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REVIEW:  Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews

REVIEW: Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews

Dear Ms. Andrews:

I have to confess: I have copies of the entire Kate Daniels series in both ebook and paperback form, just so I can read them anytime if I want to. For me, they are total comfort reads. To me, they write the perfect combination of urban fantasy, emotional realism and humor.

So as you can expect, I’ve been looking forward to the next installment of this series, and after reading it, I am pleased to say that I can definitely recommend it.

Magic Rises Ilona AndrewsKate and Curran are pulled out of their Atlanta home territory and into the muck of European shapeshifter politics. Desandra Kral is the only daughter of one of the most powerful alphas in Europe, and carrying the twins of two other high ranking alphas in Europe (each a child of different fathers). Since her firstborn will inherit an important strategic pass, the three European packs call for Curran to come as an impartial mediator and guard. Dangled before the Consort and Beast Lord is a European medicine that drastically reduces the chances of shapeshifter children completely losing their humanity and needing to be destroyed, which unfortunately happens to most shapeshifter children. It’s an offer that neither Kate nor Curran can refuse. Though the pair head overseas expecting a trap, it turns out that neither are truly prepared for the real reasons they are wanted in Europe.

One of the things I love about this series is that supernatural creatures aren’t just limited to garden variety werewolves. We have Babylonian lamassu, Greek shapeshifting dolphins and ochokochi of Colchis. Moreover I like that there is definitely a shapeshifter culture that informs their actions and personalities, rather than them just being humans who happen to don furry coats every once in awhile. When Kate arrives, she’s attacked by a mysterious winged, scaled feline creature that turns out to be an unknown shapeshifter, or so the other packs claim. Delving deeply into myths of scaled felines in various cultures lead them to the Babylonian lamassu, which everyone claims is ridiculous until it’s not.

Typically this series draws upon the myths and stories from various cultures which makes for more inclusive and realistic worldbuilding. I find that this series is one of the few that does diversity well without beating the reader over the head with a diversity bat. However, this book generally drew upon European mythologies, like Greek and Slavonic, which I suppose makes sense, since they are in Europe. But the Europe they portray reminds me a little more of a medieval wilderness than the modernly diverse Europe I’ve traveled. Still, if America is diverse, I didn’t see any reason why this area of Europe wouldn’t be as well.

While Kate investigates, shapeshifter princess of the U.S’s other most powerful pack is busy sniffing around Curran. Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of the jealousy-between-paired-lovers / why-aren’t-we-married storyline. I think it worked a little better here because she wasn’t instantly jealous. Kate mostly tried to give Curran the benefit of the doubt until she couldn’t anymore. But on the other hand, the previous books emphasized how shapeshifter mating practices were not like humans and that “to mate” meant a shapeshifter marriage. It seemed odd to me that the human version of the marriage would now be important other than as another way to turn up the tension.

Maybe because it felt like a trope, I felt that the emotional tension and issues between Kate and Curran was just not as strong in comparison to the other conflicts in the book. In fact, I thought there was more interesting stuff going on between Kate and the main enemy in this book. As a long time reader I thought that Kate learning more about the death of her adoptive father and the evolution of her feelings toward who he had been had more resonance. It was more interesting to see Kate’s evolving sense of who she is and coming to terms with living the life she had always been warned not to live. Still, Kate and Curran’s relationship development and resolution was definitely satisfying from a romance reader perspective.

I always felt that secondary characterization was one of the stronger aspects of this series. The interaction of various unique personalities not only makes for great humor, but really made each character stand out. For instance, the introduction to the mistreated Desandra paired nicely with the later revelation that she was actually an intelligent figure and also made her emotional journey come together nicely. In addition, the ultimate fates of some other long-running characters became some of the more emotionally vivid and visceral parts of the novel.

Reading this made me want to go back and reread the previous books because there were certain things that I had just forgotten. I think there’s enough here for the first time reader to get into the world, but this is definitely a must for Kate Daniels fans. As an urban fantasy, I think the story deserves an A- but if you’re reading primarily for the romance, I would say B+. I still can’t wait for the next one.

A-/B+

~Amy

 

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REVIEW:  Caged Warrior by Lindsey Piper

REVIEW: Caged Warrior by Lindsey Piper

Caged Warrior (Dragon Kings #1) by Lindsey Piper

Dear Ms. Piper:

This book was billed as “Book 1 of the Dragon Kings” so imagine my confusion when the book featured neither dragons nor kings. I spent the first fifty pages or so wondering when the dragons were going to show up. Is the hero’s magical power turning into a dragon? No. Is it the heroine’s magical power? No. Are they going to be kings? No. Were they kings? No.

The hero is, however, a caged warrior. The mythology in the book took me a while to unpack but here goes. Leto is a slave kept for fighting in underground caverns owned by humans. Despite Leto and his people stronger, quicker to heal, and having some sort of magical powers, they are subservient to human criminal cartels. In the underground, these captives are forced to fight until death. Leto’s family has been part of the underground for generations. The prize of the annual “Grievance” is the right to procreate with any other slave of your choice, willing or unwilling.

Leto believes in the system and takes pride that he is the baddest muthfucka in the underground. He’s so alpha that he knocks around the heroine when they first meet, to establish his dominance and to show her that resistance is unwelcome. This is Leto’s world:

Leto had no key. He was let in and out by the Asters’ human guards. Cattle prods, Tasers, and napalm bullets kept even the most powerful Dragon King in check. The collars made it so.

Leto had never fought back. Why would he? This subterranean complex had always been his place of glory and purpose, where his father had fought. Where, in service to his loved ones, his father had died.

The slaves that fight and win are called Dragon Kings. Audrey MacLaren was kidnapped and forced into slavery. She hoped that she would survive to see her son but to do so she must learn to embrace a power she didn’t realize she possessed. Some world building takes the form of using “Dragon” as an adverb with Audrey says things like “Dragon be” and “Dragon damn” and “Dragon knows”.

The most challenging aspect of this book, other than the fact that Leto was really dislikeable, was that on the one hand we are to believe that the Dragon Kings aka slaves were so powerful that they could only be killed in one way, they harnessed kinetic energy and could release it like a weapon, yet were somehow subservient to humans who had to use all kinds of weaponry to keep the Dragon Kings contained. And it wasn’t this way for one year or two but generationally.  Later Leto, still imprisoned, says “He’s not a god,” Leto hissed. “He’s a lonayíp human.
We’re the gods.”

Much of the book is spent trying to teach Audrey how to claim her inner spirit and control her. This requires Leto to treat with her regular brutality which made a sort of sick sense. All he was trained to do was fight, hurt, win for the purpose of procreation. Leto’s character was confusing to me. Maybe I am too linear of a thinker to understand him. He did not seek freedom. He did not even feel himself oppressed yet he understood victimhood and expressed distaste toward Audrey for allowing herself to be mistreated.

The world building faltered a bit because procreation was really prized for the Dragon Kings, these underworld slaves, and reportedly it was very hard for them to have offspring. Audrey, however, has a natural born dragon warrior from a non Dragon King male. (This was one part of the story I did like – that Audrey had a previous marriage that was happy and satisfying).  Audrey was an outcast instead of being prized.  The inter family politics of the Dragon Kings was only lightly alluded to and not in a way that provided good explanation for Audrey’s position or even Leto’s position. I guess I’d find out in later Dragon King books but even though I love a good barbarian romance, this just didn’t do it for me.

Yes, the characters grew and yes, Leto came to the realization that Audrey’s weaknesses were really strengths but it takes a lot of really awful behavior to get to that point and I’m not really sure that I’m prepared to undergo that again for a book with a so so romance and confusing worldbuilding.  C-

Best regards,

Jane

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