Gunmetal Magic
by Ilona Andrews, fantasy (2012)
Ace, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-25613-8


Gunmetal Magic is packaged with a shorter story, Magic Gifts, which was previously available for free from the author's website. Magic Gifts is a peek into a minor adventure of Kate Daniels, who along with Curran, crashes the party of the neo-Vikings and tangos with Ghastek and his vampires, all to save a young boy's life.

It's a decent story, but with some iffy issues, such as Kate becoming the go-to person to solve everyone's problems (always a boring type of character development) and a head-scratching portrayal of redemption where a guy, who screwed up his parenting style and produced a cold and heartless kid, is offered a second chance by being allowed to raise another brat. Yeah, that will go down well. The poor kid.

Anyway, my point here is this: read this story first before you read Gunmetal Magic. You see, this story takes place within the same time frame as the other story but it ends long before the other story reaches its conclusion. Therefore, there will be some references to events in this story in Gunmetal Magic, events that will have you scratching your head unless you've read the shorter story first.

Gunmetal Magic is Andrea Nash's story, told from her point of view. When the story opens, Kate is called away into her own adventure (Magic Gifts), letting Andrea run the show when Jim asks her to look into the deaths of four members of the Pack. What happens is this: her ex-boyfriend Raphael owns a reclamation service. Magic damages the buildings in Atlanta, and once things get back to normal, folks like those from Medrano Reclamations will dismantle the remnants for any salvageable bits and pieces to be resold. Recently, Raphael purchased what seems like a prime property for reclamation, only to have his men discover an unusual vault filled with what seems like antiques. The next thing they know, four people end up dead and some items are missing. Andrea, guns loaded and crossbows notched, is ready for business.

This one starts out pretty intriguing as it allows me a glimpse into what passes for the construction business in Atlanta. I know, it doesn't seem like an interesting topic, but I'm convinced that Ilona Andrews can have Kate Daniels investigate the production of a phone book and still make it interesting. Things get really wild when monster snakes are involved, and Andrea has to rope in not only her usual tag-along buddies and Raphael but also the hunky priest Roman. Throw in some angry gods, screeching monsters, and hyena pack politics and it's a wild ride.

One thing's for sure: the author can still serve a very entertaining story. When things get crazy, I feel as if I'd been taken through several rounds in the wildest roller coaster ever. Andrea really stays through to character here: she kicks and shoots like nobody's business, and she can certainly hold her hold against Raphael. Their romance, like that of Kate and Curran, has the played-out stench of the mate-mate-mate trope, but Andrea doesn't let Raphael walk all over her, and that's great.

The thing is, there is a formulaic feel to this story that is especially evident after reading this and Magic Gifts back-to-back. The good guys meet the bad guys, the heroine does some crazy defiant thing, and then when things get rough for her, her boyfriend suddenly zigs into the scene and distracts the monster, giving our heroine some reprieve. The heroine and her hanger-on stumbles upon a new development or interesting locale, prompting the heroine to launch into a professorial lecture about the ins and outs of things to the clueless hanger-on. A grand climax where all the good guys launch an all-out assault, culminating in our heroine doing her desperate but defiant Super Saiyan to the max power moment, before fainting away from the dramatic exertion. Finish with a romantic moment interspersed with some Buffy speak moments.

I'm not saying that this is a bad thing, not when the results are so entertaining, but I can't help feeling that the magic is somewhat lacking this time around. It doesn't help that the plot is of the "So what? Wait, is that all?" variety. Andrea and friends basically chase after some clues, smashing heads with a monster here and there, until they get the all-important clue that leads them to the villains' headquarters. Here, the whole plot feels like a blast from the past montage, as these characters revisit past books and talk about events and people in those books that are somehow tied in one way or the other to this plot. This story feels a little... dare I say it, boring compared to previous stories.

I also don't buy Raphael's abrupt transformation from brat to Curran 2.0. He starts out a complete immature asshole, and I do say immature because, after four of his people died, his main priority is to grab a fiancée to paw and molest in front of Andrea while saying some really nasty things to her. What's really disappointing here is the author having the hero involve another woman into this mess and then telling me that this woman somehow deserves being treated like crap by the hero because she's shallow and whiny. This is such a tired cliché, and it's a let-down that the author drops in this cliché in an otherwise imaginative setting. And later on, Raphael suddenly morphs into a protective and possessive nicer guy, the new Curran. I guess the heroine's amazing personality-transforming hoo-hah has struck again.

As I've said, Gunmetal Magic is a blast to read, and I adore Andrea, but the magic is somewhat lacking here compared to previous books. Maybe it's time these characters go bust some spooks in a different setting - how about Alaska or Tahiti? - and give this series a new jolt of energy. Or even better, make Ghastek the hero of a future story. What? Emotionless assholes can make intriguing protagonists too!

Rating: 80


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