Serena’s Series Review – “Kate Daniels” Series

Kate Daniels SeriesA couple of years ago, I went on an urban fantasy binge. Urban fantasy, as a genre, has been very hit and miss for me. On paper it looks like something I would love. In reality? Most of what I’ve read has been fairly “meh.” There are a couple of series, however, that have caught hold and Ilona Andrews’ “Kate Daniels” series was one of them. Her newest book, “Magic Shifts” was published last August with the next in the series is coming out this September. I’ll be reviewing “Magic Shifts” soon and definitely have her newest on my mental list of books to look forward to this fall. But there are like 7 books in this series before this point! In lieu of an exhausting, and frankly, likely boring, review of each and every one of these books, I’m going to combine them all into a mega series review! We’ll see how this goes!

Books: “Magic Bites,” Magic Burns,” “Magic Strikes,” “Magic Bleeds,” Magic Slays,” “Magic Rises,” and “Magic Breaks” by Ilona Andrews*

Publishing Info: Ace, 2007, 2008,  2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: all from the library!

Review: This series takes place in post-Shift Atlanta sometime in the near future. The Shift, a near apocalyptic event where magic suddenly re-entered the world, occurred years before and humanity is still adjusting to what this means for the world order. Suddenly there are shapeshifters, vampires, ghouls, and who knows what else running around the world wreaking havoc on the ordinary folk. The government has adjusted accordingly and attempted to set up systems to maintain order. One piece of this system is the Mercenary Guild. Its name is self-explanatory. Some creepy critter shows up, people can hire a mercenary to take care of it. Kate Daniels is one of the best, and this series is her story.

Throughout the series, Kate explores the mysteries of her past, while saving the day and forming close relationships with a ragtag group of other mercenaries, shapeshifters, vampire controllers, mages, etc, etc. Basically, she knows everyone in Atlanta. And, per typical urban fantasy requirements, there is a strong romantic element in her growing relationship with the Beast Lord, Curran, who is a werelion and the alpha of the Atlanta shapeshifter pack. Steaminess ensues.

What makes this series stick for me in ways that other urban fantasy series did not is our heroine, Kate. The spunky, snarky, warrior woman in these kinds of books is a well-trodden trope. However, Kate stands out not only in her consistency and general ability to avoid making ridiculous, self-sacrificial, dramatic decisions (per other frustrating heroines in series-that-shall-not-be-named), but also in the genuine evolution of her character throughout the books. While there are weaker books in the series than others, and there are moments where she falls into these stereotypes, overall, Kate learns from her mistakes, accepts who she is, and doesn’t devalue those around her, their feelings, or what they can contribute to her cause.

Curran, also, works well as the romantic lead. There are times, especially in the early books, where he plays a bit too much into the classic “alpha male” role which didn’t rub me the right way. But over the course of the series, he, too, evolves as a character and becomes a strong partner for Kate. And, even at his worst, he still acknowledges Kate’s independence and does not interfere in her adventuring ways.

There does come a point towards the last two thirds of the series where I call relationship shenanigans. Up to this point there had been the usual relationship set-up drama, but at this stage in the story, Kate and Curran were firmly an item and had worked through many of their issues. And then. And then!

Enough, I'm tired of your shenanigans

The wedge that was used to insert drama into their relationship felt very contrived. Both Kate and Curran behaved out-of-character, in my opinion, and it was all highly disappointing for a series that had handled its core relationship so competently up until this point. Luckily, this gaffe only lasted through the one book and things have returned to normal since. During this section in the series, it felt like Andrews was coming up against a sort of wall, having gotten her couple together and fleshed out many of Kate’s familial mysteries. She did recover, however, and I am happy to report that the next few books were on par once again.

When I said earlier that Kate knows everyone in Atlanta? Yeah, I meant everyone. There are so many characters in this series! And most of them are tons of fun. A few of my favorites are Aunt B, a werehyena, Andrea, a sharpshooter merc, Julie, a street kid with magical flare, and Saiman, a….who knows what really? But he snarks at Kate and makes her uncomfortable and is fun all around. And there are many, many more! This is both a plus and a minus. As the series continues, it becomes impossible to spend enough time with all of these great characters in each book. One book will spend extra time with one or two and only have brief appearances from the others, and vice versa. So, depending on which characters you like, and how much page time they get in each book, there can be a dramatic difference in your enjoyment of one book in the series as compared to another. Luckily, if you’re just there mostly for Kate, like I am, you’re good to go the whole time.

Each book also seems to live and die by its villain. Some are stronger than others. There are some genuinely creepy magical beings in these books. But, in general, the creativity of the world and how civilization has adapted to all of the craziness is what makes this series so fun. I burned through the first 3-4 books in this series in a matter of weeks. I’m not sure I would recommend this approach, as aspects of the stories became a bit too familiar from one book to the next. But it can’t say anything too bad that I was invested enough to fall into that trap in the first place. If you like urban fantasy, definitely check out this series, and look out for my upcoming review of “Magic Shifts” where Kate beats up on some giants!

*Can we take a moment to ask why urban fantasy novels have such terrible names and covers? I mean, look at those things! Sigh.

Rating 7: Fun urban fantasy lark. You know what you’re getting, but it’s the good kind.

Reader’s Advisory: Since this is a series, it’s not really on a list, per se. If you liked this series, however, I would recommend the “Mercy Thompson” series by Patricia Briggs and “October Daye” series by Seanan McGuire.

Find the first book in this series, “Magic Bites,” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Batwoman (Vol. 1): Hydrology”

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Book: “Batwoman (Vol. 1): Hydrology” by J.H. Williams (Writer & Ill.), W. Haden Blackman (Writer), Amy Reeder (Ill.), Richard Friend (Ill.), Dave Stewart (Colorist)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, June 2012

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: As a part of the acclaimed DC Comics—The New 52 event of September 2011, Batwoman’s new series finally begins! The creative team of J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman launch the ongoing Batwoman series, as Batwoman (a.ka. Kate Kane) faces deadly new challenges in her war against Gotham City’s underworld–and new trials in her personal life.Who or what is stealing children from the barrio, and for what vile purpose? Will Kate train her cousin, Bette Kane (a.k.a. Flamebird), as her new sidekick? How will she handle unsettling revelations about her father, Colonel Jacob Kane? And why is a certain government agency suddenly taking an interest in her? These are some of the questions that will be answered in this long-awaited series!

Review: Batwoman is a character who has gone through a lot of changes since her introduction in the 1960s. When she was first introduced, her alter ego was Kathy Kane, heiress and love interest for Batman (because DC felt that there were too many people joking that Batman and Robin were gay lovers). She was more of a thorn in Batman’s side than an equal, as she was his competition, but wasn’t terribly competent at being a superhero. Not to mention Kathy only donned the cape and cowl so she could woo Batman. She kind of disappeared as time went on, making occasional appearances but not having much to do beyond her original intention. So when she came back for Infinite Crisis, she was given quite the makeover. She was darker and grittier. She was the daughter of a military man and was at West Point for some time. That is, until she was kicked out because she is a lesbian (before the death of DADT). The New 52 decided to give her her own series, and while it was eventually cancelled in 2014 (noooooooo!), Batwoman lived on her own terms an in her own series. I wanted to give Batwoman a try because I’d read enough peripheral comics to get a taste of her, and “Hydrology” seemed to be the next logical step in my exploration.

There were multiple strengths about this story arc that I greatly enjoyed. Of course I love where they have taken the character of Kate Kane, as back in the sixties when she was Kathy Kane she was a sexist stereotype of womanhood who was fawning over Batman like no tomorrow. So obviously I love that not only are she and Batman on tenuous terms at best, she has no romantic interest in him because she is a lesbian. I also liked her relationship with Maggie, a no nonsense detective who is trying to figure out who the mysterious Batwoman is. Maggie and Kate have a tentative romance going at first, and I enjoyed seeing them interact. As a huge fan of the La Llorona myth, having an iteration of it being the antagonist (as a ghost that is kidnapping the children of Gotham) was a neat change of pace and really intrigued me. La Llorona was legitimately scary, but also sympathetic in her own way. The other major plot line involves a mysterious group, and while it hasn’t been completely explored, it’s been set up pretty well, enough so that I’m quite interested in how this is going to develop. The artwork is also very beautiful, with lots of vibrant colors and different styles for different scenes with different tones about them. It isn’t very often that I am awestruck by artwork in comics and graphic novels, just because I don’t have an eye for art. But with “Hydrology” I was consistently impressed, sometimes having to pause just to take it all in.

My one complaint with this story arc had mainly to do with Flamebird, aka Kate’s cousin Bette. I feel that the plot line of ‘sidekick with something to prove who ultimately gets in over their head’ is one that is overdone. Bette is fine, but I had little patience for Kate underestimating her, and then Flamebird in turn overestimating herself out of anger, so when she found herself in a perilous situation I wasn’t so much worried as I was irritated. Why is it that when sidekicks have to impulsively prove themselves, it invariably goes wrong? And why did the “Batwoman” story have to go down this route when it is so original in other ways?!

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Alexa said it, we were all thinking it.

I was especially frustrated because there was a weird juxtaposition between Flamebird’s peril and a romantic interlude between Kate and Maggie. Couldn’t we have just had a lovely romantic scene without tossing in some pretty gritty and upsetting violence? It just didn’t work for me, and seeing that as of now I have no investment in Flamebird outside of Kate’s affection for her, this storyline didn’t do much for me and took me out of the book.

But overall I think that the Batwoman series is going to be strong. It’s a bummer that it ended, but I think that means that I will be able to follow it to its completion. Definitely looking forward to more Kate Kane in my reading life!

Rating 7: Beautiful artwork and coloring, and a solid start for the new and improved Batwoman. It could probably remove some of the drama with her cousin, though. 

Reader’s Advisory:

“Batwoman (Vol. 1): Hydrology” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Graphic Novels with GLBTQ Themes” and “Kickass Women in Superhero Comics”.

Find “Batwoman (Vol.1): Hydrology” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Rev-Up Review: “Golden Son”

Golden SonIn anticipation of my up-coming review of the recently released “Morning Star,” the final book in Pierce Brown’s “Red Rising” trilogy, I thought I would go ahead and post reviews for the two previous books in the series. Just so we’re all caught up and ready for what promises to be an action-packed conclusion! Here’s my review of the second book in the trilogy.

Book: “Golden Son” by Pierce Brown

Publishing Info: Del Rey, January 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: Bought

Book Description from Goodreads: With shades of “The Hunger Games,” “Ender’s Game,” and “Game of Thrones,” debut author Pierce Brown’s genre-defying epic Red Rising hit the ground running and wasted no time becoming a sensation.

“Golden Son” continues the stunning saga of Darrow, a rebel forged by tragedy, battling to lead his oppressed people to freedom from the overlords of a brutal elitist future built on lies. Now fully embedded among the Gold ruling class, Darrow continues his work to bring down Society from within.

A life-or-death tale of vengeance with an unforgettable hero at its heart.

Inevitable spoilers for “Red Rising.”

Review: Oh, look! Publishers have now added “Game of Thrones” to the list of books this series resembles! Except for space. And a color-based hierarchy. And set in the future of our current world. And a single, first person narrator. Wait…

“Golden Son” starts with a significant jump in time. This was very unexpected. As the series was initially marketed as young adult, it is usually customary for the story to pick up immediately where the previous book left off. However, for this series, I think it really works. “Red Rising” ends with Darrow being fully accepted into the Gold society, triumphant after his overthrow of the battle school system, and moving on to the next level of his training under the tutelage of his nemesis, Nero au Augustus. I suspect that Brown may have caught on to the lessons learned by “Catching Fire:” readers don’t necessarily appreciate “Sequel: Battle School 2.0.” So the decision to skip the majority of Darrow’s time going through this process is not only unexpected but appreciated. We are introduced to a recognizable, but extremely more confident and assertive Darrow who has fully come into his own without needing to experience every growing pain along the way.

The downside of this decision is that readers are immediately plopped into the middle of a very complex story. There are new characters everywhere (this isn’t helped by the use of difficult, Roman-inspired names like “Victra” and “Pliny” who are hard to keep track of). The story is also much more firmly set within a science fiction landscape. While “Red Rising” was considered a science fiction work, the majority of the plot took place on the planet and in an environment that resembled Earth in many ways, advanced technology aside. This story takes place in space with a capital “S.” There are battles between space ships, scenes set on different planets and moons, and space jumps similar to the kind seen in the 2009 remake “Star Trek.” If you were hoping for more sci-fi, Brown delivers.

Darrow remains an interesting protagonist. There are a few times in this book, however, where he makes decisions and acts in a way that, as a reader, you’re just shouting “Darrow, noooo!” It’s like when you’re watching a horror movie and you just know that that character shouldn’t go down into the basement. Why won’t they just listen to good sense? And Mustang? Mustang is the good sense Darrow doesn’t listen to. My concerns from the previous book regarding the use of female characters are addressed here. Mustang continues to be my favorite character, and there are several other female characters introduced who play vital roles to the story. Victra, especially, is a great addition as a scathing, broken Gold who, clearly against her will, befriends Darrow.

One other odd bit: the book is written in such a way that it seems like it would be an effortless translation from page to screen. However, the types of revelations that come naturally to film play oddly within the structure of the book. There is a moment later in the book when a shocking plot point is introduced in a way that feels a bit unnatural. It should, and does, come out of left field for those around Darrow. But we’ve been living in his head for the past 200 pages with no reference to this information, even though facts that tie into it have been mentioned often. So it reads like a great movie reveal. But it’s weird when you’re reading a first person narrative where information should be as known to the reader as it is to the narrator (unless the author is writing an unreliable narrator, but that’s not the case here). The plot point is fun, it’s just the way it’s introduced that feels strange.

“Golden Son” expands Brown’s world in every way. The reader’s understanding of how this society operates and spans a solar system is grown and the political mechanisms at work to sustain such a web are fully explored. A final downside? Cliffhanger alert. But, luckily, “Morning Star” was published early this year, so that’s a relief.

Rating 7: Very good, slightly lower than “Red Rising” due to a challenging balancing act between so many new components and character motivations

Reader’s Advisory:

“Golden Son” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Best Picks: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Novels of 2015” and “Can’t Wait Sci-Fi/Fantasy of 2015.”

Find “Golden Son” at your library using WorldCat!