best for her. One might have thought that acceding to one's mate's request not to be forced walk up flights of stairs every night, damaging an already wounded knee, would be a sign of love. But not Curran. That sort of love is for wusses. He deals out the tough love stuff. She should suck it up, even if it injures and endangers her more.

And then there's the insane jealousy:

'You like to screw with me, is that it? Saiman, that Russian mage, that merc...'

'What merc?'

'Bob.'

I racked my brain. I barely said two words to Bob. 'He stopped by our table to ask me which way I'd vote in the Guild elections. They still haven't figured out who is in charge, and I'm technically in the roster. He was trying to let Mark think that he and I were buddies.'

'And you are not.'

I threw a bread roll at him. Curran snapped it out of the air.

'Would you like me to carry a foot-long stick? I can just poke people when they get too close.'

'That's a good idea.' He held his arm out. 'If you can extend your arm and touch them with the stick, they are too close.'"

[Kate is talking with Roman about Roman's desire to date Andrea.]


"Over Roman's shoulder I could see Curran. He stood absolutely still, his gaze fixed on the back of Roman's neck.
Houston, we have a problem.
'Step away from me,' I said quietly.
'Sorry?' Roman leaned in closer.
Jim was saying something. Curran started toward us in that unhurried lion gait that usually signaled he was a hair from exploding into violence.
'Step away.'
Roman took two steps back, just in time to move out of Curran's path. The Beast Lord passed by him and deliberately stepped between the volhv and me. I touched his cheek, running my fingers over the stubble. He took my hand into his. A quiet growl reverberated in his throat....
'Too much excitement, Your Majesty?' I asked.
'He was standing too close.'
'He was asking about Andrea.'
'Too close. I didn't like it.' Curran wrapped his arm around my shoulders and started walking, steering me away from the group. His Possessive Majesty in all of his glory."

My major problem here isn't so much the jealousy; it's the violence bubbling under the surface. In those scenes, Kate is clearly afraid for what Curran might do to the inoffensive men around her. Given what he actually did to Saiman--and basically lied about by omission to her--one can see why. On the few occasions where she confronts him, he is unapologetic. Add in all the times he manipulates her and forces her into obeying his will and we see an interesting trend: Kate really doesn't win arguments with Curran. Curran's manipulations, combined with her fate, simply conspires to make him win. We saw this first when she left the Order; we now find out that the same was true with Saiman, Julie, her assistants, her new job, etc. As an addendum, Angela has conveniently also lost her ability to maintain her stance against Rafael without either having to submit. Convenient; no one has to lose outright since fate makes sure that the women just lose in general.

 

There's also the control aspect. I actually appreciated Curran's willingness for much of the book to "allow" (gah) Kate to take risks, even though he seemed to think in those terms. At least they had a dialogue about control and letting go. But in case you thought the domineering was over, we get this:

If you think that I will ever let you pull that fucked-up shit again, then this thing between you and me is done. We are fucking done.'

'I thought you loved me and would never leave me.'

'That was not you. That was fucked up...Never again.'

'Never agin,' I promised. 'Never again. I give you my word.'"

(show spoiler)

Yeah, yeah, I know. I have issues, I'm twisting the love and passion into control and jealousy, I don't get it. I actually accept all that. But to me, it's actually just difficult to read.

My problems with Curran have been present throughout the series, and even in this book, they've never stopped me from enjoying the story. Unfortunately, I had more serious issues with the plot itself. First was a somewhat trivial irritation: I don't think the Andrews have the hang of retconning. To me, a good retcon: (1) acknowledges the change ("why don't you have those sunlight hankies any more?"), and (2) explains it ("you have to be happy to cast the spell.") Personally, I sort of feel it insults my intelligence as a reader to introduce new characters and concepts (e.g. renders,

[Kate's acquaintance with the witches--no, she really didn't recognise her in the previous book. Plus, don't you think Kate was a little too ready to accept that Voron and Mom were evil? I would have expected the denial to at least last more than a few pages. I know she clumsily retconns that she "always knew," but still.]

(show spoiler)

characters like Shane) but pretend they've been there all along. Yes, I do see the man behind the curtain; give me an excuse as to why he's there instead of trying to make him invisible.

[Speaking of which, I'd love to know why magic bindings and werewolf shifting failed but magic, e.g. trolls and vampires, were unaffected. Retcon, please?]

(show spoiler)

More problematic was the basis of conflict, which turned into a positive haystack of strawmen.

 

 

I'm basically offended by anyone who gives their villains a motivation as idiotic as this:

"Why not?...We simply turned the tables...Before the Shift, our society functioned, because to gain power, you had to work. Success was paved with labour. You had to use your mind and your hands to climb the ladder, so you could live the American dream: work hard, earn money, live better than your parents. But now, in this new world, brains and hard work count for nothing, if you have no magic. Your future is determined by pure accident of birth: if you're born with magic, you can rise to the top with no effort. The safeguards that were meant to keep the dangerous and unbalanced from gaining power have failed. Anyone can be in charge now. They don't have to go to the right college, they don't have to learn the rules, they don't have to prove that they are good enough to be welcomed in the circles of power. All they have to do is be born with magic. Well, I have no magic. Not a drop. Why should I be disadvantaged? Why should I suffer in your world?...All we want is a chance to have the same opportunities as everyone else. To restore order and structure to the society. Those who can't survive in our world, well, they are regrettable casualties. ... It's tragic. But look at it from my point of view: your child will grow up and prosper, while me and my children will be forced to struggle. She is no better than me. Why should your child take my spot under the sun?"

This stance is incredibly naive. The world has never been fair; your accident of birth has always mattered; societal safeguards have never stopped the bad from getting to power, just the poor. The Lighthouse, then is a collection of stupid malcontents who, as Curran tells us, blame their own failures on the rest of society. Fantasy, especially urban fantasy, always contains at least some degree of social criticism. The Lighthouse is the only group we see who speaks out against the current imbalance in their society, and the text clearly indicates that they are utterly in the wrong and that they should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps rather than complain that the world is unfair. Drawing parallels with our own society, I have issues with the minimization and de-legitimizing of those who try take a stance for social justice. (Yes, I know. I'm being That Person.)

However, even the authors seem to realise just how ridiculous the Lighthouse setup is. If you find your characters explaining to each other multiple times why the evil guys are doing what they do, and no matter how many times you try, your exposition is still unconvincing, you may have a problem:

"'They are perpetrating mass murder for no real immediate gain.' I stared at him helplessly. 'How can you do this to your neighbours? They would have to murder millions of people and for what? It's inhuman.'
'No, it's human,' Curran said. 'That's the problem. People, especially unhappy people, want a cause. They want something to belong to, to be a part of something great and bigger, and to be led. It's easy to be a cog in a machine: you don't have to think, you have no responsibility. You're just following orders. Doing as you're told.'
'I can't hate people that much. Don't get me wrong. I want to murder every last Keeper I can find. But that's not hate. That's vengeance.'"

And, in fact, Curran's explanation does a great job of demonstrating why I might join the Lighthouse: because people who think that murdering "every last Keeper I can find" isn't hate, and that vengeance is somehow a different and more just kind of violence, should not be in charge. Why might I join the Lighthouse? Because the "good guys" casually make comments like this:

[Curran]"Go home, kiss your wives, hug your children, put your affairs in order, because tomorrow I will burn your neighbourhood to the ground. We will kill you, your families, your neighbours, your pets, and anyone who will stand in our path. An attack on my family will not go unpunished.

Anyone who thinks like that, in my opinion, is scary enough that stopping him is a reasonable goal.

Speaking of people out on vengeance quests for incomprehensible reasons, here's one thing I've never understood: why is Kate trying to kill Roland, anyway? Are her reasons (he's powerful and old; he killed her traitorous mother) any less insane than the cult she so roundly despises? Do the groups she aligns herself with use methods any less dubious?
With all that said, I can always count on Doctor Doolittle to provide a pointed (hah) but cogent version of the moral of the story:

"'Humans tend to segregate the world: enemies on one side, friends on the other. Friends are people we know. Enemies are the Other. You can do just about anything to the Other. It doesn't matter if the Other is actually guilty of any crimes, because it's a matter of emotion, not logic. You see, angry people aren't interested in justice. They just want an excuse to vent their rage....And once you become their Other, you're no longer a person. You're just an idea, and abstraction of everything that's wrong with their world. Give them the slightest excuse, and they will tear you down."

(show spoiler)

I know I've been busy blabbing about the negatives, but there are still plenty of wonderful story elements to go around. One of my favourite aspects of the book was the return of Julie, who mailed herself home in an effort to escape boarding school. I also loved some of the plot elements that were set up in this book; I can't wait to see how they play out in the rest of the series. I also have a deep and abiding love of Grendel, the Attack Poodle.  There can never be too much pagetime with Grendel. I know this review was mainly negative; part of the problem may be that I read it right after another fantastic book and it hit the low spot in my emotions. Certainly I'm well aware that my reactions to Curran and my insistence on more logical villains are as irritating as analysing Scott Pilgrim's moral code in the car ride home.

 

Unfortunately, the problem with being That Person is that I just can't help my reaction, and since this is an online review, you, dear reader, actually did have a chance to kick me out of the metaphorical car.

 

So, since this ride was so much fun, how 'bout we do this again for Magic Rises?