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_Gunmetal Magic: A Novel in the World of Kate Daniels_, Ilona Andrews
I think the main line of this series is five books in, and "Ilona Andrews", which is a writing team, has branched out into short stories and related tales, of which I am not sure I have read all. This novel is told from the perspective of beastkin Andrea Nash, formerly a member of The Order, when she was still a closeted shapeshifter, and provides the romantic arc which started and fizzled in "Magic Mourns". Andrea is now working with fellow ex-Order member Kate at The Cutting Edge, a private agency which takes on the scut work that the police and the Mercenary Guild won't touch. Included with at least the kindle edition of this book is a short story/novella, "Magic Gifts", which is told from Kate's point of view and describes what Kate is doing while _Gunmetal Magic_ is happening -- some scenes are in both works.
Authors of romance with fantasy elements and fantasy with romantic elements can come from either genre; sometimes the hybrid is really superficial. The Kate Daniels universe is extremely strong on world-building and magic systems and this is entry is no exception. Perhaps because it is a standalone novel (it's not clear whether there will be future Andrea Nash perspective novels, but I'd be happy to read them if there were) with the romantic arc almost completely contained within it, perhaps because Nash is more a guns-and-hand-to-hand person than Kate Daniels, who is much more a magic user/mythology nerd, this novel is stronger on relationship development than it is on world-building. The world building is still present, but centers more on a secondary character, Roman; perhaps he'll get a novel of his own some day. And the relationship building is _not_ exclusively the romantic relationship between Raphael and Andrea. Andrea's self-development and recovery is front-and-center, as is her growing acceptance of her true self, but that development necessarily involves becoming publicly identified as a shapeshifter, solidifying her position within the Pack, partnering with Raphael, seconding Aunt B, etc. Her acceptance of her new career, and her improved working relationship with Raphael are also touched upon.
Several scenes (notably the purple carpet) made me laugh out loud. It's unusual for a novel not part of the main line in a universe to be this strong. I really enjoyed it.
_Life Cycle_, (Preternaturals Book 4), Zoe Winters
I may need a new rule about not reading Zoe Winters' novels back-to-back. There are some editing issues ("within certain perimeters" where "parameters is meant", "free reign", etc.) There are some telling vs. showing issues. There's a certain repetitiveness to some of the physical descriptions. As long as I read them far enough apart, I notice these things, but shrug and move on. Two back-to-back makes me want to drop the author a line and make some suggestions, which is signing up for way more work than I'm likely to follow through on.
In this entry, Cain, lead sex demon (really? I'm reading books by multiple authors featuring sex demons? I'm afraid to even ask myself why. Please don't try to explain it to me) volunteers to house Tamara, super-ancient witch, to protect her from Jack-the-Ripper (similarly ancient witch and Tamara's former lover). If you've read any Zoe Winters' novels, you know what this means: Cain and Tamara will spar throughout the novel, solve some supernatural problem, have hot sex, and make a commitment to each other/mate by the end of the book. At least that part makes sense to me: I like a romance novel with some predictability, and with enough plot distraction so it's not just navel gazing about one's feelings or descriptions of clothing or whatever.
Paranormal/supernatural fantasy often has a quasi-spiritual or religious aspect to it: characters worry about their soul or continue to worship a Christian god or whatever. But at the same time, these fantasies frequently involve worldbuilding that radically reinvents Christian mythology. It is not often the case, however, that this genre has characters who _go to heaven_. I was wondering how the author was going to handle a male romantic lead that was frequently killing women by feeding on them until they died, or just breaking their necks. I should have expected her to use the reincarnation/heaven is incredibly boring themes that had already been broached. In a way, it's like Heinlein's _Job_ or Branch Cabell's _Jurgen_, only with the main story arc being less about exploration and philosophy and more about getting laid and finding love.
I'll keep reading Zoe Winters, and I hope that if she ever finds someone to help fix some of the problems with her novels, she has the sense to make sure they don't smother her weirdly wonderful ideas and perspective.
_Just Winging It_, Kate Willoughby (Be-Wished, Book Four)
In the first three books, three human women who got drunk on vacation got True Love as their wish. The wish granting fairy was, IIRC, Davina (or at least she was one of the wish granting fairies -- I know other fairies make appearances in those books). This book is the story of Davina finding True Love. Politics in fantasy novels tend to run along species lines; in Willoughby novels, the politics tend to be office-type politics. In this outing, the political themes involve family (Davina's grandmother wants great-grandbabies and Davina is It), disease (Davina's parents were killed by a magic destroying blight and Davina has some fears associated with that) and disability: Laszlo turns out to have such a low level of magic that he was sort of dumped at a special school by his step mother -- which was an improvement over the homeschool isolation that had been his father's previous solution. Laszlo may be "almost human" rather than a fairy, but he saves Davina more than once (in the previous books and in this one). No surprise that when Davina runs away, she'd run to him.
Willoughby has a ton of fun running all the themes that contemporary romance plays with when a rich playboy/playgirl goes slumming with a Normal Person and has to experience the joys of Wal-Mart and fast food, then flipping the experience when the rich person returns to their usual world with the Normal Person in tow, who now has to cope with fabulous wealth and a strong sense of personal irrelevance. As is often the case, the Normal Person (Laszlo) turns out to have a lot to teach the richie rich in practical terms, thus addressing the personal irrelevance issue at least in part, and the rich person discovers it's fun to eat breakfast at McDonald's.
It's hard to describe a Willoughby novel. Whenever I think about their pieces, I'm surprised I don't find them irritating. Davina is flighty, disorganized and obsessed with physical appearance. Laszlo is reluctant to even try to connect with anyone and inclined to act unilaterally. But the characters in Willoughby novels are extremely loving and compassionate (well, the viewpoint characters, anyway), even when they are confused or ignorant or otherwise screwing up. It's a pleasure to be around them.
Also, Willoughby does a great job describing people and places in a detailed way that doesn't bore but does make you feel like you are there.