Magic Rises is the sixth instalment in the Kate Daniels series, after Magic Slays, and marking a return to the main series line after last year’s Gunmetal Magic. Magic Rises also marks a first for Kate Daniels: for the first time, Kate leaves not only Atlanta but the North American subcontinent itself. (Dimensional gateways and magical rips in the space-time continuum aside, at any rate.)
Kate and her lover, Curran, the ruler of Atlanta’s shapeshifters, are faced with a painful dilemma. Many of the shapeshifters’ children, unable to control their change, die before reaching adulthood. Medicine exists which can ameliorate the problem, but the supply is controlled by the European shapeshifters, and they have no desire to part with it to solve Curran’s problems. Not without exacting a price.
In the past, trying to acquire this medicine in Europe saw Curran outmanoeuvred, deprived of allies, with some of his companions dead. Now, he and Kate have been offered the chance to acquire the magic shapeshifter medicine—as payment for bodyguarding a European werewolf princess, the political bargaining chip of her abusive father, during a meeting of three separate European shapeshifter packs. Which is to take place in Georgia, on the Black Sea.
So, borrowing a ship from their reluctant ally, the information-broker Saiman, Kate, Curran, and a team of very-competent-at-being-violent shapeshifters set off from American Georgia to European Georgia, and, after dodging Aegean pirates (were-dolphins), discover—to no one’s great surprise—that they’ve walked into the jaws of a slowly-closing trap. For the host of this meeting is none other than Hugh d’Ambray, right-hand man to Kate’s father/nemesis, Roland… and the entire occasion seems to have been orchestrated to bring Kate within d’Ambray’s ambit, and to give him the opportunity to make a play for her loyalties.
Meanwhile, mysterious winged shapeshifters are attacking other delegates to this meeting. Cue shapeshifter politics and Kate Daniels kicking ass and taking names… with a little more permanent damage to her friends and allies than has been the case to date.
The problem with reviewing the sixth novel in a series—a novel which follows the basic formula as its predecessors and continues much the same emotional arc and with much the same thematic concerns as those predecessors – is that it grows difficult to find something new to say. Readers who have read one or two of the previous volumes will already know whether or not this is their sort of thing: readers who have not read the previous volumes could perhaps start here, but it would not be a well-advised decision, as this is not a standalone novel but a self-contained episode within a greater arc. One which goes farther along the way of pushing Kate Daniels towards an eventual confrontation with her biological father than before: this is the first time one really comes to feel an ultimate confrontation truly is unavoidable.
But what of the narrative formula? It’s never easy to speak of formulae—even successful ones—without running the risk of sounding like a critic’s critic: a structure that becomes predictable to a reviewer may well seem less so to one who reads solely for pleasure. But here, as before, there is a mystery. There is interpersonal conflict (to whit, people piss Kate off). There are emotional tensions between Kate and Curran, exacerbated by the political situation. There are violent confrontations and a final climactic battle. In something of a deus ex machina, when it seems the magic medicine they went to get in the first place is beyond their reach, a new source drops into their laps in the very final pages. It’s as entertaining as previous instalments, but a little less tightly plotted, with several key pieces of information being handed to Kate and her comrades by coincidence rather than coming to light through their own efforts. Ultimately, it fails to throw up any enormous surprises.
If you liked the other Kate Daniels’ novels, you’ll like this one. If action-oriented madcap modern fantasy is your thing, it’s a good series.* Otherwise—pass on, traveller, pass on.
*Even if I find the shapeshifter power dynamics quite, quite unbelievable.
Magic Rises is available July 30th from Ace.