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The Kate Daniels books belong to one of my favourite urban fantasy series. The stories are set in an alternative Atlanta where something of a magic apocalypse has taken place after mankind pushed technology to its limits. The magic comes and goes in waves, arriving without warning and leaving again just as abruptly causing such chaotic happenings as planes to fall out of the sky and cars that no longer run. It also means that some humans have rediscovered their paranormal proclivities turning the world into an even more diverse place than before.
The writers, a husband and wife team known collectively as Ilona Andrews, have expanded the original series which is now called The World of Kate Daniels. This time the story concentrates on one of the secondary characters from previous books, Kate's friend, Andrea Nash, who has been having a pretty torrid time of it just lately.
When it was discovered that Andrea Nash wasn't human but beastkin, a very particular kind of shape shifter, she lost her position in the Order of Knights of Merciful Aid and she's been drafted in by her friend Kate Daniels to help run Kate's private investigation company, Cutting Edge. With Kate and her husband, the beast lord Curran, busy elsewhere Andrea is left, along with Kate's intern, wild boy and fellow shape shifter, Ascanio, holding the fort and having to deal with any new cases which turn up.
When several shape shifters die suddenly whilst working at a construction dig, Andrea is called in to investigate. There is something of a stumbling block, however: the shape shifters were working for Raphael Medrano, Andrea's former lover, and she'll be expected to work alongside Raphael on the case. Things are not looking too good for the foreseeable future unless Andrea and Raphael can put their differences aside and join forces to solve the mystery.
Although this book is part of the Kate Daniels series, and it follows on from the last book featuring Kate as the main protagonist, this one moves Andrea Nash to centre stage with Kate only making a couple of guest appearances. The writers maintain that this can be read as a stand alone story and though that's mainly true, it would help to read the earlier books in the series just to get a handle on the world that Ilona Andrews has created. It isn't a hugely complex world but there are some aspects of it which are explained in more detail in the earlier books.
As with the other books in the series, this is written in the first person so all the action is seen from Andrea's perspective, including her rather fraught relationship with ex-lover Raphael. In the previous book of the series, Magic Slays, Andrea and Raphael broke off their engagement following a series of misunderstandings but we all know they're meant for each other really. Don't be fooled into thinking this is a romance, however. That's definitely not the case as the action is much more along the lines of a mystery with paranormal elements than a strict paranormal romance.
Andrea is a likeable character and the storyline is pretty gripping but for me the book didn't quite come up to the level of the previous ones in the series. In many ways Andrea and Kate are just too similar in character. Other than the fact that Andrea is blonde, they are both carved pretty much out of the same mould and of the two, I find Kate the more engaging character. Even though Andrea is also a kick-ass type of protagonist, she lacks the humor that just gives Kate the edge. One of my favourite lines in this book comes during one of Kate's brief appearances when she remarks that Andrea is riding a pink horse. 'Add a few flowers and sparkles and you'll be riding My Little Pony.'
Of the other main characters, Ascanio, the delinquent young intern and a member of Clan Bouda (the werehyena tribe to which both Andrea and Raphael are affiliated) is the one I found the most appealing. It was also good to see the further development of two other male characters from previous books, Raphael, the Clan Bouda alpha male and Roman whose magical origins are Russian.
One of the best elements of these books is the interweaving of various mythologies into the stories. Ilona Andrews (or at least the female in the partnership) is Russian and brings a wealth of Eastern European mythology into play. This mostly centres on Roman, one of the recurring secondary characters from the series who comes more into prominence in this story. The plot isn't solely based on Russian mythology though, as the main premise of the novel deals with characters from Egyptian mythology.
The story told in Gunmetal Magic is one of action and adventure something along the lines of Romancing the Stone, albeit set in a totally fantastical world. With the series now expanded to include full length novels featuring previous secondary characters such as, in this case, Andrea and Raphael, I'm looking forward to reading others about some of my other favourites, in particular Derek and Kate's young ward, Julie, as well as Ascanio. I suspect that they will get their own stories at some point in the future though the next in the series sees a return to one with Kate once more as the main protagonist.
This book as well as the previous in the series will appeal to readers with a penchant for science fiction or fantasy as urban fantasy marries the two genres together well. There are some slight steampunk elements to the books too, especially with regard to the means of transport used during the periods when 'the magic is up'.
Without doubt Ilona Andrews writes one of the best urban fantasy series currently out there. Each book is tautly plotted and peopled with great characters which guarantee the reader a rollercoaster ride of action and adventure. I not only highly recommend this particular novel but the entire series.
This books can currently be bought in paperback for just under £5 and it's also available in Kindle format.
The series so far is:
1. Magic Bites
2. Magic Burns
3. Magic Strikes
4. Magic Bleeds
5. Magic Slays
6. Gunmetal Magic
7. Magic Rises (due out 2013)