Review: Ilona Andrews’s “Magic Breaks”
by Miles Raymer
One can only gush so much about a series before things get ugly, so I’ll try to keep this brief. Magic Breaks is proof that a creative and heartfelt narrative populated with memorable characters can keep evolving in fresh and meaningful ways, long past the point where lesser stories founder.
This particular installment of Kate Daniels’s story has everything I’ve come to love about these books, and then some. Ilona Andrews has painstakingly built up the tension between Kate and her shadowy arch-nemesis, and here we finally get a first look at him and a chance to speculate about how he might begin to influence Kate’s life more directly. The end result feels like the perfect combination of predictability and surprise, with a focus on the nuances of human relationships rather than the unfolding of epic battles (although there are those, too).
In further developing the Daniels-verse, Andrews adds an intriguing eco-metaphor that involves using magic to claim land. This dynamic exerts a profound effect on Kate’s personal journey, and also comments on the reprehensible methods used by Europeans to “conquer” America. Our lousy behavior, it turns out, has rendered American soil uniquely vulnerable to being “claimed” by a powerful magician:
Each land has a people…Those who settle on it, those who are born and die on it, their bloodlines bonded to it for generations. Their bodies are buried within the soil, nourishing it. Their magic becomes rooted in it and grows from the land like a forest…Think of it [claiming] like farming…Before a farmer can use the land, he must clear the trees, remove their roots, dig out the boulders, and pull out the weeds. Very hard to do if the forest is old and strong and the trees have been growing for thousands of years…But here, we’ve done the farmer’s job for him. We killed the Native people of this land. There is no forest anymore. There are just saplings, families of settlers and immigrants, the oldest from the seventeenth century, but most even younger. Their bond to the land is weak. What you do to others always comes back to you and the balance is always restored. We committed genocide. We destroyed a people and now we have to pay the price for the terrible crimes we perpetrated. The land lies fallow without defenses. (107)
This idea is more than a clever twist on American history; it’s also something of a love letter to the rebirth of localism. Kate and her companions have always had a special affinity for their magic-torn version of Atlanta––a strong sense of place that makes them willing to risk their lives over and over to defend their homeland. Since technology no longer works the way it used to, the need for local products, connections, and geographical knowledge––for real community––suddenly re-emerges from the penumbra of a world where everyone was “connected” but nobody was truly “at home”. I am smitten with this theme and can’t wait to see where it will lead next.
The last thing I want to rave about is Andrews’s decision to conclude this book with a genuinely moving statement about the true purpose of power. The message is clear: if you have worked hard to amass power and yet cannot utilize that power to defend your loved ones, what good is it? Given the embarrassing dearth of “intelligent abdication” narratives in modern media, this is a deeply satisfying breath of fresh air.
When I began this series, I honestly did not expect to get this far, and now find myself rushing through this review so I can crack open Book 8 like some spell-starved mage jonesing for a magic wave. Ilona Andrews has developed something truly special.