Magic Strikes
by Ilona Andrews, fantasy (2009)
Ace, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-441-01702-7

My goodness, talk about non-stop bloodthirsty fight sequences. Reading Ilona Andrews' Magic Strikes is like being stuck in that bus in the movie Speed. It's a most thrilling ride... provided you like that kind of thing. I do, but readers who prefer their stories to be a little more peaceful may want to approach this one with caution. This is the third book in the series about Kate Daniels but while I feel that this one can stand alone pretty well, I believe that readers will appreciate this one better if they start with the first book in the series, Magic Bites.

This book sees Kate being a less emotionally isolated person. When the story opens, she's coaxing an old woman (actually a banshee) down from a telephone pole, and she does this without waving Slayer at the old woman's face, so yes, this is a new Kate. Then again, it's only to be expected. Being Julie's guardian and forming emotional attachments to various characters in previous books have worn down her defenses. Whether this is a strength or weakness remains to be seen when Kate attempts to discover who nearly killed Derek by infiltrating an underground tourney called the Midnight Games with a couple of shapeshifters who have gone AWOL from the Pack. In the Midnight Games, humans and non-humans fight to the death, using brawn and magic, to win the grand prize - the Wolf Diamond. This time around, the presence of a team comprising a bunch of creatures who from all appearances seem to be humans, only with deadly and decidedly inhuman abilities, will mix things up indeed.

I like this Kate. Finally, she is a likable character as she displays a personality where her strengths and vulnerabilities co-exist in a better balance. Also, the author reveals more about Kate's past and her current resolutions If you have any doubts about her parentage and her motives as well as her super special powers, you will find enough revelations here to dispel those doubts. You will also learn more about Saiman, the naughty creature with chameleon-like abilities to change his appearance (and even gender), and how he manages to keep his apartment so marvelously furnished. That's what I like about this series - every book reveals more about the fascinating characters and the brave new Atlanta they live in, and I can't get enough.

Meanwhile, Magic Strikes displays excellent pacing, superb narration, and nerve-breaking build up. The action sequences and the resulting carnage are detailed with a coherence that I don't remember encountering in previous books, and I love it. Call me bloodthirsty, but I think I'd love this book more if there are more detailed accounts of the Fools' battles with the other teams in the Midnight Games. All that gore that drenches the pages of this book - I love every minute of it.

Unfortunately, while I close this book feeling mostly positive thoughts, I have one lingering doubt about the story. More specifically, I'm hoping that the author will stop this distressing habit of turning Curran, Kate's stalker and love interest, into Edward Cullen with fur. The relentless stalking and intrusion of Kate's personal space is tedious enough here, causing me to revise my opinion that Curran and Kate may develop a relationship of equal standing and respect, but Curran here is a brainless bag of fur and brawn. Okay, he pulled a spectacularly stupid stunt in the previous book, but I thought that was perhaps a fluke, a decision made under duress. Here, oh my god. In one scene, he could have easily distracted Kate and caused her to be killed because he is too stupid to see that she has the situation under control in his pathetic need to play the hero. [spoiler starts] And sentencing Jim and the other AWOL shapeshifters to a mere three months of hard labor for breaking protocol and nearly getting everyone killed is really lame, not to mention a cop-out after all his initial bluster about banning his kind from the Midnight Games. Jim really gets off lightly here when both Curran and Kate should be kicking his rear end all the way from Alaska to Antarctica. [spoiler ends] Please, Ms Andrews, stop turning Curran into the new Kelemvor Lyonsbane - give him a functional brain in the next book, please.

And how about Kate not blacking out for once after pulling off some super special magical stunt? Also, while the author has cut down on the number of tall guys Kate encounters in the story, I'm starting to get worried whenever I see someone in this book being described as "tall". I think we need a pocket-sized gun-totting leprechaun to balance out the endless parade of potential basketball players in this book.

Magic Strikes is still an all-around fun action-driven story balanced out very well by Kate's evolving character and the resulting emotional drama. Just get Curran to relax and stop being a colossal idiot, and then we will all be good to go.

Rating: 87

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