Review: Ilona Andrews’s “Magic Binds”
by Miles Raymer
Just like all the others, Magic Binds retains the core cast of characters and conflicts Kate Daniels fans love, while also breaking new ground. In this book, Kate’s control of her land plays out as a kind of national security dilemma. When Atlanta’s in trouble, she is called on to pull out all the stops and save it; when the danger passes, she is criticized for being careless with her power. It’s a difficult tightrope to tread, and it doesn’t help that Kate also faces some self-control issues related to her burgeoning ability to do anything she pleases with her magic. She’s always been able to kill anything with a blade, but now she’s reaching a whole new level of badassery, even to the point where Curran is sometimes afraid of her. It’s a great direction that keeps Kate evolving in interesting new ways.
More than in any previous book, this story displays the genuinely touching culmination of Kate’s ability to draw allegiances and loyalties from all over the magical map. Dealing with the central conflict in this book––and the even grander one that lies ahead––requires every bit of support Kate can muster, and the logical family that coalesces around her is nothing short of beautiful. Curran says it best: “You’re like a crazy cat lady, but you collect killers instead of fluffy cats” (283). Kate’s collection of killers proves to be a weird and completely beguiling bunch. Ultimately, she reaps the rewards of the same lesson that makes the Harry Potter series so great: if you help people, if you are kind to them by default, and if you give them a chance, they will be there for you when the shit hits the fan. In this sense, Kate literally kills her enemies with kindness. It’s a great deal for us readers: there is a worthwhile, heartfelt message embedded in all the pulse-pounding action and wacky bloodshed.
My very favorite aspect of this book is Andrews’s explication of the underlying tension between Kate and her father, Roland. We’ve had hints of this in previous books, but here we learn unequivocally that Roland ascribes to the “benevolent dictator” model of governance. He sees people as ultimately longing for domination, for a strong, competent ruler to make decisions for them. Kate explains:
He is the worst kind of evil. He believes he knows how to bring about a better future, and, if he has to, he will pave the road to it with corpses of innocent people. He has no boundaries. There is nothing he won’t do to get his way. (296)
In contrast, Kate is the classic American freedom-lover. She wants everyone to be able to make up his or her own mind about how to live. There is a strong streak of libertarianism here, but not so strong as to deserve mockery. Kate doesn’t want to rule others because she finds the idea exhausting and doubts her ability to do it properly. Her innate self-skepticism and passion for the mundane pleasures of life are the root of her moral fortitude:
I don’t want to be a monster. I don’t want to murder people or raze cities. I don’t want anyone to cringe when they hear my name. I want to have a life. (265)
Andrews doesn’t get any points for originality here, but that’s okay because this conflict is a real and serious one, and not some trumped up bullshit with an obvious solution. The problem of freedom vs. governance is infinitely vexing, and humanity’s history of trying to find the right balance between these two aspects of our nature is long and often ugly. While it is clear what side Kate and her people come down on, Roland’s authentic desire to bring about his version of a good world flouts the “I’m just a bad dude because we need a bad dude to stir things up” cliche that is all too common in popular culture. Roland is a villain, but he’s a painfully likable one, and even pitiable in some regard––the best kind of bad guy.
With Magic Binds, Andrews deploys everything that’s made the series great so far, lines up the final shot, and pulls the trigger. We’ll have to wait until the next book to see where the bullet lands, but it’s hard to imagine a misfire after so many bullseyes.