Urban Fantasy geek out: the Kate Daniels Series by Ilona Andrews

Urban Fantasy is one of my guilty pleasures. (I’m lying; part of me thinks that as a doctor/professor/artist type, I’m not supposed to love it. But I have no guilt, really. Only pleasure.) That’s fantasy – vampires and werewolves, fairies and elves, things along these lines – but in the present moment. Rather than taking place on a different world (Middle Earth! Narnia!), or at some point in history (Outlander! Leviathan! – tho the latter is more YAF, Young Adult Fiction and steampunk), it’s now, or in the near future. Like, if we’re talking movies and television, True Blood or Lost, which are decidedly part of the genre, or Buffy or Teen Wolf, which were (obvs) way ahead of their time.  

My favorite is the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews. (It’s also pretty cute that the authors are a couple, Ilona and Andrew.) The whole background of the world puts the fantasy genre on its head, in so many ways; and the tech and culture geek in me gets a real thrill around it.

Whereas in traditional Tolkien-like fantasy, “magic is leaving the world,” as science, technology, and contemporary know-how take hold, in Kate Daniels‘ world, magic is coming back, and technology is leaving – the latter eaten away by the powers of magic.

Myth and religion, magic and fae, werewolves, gods, vampires, and witches, from every part of the world, and every part of history, are real – and they gain their power from stories and belief.

Fascinating as part of the series, which now has 9 books and some short stories appearing elsewhere (some for free online!) is its own mythology. Like in many other fictional worlds (another favorite being Jim Butcher’s Dresden series), magic and technology do not get along. But rather than technology chasing magic away, or tech consistently breaking in the face of wizards, magic and tech simply do not exist at the same time. So with Kate, either the “magic is up” or the “tech is up.” And you never know when one might fail, the other dominate.

All the stories of old are real. Merlin. Golems. Vampires. Werewolves. Berserkers. Babel. The Morrigan. Dragons. All of it. But humans got arrogant. We used too much magic, grew our power until finally, it toppled over and destroyed itself; magic mostly left the world… for a time.

In the near future, our arrogance catches up with us again – this time technology toppling down from its overuse. Planes fall out of the sky, hospital equipment fails, buildings crumble, and, all at once, the monsters and heroes exist again.

Think of technology and magic as a pendulum swing. When one is up, the other is not. When that gets too powerful, it comes crashing down, the other rising. Interesting, in post-tech/post-apocolyptic Atlanta (er, all over the Daniels world, actually, but I had to slip in where she lives), the pendulum is more or less in the middle. This does not mean, however, that magic and tech are each at half mast; rather, every now and again, maybe after a few hours, maybe after a few days, all the gods disappear, the banshees stop shouting, my magic stops working, and the lights come on (etc). And, at the same random interval, the inverse, again.

One of my favorite things in all this chaos is the role belief in magic (or tech) plays. For example, praying to a lesser-known deity may again grant him or her power, new abilities, and more. Or, on the flip, and this is super clever, since we all know the basics of a car – filling it with petrol, changing the oil, that it goes via combustion – it would never run when the magic is up. But… how many of us really understand how a mobile phone works? For many of us, it may as well be magic. And so… sometimes (if the magic is not in flare), and for some people (if they are not too, too magical), phones will work when the tech is down/magic is up. Magic and belief, technology and its understanding, all can and do play off of each other in such interesting ways.

It makes for great stories. And the science and fantasy nerd in me loves every aspect of this.

Shape-shifters are infected with magic, DNA-swapping viruses. Vampires are actually empty, blood-sucking vessels, where Masters of the Dead can “ride” them like avatars. And Kate? She’s not really a hero. She’s deeply flawed, sometimes mean, only rarely kind, a complete bad-ass, who begrudgingly really does care about her world and those around her (especially kids!), and is thus immanently relatable and likable as a first-person author. And the romance, which takes quite a few books to build up, is mostly rom-com relief, with the occasional twist of the heartfelt.

Alright, I just convinced myself to start from the beginning of the series, and read once again. (Maybe I’ll write an academic paper about it, so it’s “work.”) You should, too. The paperbacks are super affordable at the moment.

This should get you started.

late addition: Ah, and they just announced book 10 yesterday! Timely!

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