This is one of my favorite series from one of my favorite writing teams. The wife/husband combo that makes "Ilona Andrews" has truly impressive skill at pulling me into the story, engaging my emotions and making it impossible to put their books down.
So why three stars? It's the most frustrating thing. The first four books of this series were so high-quality not only in word-smithery, but in plot creativity it was breath-taking. Same thing with the Edge series' first two books. Then something happened. We're getting contrivances and things that don't make sense. Things that feel like short cuts. It's down right depressing.
Make no mistake, this book will keep a reader up all night. It will make your breath stutter and make you feel like crying at points. But, if you're like me, and you've read some romance, you'll recognize the contrivances and tropes that are forgivable in that genre, but not so easily overlooked in UF.
It's very hard for me to rate and review these authors because they have created an incredible world with characters I care about as much as any fictional characters I read. They are amazing at world and character building, I cannot say it enough. Every time I read them there are moments that blow me away. If the plots were maintaining their earlier organic originality, I would probably be moving my family to Texas right now just to bask in Ilona Andrews's aura. So it's probably a good thing they're slipping, right?
But my question is, where is the editor? Where are the beta readers? Aren't they supposed to ask questions or pose challenges to certain story lines or plot choices that are clunkers? I really can't believe I'm the only one who saw these things because, for me, they were absolutely glaring. I still highly recommend this series. Everyone should become acquainted and fall in love with Kate and Curran (and Derek and Jim and Andrea and Rafael and Samain and ... well, you get the picture. There are a lot of great characters here.)
Below the page break is a very detailed breakdown of what gave me problems with this book. If you haven't read Magic Rises then you should not look at these spoilers, they will ruin the book for you. If you haven't read it and you do look at these spoilers then it's on your head. Don't come crying to me.
1. Panacea. It did not exist before this book. But somehow it did. And they have a history with its existence. Why was it not brought up when Julie was going lupe? It's not necessary for Panacea to have a history in this world. It can easily be a newly discovered substance that everyone wants to get their hands on. In fact, that makes it even more believable that the Atlanta Pack hasn't been able to procure any of it. Since it wasn't brought up in a prior book where it would absolutely have been discussed, then it shouldn't have existed before the time in between that book and this one.
2. Curran keeping the hit called out on Kate from her. I really hated this. Once again it makes no sense. The dolphin shifter tells Curran about the hit but Curran doesn't know who called it. Why is he keeping this from Kate? They already know they're going into a situation fraught with danger, almost definitely a trap (was discussed as such prior to dolphin shifter's info), without any trustworthy allies at all. So what "bad lying face" is Kate going to show them if she's already distrustful of everyone and they don't even know who called the hit? It's only one of many dangers, but it becomes the biggest one because Kate is kept in the dark. I can't believe that, after everything that's happened and all the trust Curran has placed in Kate's ability to survive against specific threats, that he would keep that from her when "bad lying face" isn't even a factor yet.
And, further, the same romance arc could still play out because he can hatch his Lorelei plan once he finds out it's her. Now that he has that specific, he can keep it from Kate. He still worries the Pack members who don't know about Lorelei being the specific hitter, and that still triggers their and Kate's distrust just as it played out in the story. It weakens nothing of the existing story because we already know the place is full of people who want to kill Kate. Why is this important? Because, even recognizing all the markers of a familiar romance trope, I could go along with it until the explanation. It was such a short-cut it was insulting and made me angry for setting aside my UF standards in favor of my romance standards. Even lowering my expectations in light of the romance trope, it was annoyingly contrived.
3. The walls having ears, eyes and noses. Okay, I can believe they're being monitored constantly. It's actually a pretty cool challenge to have to deal with. The Atlanta Pack team can't have a normal conversation anywhere without assuming they're being overheard. Wow. So what do they do? They have full out conversations in Doolittle's room. I'm not sure if I missed something, but why were they able to talk about pretty much anything there and nowhere else? And if they could talk there through guarding the premises or some such, then why couldn't they do the same thing elsewhere?
As to that, we are shown that Desana (not sure if this is the name, my Kindle's acting up and I can't check) can fool both Kate and a shifter (Andrea) into thinking she's asleep so she can listen in to their conversation. So why is Kate okay with assuming Desana's asleep when she has a conversation that includes info about Hugh and Roland with Curran? Even if they're talking quietly, this is a shifter they're dealing with and one who has very recently shown a high level of trickery in just that area.
Also, Kate is given a short lecture on scent signatures and how many shifters have something like 500 scent signatures in their sense memory. Okay, so why can't Curran and Lorelei smell Kate and Hugh on the balcony? Two shifters, one of them a First with abilities beyond the norm, and they can't smell them even though they're close enough to hear what Curran and Lorelei are saying? And Curran says later, "that was you on the balcony" (paraphrase) showing he knew someone was present, but he couldn't make out his own mate's scent signature? We know from the lecture Kate received that it only takes one meeting to lock it in for a shifter. So … what's up with that?
4. Barabas neglects to tell Kate the latest in the Lorelei scandal. He's supposedly a brilliant political strategist, but just like Curran with the "hit" info, he thinks it's better to keep these juicy tidbits from Kate even though many people -- all but a few her enemies/untrustworthy "allies" -- saw the whole thing? And allows her to go into a meeting with these aggressive non-allies without her being fully informed? Sorry, Barabas, you're fired.
5. Kate and Curran not being married. Okay, first of all, Curran referred to Kate as his "wife" at least once in Magic Slays. Even if that reference was only made to her, she has the knowledge that he thinks of her in those terms so there must be some reason they haven't officially tied the knot. The official reason in this book? Kate apparently freaks out when it's brought up. You mean like when the clan alphas try to keep her from being by Curran's side as his mate? Like how she killed all challengers to her position of "mate"? Like when she sits by his side for petitions and other official whatnot crap she has to do as his mate? Like when she, the perpetual loner, moved herself and her teenager into Curran's rooms at the Pack compound, leaving her old life and independence behind? And so on, and so on, and so on.
And if it's true that she "freaks out" when he brings it up, then why doesn't he just ask her why she's freaking out instead of putting something like that off? Because it's a shortcut. And disappointing.
I could buy that they hadn't gotten officially married because they were waiting for the pack to accept her more fully. That makes sense based on everything that has gone before and even based on what happens in this book. Didn't we have a lovely scene with Mahon where he tells Kate that she's pack? Couldn't that have been the signal they were waiting for? Mahon's been a holdout, Aunt Bea was worried, Mahon comes around fully which means, with him -- an old school shifter -- giving his blessing they have the best chance they're going to get of bringing the whole pack around to accept an actual marriage. But, no. We get some nonsense about Kate freaking out which is not supported by the earlier books. Again, this doesn't change how anything plays out in the story. It's just a far less insulting explanation that actually is supported by not only the earlier books but this one as well.
ETA: A pet peeve. Every time there's a sex scene and Curran comes he "empties himself". That's what you do when you die and your bowels evacuate. It's just gross. I'd much rather he "shuddered and groaned", he "froze, muscles locked and then collapsed on top of me, breathing heavily", or just plain "he came". Not "emptied himself". Gross, gross, gross. Just needed to get that off my chest. :p
In conclusion, I couldn't buy any of that. I could go along with it as it was happening, but when the explanations came out I was ultimately disgusted at the glossed-over, shortcut nature of it all and it made this book so much less than it could have been for me.
And this is why I have such a hard time reviewing IA anymore. There's still so much I love about them, but I can't overlook that the plot creation seems to have been taken over by tropes, cliches, gloss-overs and short-cuts.
I have seen IA's list of answers to certain questions about this book, but, unfortunately, it doesn't satisfy my points above.
Not that I don't still wholeheartedly recommend these authors and this series. It's still an auto-buy series for me, even with my criticisms, their writing is that good where dialogue and basic characterization is concerned. And they still write amazing battles and signature scenes. Also, one of the best things about this series is that it comes with Curran POV shorts written by Gordon, the husband part of the team. This particular story provides a lot of fodder for those tidbits so I hope we get some. :)
PS: I apologize if any names mentioned are wrong, as I said in the spoiler tags, my Kindle is acting up and I can't confirm.