Magic Binds is the ninth installment in the highly acclaimed urban fantasy series by the writing duo, Ilona and Gordon Andrews. Having reached the status of bestsellers and the rare honor of hard cover over the span of an almost decade of writing, Kate Daniels series is widely recognized as one of the best urban fantasy series in the market. I have written about the series here. After several pretty decent novels there came a serious dip in the form of Magic Shifts, then a couple of novellas about side characters from Kate Daniels’ world, and an entirely new urban fantasy/romance series before finally the ninth book saw the light of day.
Magic Binds garners enthusiastic reviews from critics and fans alike, showcasing all the strengths of the previous novels. The end of the 10-book story arc is near, and so the ninth book cannot but head toward some kind of a grand conclusion, upping the ante and preparing ground for the big climax. All the smoldering conflicts burst up in flames, all the grudges and favors are coming to the fore once more, and the knowledge of previous events is a must. It follows logically that the readers in general – and the people writing reviews specifically – have invested so much into the series already that their reception might be more than just a bit skewed.
At least that’s my take on Magic Binds. Because I was disappointed. That’s a book which left a lingering bad taste in my mouth and a serious question in my mind: is selling one’s talent inevitable in current market conditions? It didn’t happen overnight, or even through one book. But it happened: the fresh, intriguing series with an original take on the dichotomy between magic and technology became a carefully prepared fast-food meal, made according to a sound marketing recipe, containing all the right ingredients in precisely measured amounts, but inevitably lacking the one thing that makes the book come alive: soul. Yeah, I know, it sounds like some poetic bullshit. So let’s make it more precise. By “soul” in this context I mean a bit of passion about the author’s own work, a bit of crazy fun shining through the writing, a genuine willingness to take a risk for the sake of what you need or simply want to say – but that means you have to have something to say. I’m sad to say that Magic Binds has none of those things. It’s like The Expendables franchise – an orgy of destruction that through all the action and explosions manages a near impossible feat: becomes incredibly boring and repetitive. I read this book to 2 a.m., but not because I was so taken with it that I couldn’t stop. On the contrary: I wanted to have it over with as soon as possible so that I could start reading something better.
But enough of this rant; let’s dig into some details.
At this point it’s difficult to say anything about the plot without spoiling the events of previous books. What I can safely say is that Kate and Curran are getting married and are mostly interested in getting some small psychos of their own ASAP, just as any good stereotypical American family ought to do. Obviously, that doesn’t sit well with many of the bigwigs in Atlanta and around – most specifically, with Kate’s immortal psychotic dad. By the ninth book every reader should know the characters pretty well, so characterization is usually thought unnecessary and the psychological content is limited to an absolute minimum, making space for more action. And so we have dangerous run-ins with religiously motivated assassins, negotiations with gods from a bunch of pantheons, extraordinarily portentous dreams and meetings with Oracles and a ballsy excursion to the most heavily guarded prison. There are some grand reveals and resolutions to mysteries first introduced books before, some unexpected allies found in former blood enemies, traitors among the most trusted friends, etc. There are some mandatory snappy one-liners, reasonable amounts of blood and gore and an obligatory sex scene which is as exciting as train timetable. The whole thing reads like a script for an overly long RPG campaign or an old computer game, where you gather your points of experience and power, you hoard your magic weapons and armor, and as you become near invincible your enemies grow in strength as well, until you meet the boss of the bosses in a final bloody showdown. And to be completely clear: it’s not a compliment. A book needs to be more.
There are some nicely woven scenes and moments, there’s even an attempt at humanizing the main heroine who at this point [spoiler alert!] became almost godlike in her powers. But it’s all too little, too late, and done without even an ounce of the elegance typical for earlier efforts of Andrews’ writing duo. And even though the final fight is pumped up to be one of the bigger in the whole series, with lots at stake, there are no losses and the win comes so easily that the whole effort turns into something truly disappointing. Every budding conflict is resolved within several pages, every dubious action is almost instantaneously excused by some external force, everything is pretty and full of ponies shitting rainbows.
And on some level I get it. I really do. Money is not a thing to be trifled with. You need to appease your audience if you want to live off it – whether it’s writing or performing or painting… Vincent van Gogh died in extreme poverty, forgotten by all; Salvadore Dali was an awfully rich and famous dude. Of course, I’m skewing the scales and picking only those examples that fit my theory – still, there aren’t many writers who decided to make their living off writing and invariably churned out one ingenious novel after the next, and each of them became a bestseller. Come to think of it, nobody readily comes to mind.
Still, I am really sad to see such a promising series coming slowly but surely to a subpar conclusion. The writing is slick and almost faultless – the action runs smoothly if somewhat mechanically, without real life or passion. Everything is pushed – more or less convincingly – in the direction chosen by the authors long time ago. And I probably will read the final installment in the series, because I too invested too much to just let it go one book before the ultimate conclusion. But I surely won’t be waiting for the upcoming book with baited breath.