This Magic Triumphs review contains spoilers for the book, as well as the previous installments of the Kate Daniels series.
The final volume in the 10-book Kate Daniels series from Ilona Andrews is finally here. Fans (like me) who have been following the series since it launched in 2007 have been eagerly anticipating this release, knowing that, like a good anime series, this is the conclusion of the full story arc. The Andrews team (husband and wife co-authors) ties up so many loose ends with this novel it’s like getting a birthday present wrapped with a very complex, beautiful bow.
If you haven’t read any of the Kate Daniels books to this point, the authors in their introduction recommend you go back to the beginning of the series first, and I couldn’t agree more. (Here’s a longer explanation of why you should be reading this series.) While some of the plot is straight forward, the relationships among the various characters, some of whom have taken nine previous novels (plus multiple short stories and novellas) to get to know, depend on having background.
If you take the plot out of the context of these relationships, the book won’t be remarkable. It’s the relationships that make this series so worthwhile. So, go ahead and grab Magic Bites and the next eight books, and then come on back for this review. It’s okay. We’ll wait…
Magic Triumphs begins with a short prologue chapter showing Kate giving birth to the son previously revealed to her in visions. And, as happens if you’re the daughter of the greatest power in the world since magic reawakened, Kate’s father tries to steal the baby when Kate’s at her weakest. But, as also happens when you’re the daughter of the greatest power in the world, Kate’s no slouch and, even post-labor, she’s not willing to give in. She defends her family with everything she’s got—a huge theme in this book—before slumping back into post-labor oxytocin bliss, holding her newborn.
Jump ahead thirteen months: Kate and husband Curran (former Beast Lord, a special high-powered kind of shapeshifter known as a First, and current leader of the Mercenary’s Guild) are rocking the new parent thing. If they’re a little overprotective, it’s because people are literally trying to kill them a lot of the time, which makes their paranoia understandable. When Teddy Jo, a modern incarnation of Thanatos, Greek god of death, shows up at the door of Kate’s investigator’s office because he’s encountered something that makes him agitated, Kate knows something is very wrong. When she arrives on the scene of an abandoned town—and later, discovers a puddle of human remains that shows the humans were boiled so their bones could be extracted—it’s a bit much for even Kate to handle.
As it turns out, there’s a new Big Bad on the scene, even worse than Kate’s father, Roland. Where Roland wants to conquer everything, this new enemy is ready to destroy: to raze the world and everything in it. Which means that Kate is running out of time to find allies to stand against this overwhelming force—and it may mean she has to reconcile with the father who’s been trying to subjugate her.
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This is not the novel I was expecting. Magic Binds, the penultimate book in the series, concludes with a face-off between Kate and her father. She literally charges toward him on the field, ready to kill him—even though it will mean her own death—and he retreats, vanishing from the conflict. I had expected for the final story to revolve entirely around that conflict, again contrasting Roland, the Big Bad of the series, with Kate, the daughter who wants desperately to overcome her family heritage by using her powers for good.
Instead, while that conflict is spectacularly resolved, for most of the novel it takes a back seat to a threat even more dangerous. Magic Binds introduced an enemy to Kate’s family back in the days when magic still reigned in the world. The kingdom that Kate’s father an aunt ruled was attacked by magical forces. According to Kate’s somewhat-resurrected aunt, Erra, who she once had to kill to keep from destroying Atlanta (dysfunctional doesn’t begin to describe Kate’s family), Roland and Erra hunted that enemy down and killed every last one of them, destroying even their legend. Lucky for Kate, they didn’t eradicate the legend completely: though it takes some time to track down someone who can identify the villain, Kate finally finds her answers to who the villain is and how she can begin to stand against him.
That thread of plot—discover a crime, figure out who’s perpetrating it, find out how to confront them, and plan the battle strategy—is the basic structure behind several of Kate’s prior adventures. The use of mythology (and more modern fantasy references) is as delightful as always, and the particular monster they confront here is suitably inhuman to make the consequences if he were to win terrifying.
But more than the story, it’s the interwoven threads of the characters that elevate this novel. Series favorites make their reappearances: Saiman, the shapeshifting frost giant magic expert; Luther, the caustically-funny wizard from Biohazard; Nick, Kate’s almost-brother who runs the local Order of Merciful Aid and hates her (yet holds her kid when she hands him over); Hugh, a villain fans wanted to see redeemed so much he’s gotten his own spin-off series; Ghastek and Rowena, Masters of the Dead who formerly opposed Kate and are now utterly devoted to her; the Witch Oracle, back in their giant tortoise; bouda alpha Andrea (whose parenting advice is suitably best-friend caliber and equally annoying); Roman, the volhv (priest) of Chernobog, god of evil, who was the officiant at Kate and Curran’s wedding; Julie, Kate’s ward who has become a power in her own right; and the list goes on.
The complicated relationship between Kate and Roland continues to tread that fine line that heroes and villains walk, knowing that they are two sides of the same coin, here with the added love of kinship that makes the ultimate conflict almost unbearably hard. The novel also introduces Conlan, who, despite being adorable at thirteen months old, is never written in a saccharine way; it’s obvious that the Andrews team has plenty of parenting experience, and they bring that to bear with familiarity and love.
First-time readers picking this up will be mystified—there’s absolutely too much going on here that relies on prior knowledge of the characters and the series—but for readers who have followed the core novels since the beginning, this is a compelling conclusion that leaves most of the characters with the endings they deserve, while still opening doors for future adventures in the world that allow Kate and Curran a happy retirement into something like a normal family life. While this was not the novel I was expecting as the conclusion of the series, it is absolutely the novel the series deserved.
Alana Joli Abbott writes about books for Den of Geek. Read more of her work here.