So how about a lighter, or shadier, type of fantasy than the big books I have talked about lately? 🙂 I will come back to Robin Hobb, I promise, just not today. Let’s jump to urban fantasy genre for a moment.
Magic Shifts is an eight installment in Kate Daniels’ world. Seven previous ones formed a complete story arc and I wrote about them here. I imagine that this new book was a difficult one for the authors: they had to start again, almost from scratch, with an old material, and after seven books it’s really hard to squeeze it even for a few drops of something unique. It must have been very demanding, especially taking under consideration their huge fan base, and I’m afraid they ultimately didn’t succeed. All the right elements are there – Ilona Andrews still knows how to write, how to build a story, how to create powerful, gripping scenes. Magic Shifts is even more picturesque than the previous books and would be a great film material – but the magic has really shifted. And, sadly, it’s almost entirely gone.
The premise seems attractive enough. One of the side characters, the werebufallo (yup!) Eduardo, whom we’ve met in Magic Breaks, goes missing. Obviously, Kate and Curran decide to start looking for him, and what they find forms a rather scary picture. Eduardo is a tricky choice, however, even for the authors, as evidenced by the limited amount of information they’re able to provide about him. His personality was described several times in exactly the same way, with the use of the same adjectives, as if there weren’t enough things about Eduardo that could even be invented. A loyal friend, hard-working, with a nice house. Hmm. Not much to build upon, let alone care for. That didn’t exactly endear Eduardo to me, and it definitely did influence the way I read this book.
Many of the characters the readers came to like and care for are almost non-existent in Magic Shifts. Those who get cameos are unfortunately portrayed in a sketchy, two-dimensional way, and for many it’s an undeserved punishment. One example is Andrea, whose only function in this book is to eat disgusting things, just because she’s pregnant. Well… Sure, there’s a logical explanation to the absence of the Pack, but it doesn’t change the fact that without them this book is less interesting than it could have been. To put it simple: the emotional investment of the reader is seriously limited. Especially when big chunks of the novel are repetitions of what happened before and why. I much preferred the way the authors dealt with a need to remind readers of who’s who in the previous book, where there was a sort of preface dedicated solely to that goal. It was sleek, humorous, full of information, and not clattering the story later on.
But let’s get back to Magic Shifts. There are many weird, seemingly unrelated portents which at first are difficult to put together, but then form a rather nice, if slightly repetitive, picture. There is of course a traditional bad guy, adequately big, exotic, powerful, and mad. To defeat him Kate will need help from many different, sometimes surprising, parties. There is a nice dollop of the funny one-liner banter that the readers expect from Andrews’ books. There is even a gem of a family dinner at Applebees, the only one remaining post-Shift. But the rest? Falls flat. In the middle of the book there’s a scene where the main protagonist gets hurt really badly. Since it’s the middle of the book, we know it’s not going to last or even have a special impact on the events. We know it, because the cycle repeats itself for the umpty-umpth time. She’s hurt, she is medicated, family despairs, death lurks somewhere around the corner, and then everything gets well again. Emotional impact: zero. There’s then the mandatory sex scene, as detailed and exciting as a weather forecast. There are all the correct utterances about the importance of family and difficult relations between parents and children. Yes, they sound about right. But it doesn’t change the fact there are too many of them and that they’re simply too boring for their own good. And the whole novel seems written only for two short scenes, one in the last chapter and one in the epilogue, both of which will probably move the main story arc, spinning all ten books, forward.
There was also one thing that I particularly disliked. Or maybe it just disappointed me, deeply. It’s the direction of the main story arc. I’m trying very hard to avoid any potential spoilers, so I will be intentionally vague. There’s a Gavin O’Connor movie “Warrior” (2011), about two estranged brothers taking part in a MMA tournament. One is a traumatized Marine veteran gone AWOL, who sees the tournament and the final reward as a way to atone himself. The other is a teacher and a family man, who due to the economical crisis defaulted on his loan and who is trying to win to get his house back. I liked this movie very much, clichés or not. I hated its ending with a passion of a thousand suns. It was so… politically correct, co deeply culturally ingrained in the American society, so unconsciously “that’s the way it is”. And that’s exactly the same problem I have with the direction of the main story arc’s in the Kate Daniels’ series. Maybe, just maybe, it won’t end the way I dread. But after the eight novel I fear that this chance is very slim.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a decent enough book. It’s fast paced, entertaining, it has its fun moments. But the Andrews duo set their own standard so high that it was bound to become difficult at some point to surpass or even maintain it. This time they just didn’t manage. Instead of an original, inventive novel we’ve got a rehash of the old. In Voron’s words, “sloppy”.