Recommended Reads Saturday: Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews
I am recommending this book because Magic Bites and the rest of the books that follow are one of my favorite urban fantasy series. As a fantasy reader, i find myself interested in and compelled to read more about both the world the authors have developed, but also about the characters. It’s not just the protaganists we get to know, but also a cast of secondary characters, and supporting characters. Not in a way that overwhelms, but gradually, over time.
As a romance reader, I’ve found myself satisfied with the progression of romance that develops over the course of the series, and also finding that I trust the authors not to break my heart and suddenly kill of a character they’ve brought me to love, as I might otherwise be concerned about with a book from other authors who write fantasy/urban fantasy.
I’ve been recommending this series for years and will continue to do so whole-heartedly, to fans of both romance and fantasy, to those who love ongoing series with the same protagonists, to those who appreciate fine worldbuidling, character development, fascinating plots and fun mythology.
Excerpt from Magic Bites
The following is an excerpt from Magic Bites posted with the approval of Ilona Andrews
When life backs you into a corner and offers you no escape, when your friends, your lover, and your family abandon you, when you’re at the end of your rope, panicked, alone, and losing your mind, you know you’d give anything to make your problems go away. Then, desperate and eager, you will come to Unicorn Lane, seeking salvation in its magics and secrets. You’ll do anything, pay any price. Unicorn Lane will take you in, shroud you in its power, fix your problems, and exact its price. And then you will learn what “anything” really means.
Every city has one of those neighborhoods, dangerous, sinister places, so treacherous that even the criminals who prey on other criminals shun them. Unicorn Lane was such a place. Thirty city blocks long and eight blocks deep, it cut through what used to be Midtown like a dagger. Half-crumbled skyscrapers stood there, mute witness to the past’s technology, the husks of GLG Grand, Promenade II, and One Atlantic, gnawed down to the bones by magic. Rubble choked the streets and sewage overflowed from the busted pipes in foul-smelling streams. Magic pooled there, lingering even in the strongest of tech waves, and hideous things that shun the light found refuge there, among the dark carcasses of gutted high rises. Lunatic mages, vicious, perverted shape-changers who feared a death at the hand of an unforgiving Pack, Satanists, and rogue necromancers all ran to Unicorn, for if they could make it there and survive, no lawman on this earth would force them out. Unicorn Lane held on to its own.
Hell of a place for a rendezvous.
I drove up 14th Street, parked Karmelion in a secluded alley, and walked the two remaining city blocks. Ahead a stone wall had crumbled, a pitiful attempt of some fool on the city council to contain Unicorn Lane. I climbed over the wreckage. A large block of concrete barred my way, glistening silver in moonlight. It looked slick, almost slimy, and I leaped over it.
Five minutes into the Unicorn an old sign on the side of an abandoned house announced that I had reached my destination, corner of 13th and Unicorn. In front of me, an old apartment complex stared at the street with empty windows. To the right, a tangled mess of concrete and steel framework marked a collapsed office building. The debris spilled onto the street, burying the pavement beneath the rubble. The street was open on the left, but shrouded in darkness. I stood very still, waiting, listening.
The moonlight spilled onto the ruins, enameling concrete in silver and lead. Thick, inky darkness pooled in the shadowy alcoves and burrows and stretched forth, mingling with light, spawning half-shadows, and blurring the lines between real and illusory. The eerie landscape appeared false, as if the ruined buildings had vanished, leaving behind treacherous shadows of their former self. Ahead in the depths of Unicorn Lane something howled, giving voice to a tortured soul. The tiny hairs on the back of my neck stood on their ends.
Someone or something watched me from the darkness. I felt their stare press me like a physical burden. Moments dragged by, with minutes in tow. After a while I glanced at my watch. It had stopped.
Somewhere in the darkness the Beast Lord prowled. I didn’t know what he looked like. I didn’t know the species of his beast. Few people outside of the Pack claimed to have met him and nobody seemed willing to discuss the experience. The only thing certain about him was power. By the latest count, he commanded a force of three hundred and thirty seven shapechangers in Atlanta alone. He wasn’t in charge because he was the smartest or the most popular; he ruled because of those three hundred and thirty seven he was unquestionably the strongest. He was in charge by the right of might; that is, he had yet to meet anyone who could kick his ass.
Among the shapechangers wolves were the most numerous, then came the foxes, the jackals, the rats and then the hyenas and the smaller felines: lynxes, bobcats, and cheetahs. There were the exotic forms too, the werebuffalos and wereserpents, but the buffalos formed their own Herd in Midwest and the serpents were solitary.
Another howl ruptured the quiet, still too far away to be a threat. The Beast Lord, the leader, the alpha male, had to enforce his position as much by will as by physical force. He would have to answer any challenges of his rule, so it was unlikely that he turned into a wolf. A wolf would have little chance against a cat. Wolves hunted in a pack, bleeding their victim and running them into exhaustion, while cats were solitary killing machines, designed to murder swiftly and with deadly precision. No, the Beast Lord would have to be a cat, a jaguar or a leopard. Perhaps a tiger.
I had heard a rumor of the Kodiak of Atlanta, a legend of an enormous, battle-scarred bear roaming the streets in search of Pack criminals. The Pack, like any social organization, had its law-breakers. The Kodiak was their Executioner. Perhaps his Majesty turned into a bear. Damn. I should have brought some honey.
My left leg was tiring. I shifted from foot to foot…
A low, warning growl froze me in mid-move. It came from the dark gaping hole in the building across the street and rolled through the ruins, awakening ancient memories of a time when humans were pathetic, hairless creatures cowering by the weak flame of the first fire and scanning the night with frightened eyes, for it held monstrous hungry killers. My subconscious screamed in panic. I held it in check and cracked my neck, slowly, one side then another.
A lean shadow flickered in the corner of my eye. On the left and above me a graceful jaguar stretched on the jutting block of concrete, an elegant statue encased in the liquid metal of moonlight.
Homo Panthera onca. The killer who takes its prey in a single bound.
The jaguar looked at me with amber eyes. Feline lips stretched in a startlingly human smirk.
He could laugh if he wanted. He didn’t know what was at stake.
Jim turned his head and began washing his paw.
My saber firmly in hand, I marched across the street and stepped through the opening. The darkness swallowed me whole.
The lingering musky scent of a cat hit me. So, not a bear after all.
Where was he? I scanned the building, peering into the gloom. Moonlight filtered through the gaps in the walls, creating a mirage of twilight and complete darkness. I knew he was watching me. Enjoying himself.
I gripped the saber. A shadow darker than the rest shifted at the opposite wall. It was low, around the level of my waist. It made no move in response to my glare.
Diplomacy was never my strong suit and my patience had run dry. I crouched and looking at the shadow, called out, “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty.”
Two golden eyes ignited in the shadow. The darkness shifted and the eyes went up and up and up, towering above me. A single enormous paw moved into the moonlight, disturbing the dust on the filthy floor. Wicked claws shot forth and withdrew. A massive shoulder followed, its grey fur marked by faint smoky stripes. The huge body shifted forward, coming at me, and I lost my balance and fell on my ass into the dirt. Dear God, this wasn’t just a lion. This thing had to be at least five feet at the shoulder. And why was it striped?
The colossal cat circled me, half in the light, half in the shadow, the dark mane trembling as he moved. I scrambled to my feet and almost bumped into the grey muzzle. We looked at each other, the lion and I, our gazes level. Then I twisted around and began dusting off my jeans in a most undignified manner.
The lion vanished into a dark corner. A whisper of power pulsed through the room, tugging at my senses. If I did not know better, I would say that he had just changed.
“Kitty, kitty?” asked a level male voice.
I jumped. No shapechanger went from a beast into a human without a nap. Into a mid-form, yes, but beast-men had trouble talking.
“Yeah,” I said. “You’ve caught me unprepared. Next time I’ll bring cream and catnip toys.”
“If there is a next time.”
I turned and there he stood, wearing a loose T-shirt and sweatpants. A modest shapechanger, how refreshing. You wouldn’t even know that he had changed, save for the glistening sheen of dampness on his skin.
He approached, moving with the easy grace of a cat, and stopped a mere foot away from me. Again I fought an urge to step back. A couple of inches taller than me. Blond hair, cut too short to grab. The way he held himself gave an impression of coiled power. His eyes, under reddish-blond brows, were gray-green and flecked with gold. They contained no menace, but I knew, felt it on some primitive level, that he would kill me in an instant should it suit him.
He looked me over slowly, judging, taking my measure. I could blush demurely or I could do the same to him. I chose not to blush.
The Beast Lord had a strong square jaw. His nose was narrow with a misshapen bridge, as though it had been broken more than once and hadn’t healed right. Considering the regenerative powers of shape-changers, someone must’ve pounded the Beast Lord’s face with a sledge hammer.
“What kind of a woman greets a Beast Lord with ‘here, kitty, kitty?'” he asked.
“One of a kind,” I murmured the obvious reply.
At first glance, he looked to be in his early to mid- twenties, but his build betrayed him. His shoulders were wide, his back broad and corded with muscle, showing the strength and power a man developed in his early thirties. Overwhelming confidence bordering on arrogance shone from his eyes. This man expected to be obeyed and took compliance as his due.
I swallowed. The way he looked it me… I didn’t like the way he looked at me. Like I was a mouse to be played with.
“I’m the Lord of the Free Beasts,” he said.
“I figured.” Perhaps he expected me to curtsy.
He leaned forward a little, puzzling over me as if I were an odd-looking insect. “Why would a knight-protector hire a no-name merc to investigate of death of his diviner?”
I gave him my best cryptic smile.
He grimaced. “What have you found out?” he asked.
“I’m not at liberty to tell you that.” Not with the Pack suspect.
He leaned forward, letting the moonlight fall on his face. His gaze was direct and difficult to hold. Our stares locked and I gritted my teeth. Five seconds into the conversation and he was already giving me the alpha-stare. If he started clicking his teeth, I’d have to make a run for it. Or introduce him to my sword.
“You will tell me what you know now,” he said.
He said nothing, so I elaborated. “See, this kind of threat usually has an ‘or’ attached to it. Or an ‘and’. ‘Tell me and I’ll allow you to live’ or something like that.”
His eyes ignited with gold. His gaze was unbearable now.
“I can make you beg to tell me everything you know,” he said and his voice was a low growl. It sent icy fingers of terror down my spine.
I gripped Slayer’s hilt until it hurt. The golden eyes were burning into my soul. “I don’t know,” I heard my own voice say, “you look kinda out of shape to me. How long has it been since you took care of your own dirty work?”