This is not one of those “Maybe the second book will be better” novels where you sense that the author is finding their way and you feel like you’re in episode one, season one of a show that SyFy may take off the air. This is a book that feels like it starts in the middle of something complex with a thought through back-story and a clear sense of direction.
Kate Daniels, the kick-ass, leather-clad, sword-wielding, does-not-play-well-with-others, heroine who has a problem with authority, is saved from being a cliché by an awareness of how much of her own image is for show; a very human experience of fear and an acknowledgement that bravado such as making first contact with the feared were-cat leader of the shape-shifters by saying “Here kitty kitty…” while it may be witty, is also stupid and counter-productive.
I was excited by the possibilities of the future world that Ilona Andrews imagines, where magic literally bites. Waves of magic wash across the world, eroding technology with the relentless energy of a tide undermining a cliff-face, then ebbing and letting technology stand proud for a while. This creates a hybrid environment where people swap between using technology or magic to take care of business as routinely as if they were moving from gas to electricity to cook with.
In this context, Ilona Andrews re-invents vampires to be revenants piloted by necromancers and has shape-shifters enabled by a virus that can sweep away their humanity unless they live by a code of discipline.
There is a bad guy. A REALLY, stomach-churningly-awful bad guy. There are murders and abductions and political rivalry between powerful supernatural factions. There are fights and then more fights. Fights were you can taste the sweat and smell the blood and feel the fear.
There is, of course, unresolved sexual tension between our heroine and the uber-alpha male. Perhaps more interestingly there is a lack of sexual tension between Kate and a nice guy who, in any normal world, might be a future husband. These two experiences combine to show Kate as more than a smart-mouthed bravo with healthy physical appetites. She is someone who has a secret to hide. Someone with integrity to protect. Someone who is only slowly realizing that she is more alone than she would choose to be. In other words, she is someone ripe for change. What more could you ask for in a heroine?
The only thing I would change about this book is the cover art. I’m glad I was listening to this as an audiobook. This is not a cover I’d want to be seen with in public. The design looks like it was slapped together by someone using a Simcity avatar for Kate and an Aslan rip-off for Curran. Kate has the wrong colouring, her sword is the wrong shape, and the lion looks less dangerous than the average house cat. This kind of sloppiness is insulting to the author and to the readers.
I’m kicking myself for being eight years late discovering this series. The upside is that there are six more books in print, waiting to fill my imagination with strong characters working through conflicts and challenges in this complex future world