It was high time I returned to the world of my favourite urban fantasy series and reviewed the next Kate Daniels novel, Magic Burns. I have, at this point, read the whole series many times, but I never tire of it. A re-read again for the review to refresh my memory on the details. And I have to say, with this novel, the dynamic duo that is Ilona and Andrew Gordon (writing under the pen name Ilona Andrews) smashed it out of the park. I was hooked on this series by the first book, but while it remains a great read, it’s not the strongest of the series. That’s not to diminish it, only to say that as the series progresses the world is fleshed out, the characters develop, and the plots become more complex and compelling. There are books in the series that aren’t (IMO at least) as good as book one, so it’s by no means the least favourite of the bunch. But it’s also not the best.
Book two is far closer to the top of the list. Here’s why…
A Deep Dive into the Magical Chaos of Atlanta
Magic Burns plunges us back into post-apocalyptic, magic-ravaged Atlanta, a setting that feels familiar yet increasingly complex. The stakes are higher, the magic more volatile, and the challenges that Kate faces are even more daunting. The rhythmic ebb and flow of magic, so brilliantly introduced in Magic Bites, takes on new dimensions as we delve deeper into the lore and mechanics of this chaotic world.
Andrews’ Atlanta is a city teetering on the blade of a sword, one side magical, the other mundane, and in Magic Burns, the world cants sharply towards the side of magic. It was established in Magic Bites that magic washes through the world in waves, leaving the inhabitants of the world dealing with times when the magic is ‘up’ and all manner of madness takes place while technology is mostly useless, and when the tech is ‘up’ and magic is largely dormant.
Magic Burns ups the ante where this is concerned and introduces us to magical ‘flares’—intense periods of magical energy where magic is heightened and even more powerful than usual. These flares happen every few years and the current one Kate (and the rest of Atlanta is experiencing) serves as a backdrop to a plot that weaves together threads of power, politics, mythology, magic, past and present.
Kate Daniels: Evolving, Engaging, and Ever-Compelling
Kate Daniels remains the heart and soul of the series. Given the first person narration this isn’t surprising, but it goes far beyond that. Kate develops in this novel from the stoic, lone mercenary we got to know in Magic Bites to a more open, albeit still guarded, protector of Atlanta. Her wit and sarcasm, already a highlight of the series, are sharpened to perfection here, offering levity in the midst of darkness and danger.
But it’s her vulnerability, peeling away in layers, that truly endears Kate to readers. We see her struggles, her doubts, and her fierce determination. Her moral compass, so steadfast, guides her through a labyrinth of grey areas and tough choices, making her one of the most relatable and human heroines in urban fantasy.
At the same time, her magic – already impressive in book one – absolutely slays in book two. Kate is not only more open to relationships and actually having a real life in this book, she’s started to understand that there’s a bucket load she hasn’t explored when it comes to her own powers. The flare gives her a bit of a kick where this is concerned; it supercharges her abilities and pushes her to realise she’s capable of far more than she’s previously demonstrated, and likely a lot more than she’s ever imagined.
One of my favourite things about this series is exactly that point; Kate starts off as a badass and just gets better as she comes into her power. She is fearsome with a sword and fighting, having trained her whole life, from the moment we meet her. But initially her use and understanding of magic is curtailed by her fear of it and what it means.
At the end of Magic Bites we saw her risk exposure by using her powers in front of the pack. The world didn’t come crashing down because she did, and it has now occurred to her that maybe, if she’s careful, it’s okay to actually have friends, and use her powers, and learn more about them.
The Flare just gives her the shove needed to do it, and it’s the start of an evolution that followers her through each and every book. Kate is such a great character because she’s so dynamic. She grows stronger and more self-assured as she goes, suffering setbacks and doubts, but working through them and continuing forward.
Whatever the world throws at her.
Evolving Established Relationships and Forging New Alliances
Magic Burns skillfully evolves the relationships between Kate and key characters, particularly Curran and Derek, infusing the narrative with a dynamic complexity. The development of Kate’s bond with Curran, the Pack’s leader, is especially riveting. Their interactions, charged with a blend of tension and unspoken understanding, hint at a deepening connection that transcends mere alliances. The interplay between their strong wills and mutual respect adds a compelling layer to the story, as they navigate the treacherous terrain of Atlanta’s magical landscape together.
Derek, the young werewolf, continues to be a steadfast presence in Kate’s life. His loyalty and unwavering support are constant, yet his character grows significantly in this instalment. Derek’s development from a mere follower to a more complex character with his own motivations and struggles illustrates Andrews’ deft hand at character progression. His journey mirrors Kate’s own, as both grapple with their identities and responsibilities in a world where the line between friend and foe is often blurred.
New characters introduced in Magic Burns bring fresh perspectives and challenges to Kate’s world. These characters are not mere additions; they are intricately woven into the fabric of the story, each playing a pivotal role in the unfolding drama. From mysterious magical practitioners to enigmatic figures with hidden agendas, the newcomers test Kate’s abilities and force her to confront her own preconceptions and biases. The relationships she forms, fraught with tension and uncertainty, push her to grow in unexpected ways.
The character of Andrea is introduced in this book, as is Julie, both of whom become major characters as the series progresses. But this happens gradually. Andrea, in particular, is a good example of this. You’d be forgiven for thinking her a minor player based on this book alone, but she becomes – over the course of the series – one of the most important members of Kate’s world. Likewise, Red, an incredibly minor character from Magic Bites that barely even featured, becomes important in this instalment.
The interactions between Kate and both established and new characters are a testament to Andrews’ mastery of character dynamics. Each conversation, each shared moment of danger or discovery, enriches our understanding of these characters and their world. The relationships are multifaceted, often fraught with conflict or laced with subtle humour, making the narrative resonate with authenticity and depth.
A Plot That Thrills and Engages
Magic Burns excels in its plot—a mesmerising blend of action, intrigue, and supernatural politics. The flare, a time of intense magical activity, sets the stage for a conflict that tests Kate’s abilities and her heart. The mystery at the centre of this novel is more than just a quest; it’s a journey through a world teeming with myth and danger.
The action sequences are breathtaking, showcasing Kate’s prowess both in physical combat and magical strategy. The pace is relentless, but never at the expense of the story’s emotional depth. Each twist and turn is thoughtfully executed, leading to revelations that are as surprising as they are satisfying.
A Touch of Romance Amidst the Flames
In true Ilona Andrews style, the romance is woven seamlessly into the narrative. The chemistry between Kate and her romantic interests is electric, yet it’s the slow, simmering development of these relationships that truly captivates. The romantic subplot adds a layer of complexity to Kate’s character, highlighting her desires and vulnerabilities in a world that is often harsh and unyielding.
Andrews’ approach to character development is holistic, ensuring that each relationship, whether burgeoning or well-established, contributes significantly to both the plot and Kate’s personal evolution. These relationships are not static; they are living, breathing aspects of the story that evolve as the characters themselves do. This evolution reflects the series’ overarching theme of growth and adaptation in a world where magic and reality are in constant flux.
In other words, the book is very aptly named; all the dynamics going on here are on a slow burn, and all the more delicious because of it. This is particularly true where Curran is concerned, as it’s a start contrast to the unrealistic insta-love we often get.
Magic Burns: A Review In Brief
Magic Burns is a testament to Ilona Andrews’ skill in crafting a world that is rich, detailed, and utterly absorbing. The novel stands tall not just as a sequel, but as a continuation of a saga that is shaping up to be a landmark in urban fantasy. It strikes a perfect balance between action and emotion, between the fantastical and the deeply human.
For fans of Magic Bites, Magic Burns is a must-read. And for those new to the series, it’s a compelling invitation into the world of Kate Daniels—an invitation that’s hard to resist. This book solidifies the series’ place in the upper echelons of the genre, promising even greater adventures to come. You don’t have to read the first book before this one, but I strongly suggest you do.
Magic Burns is a triumph—a book that thrills, engages, and touches the heart. Ilona Andrews has outdone themselves in crafting a sequel that not only builds on the strengths of Magic Bites but also expands the scope and depth of the Kate Daniels universe. The novel seamlessly blends high-stakes action with deep emotional resonance, resulting in a story that is both exhilarating and profoundly moving.
The intricate world-building, masterful character development, and the evolving dynamics between characters are executed with a finesse that is rare in the urban fantasy genre. Andrews’ skill in weaving together various narrative threads—from the heart-pounding action scenes to the more intimate moments of character interaction—creates a rich tapestry that fully immerses the reader in the story.
The emotional journey of Kate Daniels continues to be a compelling draw, as she navigates the complexities of her world with strength, intelligence, and a relatable vulnerability. The novel’s exploration of themes like power, identity, and the nature of heroism adds a thought-provoking layer to the already engaging plot.