Review: Ilona Andrews’s “Magic Slays”
by Miles Raymer
Two-thirds of the way through, I was all set to give Magic Slays a lukewarm review. I felt like I was reading the inevitable slump in Kate Daniels’s story––the one where her clever mouth, kick-ass fighting moves, and romantic difficulties all start to feel more enervating than exciting. And while there is an element of routine in how this story unfolds, I have to admit that the finale won me over, reminding me once again why I’ve come to dearly love these characters and the weird world they inhabit.
The main problem with this book compared to its excellent predecessor, Magic Bleeds, is the villain. Last time around, Andrews really stepped it up by introducing Kate’s psychotic aunt as the big threat, but here we are back to the usual random-baddies-that-show-up-to-give-Kate-something-to-kill dynamic that dominated the earlier books.
The good news is that the rest of the story continues to move forward, rather than regressing. Kate’s interpersonal commitments get more complicated. Her relationship with Curran, the orgasm-inducing hunk of a werelion Beast Lord, is fun and lively. Kate and Curran both have control issues that sometimes cause them to act like idiots, but they also genuinely do their best to love each other and communicate effectively.
As Curran’s mate, Kate has to learn how to be an Alpha in the Pack, which is tough given that she’s not a shapeshifter. Her can-kill-anything-wonderskills come in handy when things get violent, but there are also inter-Pack politics that force Kate to confront with two things she hates: “being on display and making decisions about other people’s lives” (132). Kate and Curran can’t just hunker down in some cave with a huge bed and fuck like any demigod that falls in love with a world-class shapeshifter ought to. Nope, they have a society to run.
Kate’s female relationships also become more interesting and complex. She patches things up with Andrea, her best friend, and a new mother-like figure appears with some distressing updates about the true nature of Kate’s violent origins and upbringing. These revelations cause Kate to question Curran’s motivations for pursuing her in a way that is believable, intelligent, and not overwrought. There is also a significant shift in Kate’s relationship with Julie, her teenage ward, which brings them closer together while also portending difficulties for their shared future.
Thematically, Magic Slays is as rich as any of its predecessors. Andrews takes on issues such as institutional racism, sexual/gender discrimination, and parent/child power dynamics in ways both novel and familiar. We also get to see our beloved heroine struggle with chronic knee pain and the experience of seeing her deepest fears realized in the life of another Pack member––both deeply humanizing and relatable afflictions for a character who occasionally feels too awesome to be real.
Finally, there are a few quotes that jumped out at me in the wake of America’s recent election. They obviously aren’t meant to directly address this weird and unnerving moment, so I’ll just drop them here without providing any commentary. Make of them what you will.
People, especially unhappy people, want a cause. They want something to belong to, to be a part of something great and bigger, and to be led. It’s easy to be a cog in a machine: you don’t have to think, you have no responsibility. You’re just following orders. Doing as you’re told. (227)
Rage is a powerful thing. People get upset over many things. Frustrating jobs, small paychecks, bad hours. People want things; people feel humiliated by others who have the things they want; people feel deprived and powerless. All this gives fuel to rage. The anger builds and builds and if there is no outlet for it, pretty soon it transforms the person. They walk around like a loaded gun, ready to go off if only they could find the right target. They want to hurt something. They need it…Humans tend to segregate the world: enemies on one side, friends on the other. Friends are people we know. Enemies are the Other. You can do just about anything to the Other. It doesn’t matter if this Other is actually guilty of any crimes, because it’s a matter of emotion, not logic. You see, angry people aren’t interested in justice. They just want an excuse to vent their rage…And once you become their Other, you’re no longer a person. You’re an idea, an abstraction of everything that’s wrong with their world…It makes me despair sometimes. (265-6)
Nothing like a great tragedy to make you appreciate life. (300)