Continuing my series looking at fierce female leads in Urban Fantasy I wanted to take a look at Kate Daniels this week. (If you missed it check out my post on Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson).
Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels is, hands down, my favourite Urban Fantasy series ever. I love it so much it has usurped the Women of the Otherworld Series by Kelly Armstrong, which had previously held the #1 spot since I was 18. I was introduced to Kate Daniels at the end of 2016 by a good friend of mine, who recently penned a piece for SFFN on the wonders of one of Ilona Andrews’ other gems, the Hidden Legacy Series. So when it came to compiling a list of everything there is to love about Kate, I roped in my friend…who amusingly is also called Kate!
I’m going to give a general spoiler warning here. We’ve avoided saying anything too specific but since this covers all 9 of the currently published books in the series there are a few bits that are a little spoilery if you’ve not read the series yet, or haven’t read all the current books.
40 Reasons Why You Should Love Kate Daniels
- It’s kind of the perfect example of urban fantasy in that it’s a real blend of reality and fantasy.
- Kate herself is a stone cold badass, and we love that although her magic is seriously strong, for the most part it’s the sword skills that she trained and worked for that she relies on.
- There is a very wide cast of extremely well-rounded characters. It starts with a lot of great characters and as the series progresses Kate naturally meets new people, or introduces people she already knew who weren’t previously relevant.
- The plot is awesome! In every single book. There’s no padding, no pointless nonsense, it’s well paced, interesting, and very rarely predictable.
- There’s an attack poodle called Grendel.
- Jim wears a cape purely so he looks like a badass.
- Dali is a vegetarian tiger – when in tiger form she eats grass.
- Dali is also awesome because she’s a strong female character with magic, but doesn’t conform to the usual tropes of being stunningly beautiful and/or exceptionally skilled with her magic. Her magic is hit and miss, and fails more often than it succeeds. She also has terrible eyesight and has to wear thick glasses that are the defining physical feature she is described as having. Despite this, she still throws herself in harm’s way whenever needed – knowing she can barely see, and knowing her magic is very unlikely to save her. As a result she’s seriously badass.
- Kate nonchalantly telling people her grandmother gave her a new sword, neglecting to mention she was dead, and the sword was created by her grandmother’s spectre from granny’s own bones…
- The books are unafraid to show Kate succumbing to less than heroic impulses. Vengeance springs to mind – the way she cuts Hibla apart is cold, not strictly necessary, and driven entirely by rage over Hibla taking someone Kate cared about. Kate’s a hero, but she’s also human, with human emotions, and she doesn’t always do the moral thing. She does, somehow, always manage to do the right thing, at least as far as her own code of honour goes. Which is just awesome.
- All the characters are similarly flawed, like real people – Saiman for example is a half frost giant but also just a really shallow arsehole.
- There are romantic elements but they’re subtle, rather than overwhelming, and never get in the way of the (awesome!) plot.
- While a lot of characters are given romantic subplots they are naturally included, and the series doesn’t fall into the trap of ‘coupling up’ every character involved. When Kate and Curran meet, romance doesn’t even occur to them.
- The weird mating rituals that occur between the shapeshifters, like the time Kate welded Curran’s bimbo room shut, and he glued her arse to her chair.
- Kate doing very human things, like adopting Grendel, and taking in stray humans.
- Kate’s doodle of Curran weilding a trident topped with an apple pie.
- The series is expanded with books featuring other characters as the protagonist, giving us a look at things that happen elsewhere in the world, which aren’t directly relevant to Kate’s story arc. A lot of series with a single protagonist really struggle when they switch to other viewpoints, but these are just as engaging – Gunmetal Magic is well worth the read!!
- There are some concepts in the books which are completely unlike anything else we’ve personally read, which is getting increasingly unusual these days. In particular the take on vampires, and how they’re piloted and occasionally used as storage.
- Mishmar – the crazy prison forged from broken buildings and magic that’s totally screwed up – is a really amazing concept.
- The blood armour that can be wielded by Kate’s family is also a really cool concept.
- The fact Kate doesn’t know how to use blood armour and struggles to learn, not just in one book, but as an ongoing frustration throughout the whole series, is very well done.
- The fact Kate’s power words can backfire on her and, despite being incredibly strong where magic is concerned, she generally still has a lot to learn and isn’t infallible is also a refreshing change.
- Having limits on Kate’s magic is also great – she can use power words, but they wipe her out. As she grows stronger throughout the series she can use more before depleting her magic reserve, but this happens very slowly, as you would expect an ability to develop.
- The whole idea of magic waves is really good as well, although we’ve both read books with similar ideas.
- The bomb that nullified magic was really clever and also super sad.
- You kind of hate but also kind of understand the villains of the series. Roland, when he finally shows up, is an engaging and interesting character, and Hugh in particular is charismatic and really attractive (by physically and as a character), to the point Hazel was at one point rooting for Kate and Hugh to get together, at least temporarily. (…It’s quite possible that’s the result of her weird fetish for bad guys, she also has a weird fixation with Negan!)
- There’s a giant donkey called Cuddles.
- The level of research on all the weapons is awesome.
- You genuinely love and want to know more about the side characters. It isn’t just the supporting and minor characters in the series who are well-rounded and great, it’s every single character walking onto the page.
- There are situationally funny moments and a lot of comedy in the series, but it’s completely natural and not trying too hard.
- Kate doesn’t subscribe to the traditional heroine tropes by any stretch, nor does Andrea, the other female lead.
- A lot of the main characters are a bit morally ambiguous, including Kate herself.
- Curran isn’t in the books enough to dominate them and on some levels is a very simply drawn character. He has to be due to the short amount of time he gets on the page compared to Kate. Despite this, he’s a very complex character. He’d do whatever was necessary to protect the people he cares about. Period. It doesn’t matter what that entails or who else gets hurt in the process. He’d never purposefully hurt an innocent, but you get the distinct impression that when innocents get caught in the crossfire he’s not massively bothered by it as long as they’re not innocents he loves. As a result he walks a really interesting line. He’ll happily sacrifice himself for the greater good, but he won’t sacrifice the people he cares about. He will, however, lead them into a just fight knowing some will die, if it means saving the rest. This is what makes him and Kate so well-matched, and it’s refreshing to find a story that has a romance between two characters who are perfectly compatible beyond simply wanting to bone each other all the time.
- The world building is excellent in every possible area. From the state of Atlanta post-shift, to the surrounding areas and places they only visit occasionally, and the various factions that have risen up in the new world order. There are the big groups that are involved – the Order, the Guild, the Pack, and the People – all of whom are very clearly drawn with detailed structures and cultures. It’s also the smaller factions like the witches – who have a multi-layered hierarchy as well as the Oracle as their leaders – and the Vikings.
- The world includes a lot of traditional creature archetypes but they’re very creative takes on them, and they often pop up as minor aspects of the world, like the Banshee Kate rescues from a telephone pole, and the salamander she and Jim have to deal with at one point.
- It uses some really fascinating history, myths and legends as a basis, and actually sticks to the original mythology while giving it a modern twist. This is a very nice change from other UF books that tend to run with the stereotypical view of certain types of myth, legend and history, rather than the actual facts we know about the beliefs surrounding those myths. The result is often a very stereotypical and predictable world of magic that includes all your favourite creature features, but never does so in a way that’s genuinely interesting or engaging, because it’s all very ‘samey’ and if you know anything about the myths involved often very annoying. Kate’s world is the opposite – the mythology is spot on, the religious beliefs (where mentioned specifically) are either a genuine representation of current or historical beliefs surrounding the myths and legends, or something you could see growing organically out of those beliefs, given a few decades in the post-shift world. It’s only occasionally stereotypical (the ‘Vikings’ for example), and in those cases the stereotype is part of the world building – a purposeful choice to be as stereotypical as possible by the people doing it, rather than accidental stereotyping by the author.
- The characters are both likeable and relatable. Despite them all getting up to a lot of hairbrained antics and doing some impossible things there is no point, in any of the books, where any of them act in a way that isn’t understandable. Even the villains have clear motives and understandable logic behind their actions, including the ones who are batshit mental. Given how many fantasy stories include villains for the sake of villainy, and never really think through their reasoning, this is incredibly refreshing.
- You want to actually be in the story and the world. Like, you want to just pack up and move to post-shift Atlanta, get a job at Cutting Edge, have Kate teach you swordplay, and help Hugh transform into the anti-hero he was clearly born to be.
- It has the perfect balance of emotions. You might be angry, happy, heartbroken and amused all in the same chapter.
- The fight scenes are devised so perfectly that you can visualise ever move. At the same time, the don’t bombard you with details making them overdrawn to read or repetitive (which is quite an achievement considering how many fight scenes there are!).
Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels Series In Order…
For those of you convinced and looking to start reading, here’s every book, novella and short story in the series, in order…
- “A Questionable Client” short story, Kate POV, 2010.
- Magic Bites, Kate POV, 2007 (Book 1).
- Magic Burns, Kate POV, 2008 (Book 2).
- Magic Strikes, Kate POV, 2009 (Book 3)
- “Magic Mourns” novella, Andrea POV, 2009.
- Magic Bleeds, Kate POV, 2010 (Book 4)
- “Magic Dreams” novella, Dali POV, 2011.
- Magic Slays, Kate POV, 2011 (Book 5)
- “Magic Gifts” short story, Kate POV 2011, included in Gunmetal Magic.
- Gunmetal Magic, Andrea POV, 2012.
- “Magic Tests” short story, Julie POV 2012, included in Magic Breaks.
- Magic Rises, Kate POV, 2013 (Book 6)
- Magic Breaks, Kate POV, 2014 (Book 7)
- “Magic Steals” novella, Dali POV, 2014.
- Magic Shifts, Kate POV, 2015 (Book 8)
- “Magic Stars” novella, Derek POV, 2015
- Magic Binds, Kate POV, 2016 (Book 9)
- Magic Triumphs novel, Kate POV, book 10 (available 28th August, 2018)
Kate is a physiotherapist based in North Wales, because in order to buy books you first need to have money. Her list of favourite authors includes several dozen names and she’s always on the lookout for new additions. Aside from books she’s also a huge fan of supernatural films, preferably featuring hordes of the undead, people with superpowers, or both! And in her non-reading time she’s trying to perfect her baking and confectionery skills.