If you are hedging on buying this book- stop, buy it now, and read it in one sitting. If you are an addicted fan of Ilona Andrews, this is just the wonderful fix you've been looking for. If you have never read Ilona Andrews, this actually isn't a terrible place to start. The book is a solid stand-alone story with a lot of trademark IA fabulousness- action, mythology, monsters, and bad-ass fighting women. You may be happier starting with Kate Daniels' books (it is her world and we all just want to live in it, after all.)
Okay, my opening review paragraph is out of the way, so I'll go a little off-topic. I was TERRIFIED of this book. My must-read authors have been dropping like flies. There is a national epidemic of literary phoning it in (I blame this "publish 4 books a year" nonsense.) Some of my favorite authors have been taking the story that made them great and are spinning it off- concentrating on expanding the story by doing spin-offs with secondary characters within the beloved universe but which are not part of the overall story arc. And most of the time, they totally jump the shark. The series suffers for the decision. I don't have a huge critique as to why I find this to be so, however, I think the lack of the well-considered story arc and the novel, thoughtful building of a world just make these books less than their brothers and sisters. These books are usually stand-alones that are shoved in a dark corner of the overall story-line so they will not impact the original series. Okay, rant ended.
Ilona Andrews, on the other hand, actually made the stand-alone spin-off work. It wasn't perfect- but then my idea of perfect probably involves Kathy Bates hobbling the Andrews writing team and forcing them to finish the series NOW! So, take my less than perfect rating with the proverbial grain of salt. In fact, my less than perfect is probably a matter of personal preference.
The Perfect parts: I love Andrea. She only improved upon closer inspection. She is a perfect fit for Kate. I love that they complement each other so well and it makes her inclusion into Kate Daniels' world sensible as well as justifying her own book. Her bad-assedness never felt false. So many authors will tell you about a character but they do not have the actual chops to write a character that acts and talks and interacts in a way that actually illustrates the character trait and, then, effectively integrate that trait into the story-line in a meaningful and effective manner. IA has the chops. They are so good. Further, her emotional damage felt true, as well. Another IA talent- they have a way with the emotionally damaged character that is not angsty or resorts to psycho-babble. They are masters of under-statement yet they never lose the emotional resonation.
The story was a solid Kate Daniels story: a lot of action, some of our favorite secondary characters made appearances, and a solid use of arcane mythology to create the bad guy. The story rolled right on without lagging. The pacing was tight and well-thought. Aside from the action storyline, there were two particular sub-plots that were handled nicely and provided the necessary break from the monster-killing. One, Andrea and Raphael had to navigate their relationship. Next, Andrea had to navigate her relationship with Aunt B and the Pack. Both were pretty well-done.
A warning here- like a Kate Daniels book, the romance is a definite sub-plot. How many books did it take before Kate and Curran got together in any meaningful way? So, the book is pretty much all in Andrea's head and Raphael isn't as big a character as Andrea. This is her book. And the romance is just in particular scenes.
As for my less than perfect personal preference, I'm not sure I like the extended-view of Raphael. Sorry, but he was spoiled and callous and cruel. He seemed to expect Andrea to magically get over her grudge simply because he finally got over his- after, of course, stomping on Andrea made him feel a bit better. We got all of Andrea's side of the story of their relationship breakdown- Team Andrea! She was in the hospital for 3 days- then they took her- and TRIED her- and took away her career and identity! Who would not be on her side? She wins! Raphael's side just looks like he is whiny and refuses to compromise an inch on his untested principles and his standing in her life. In the Kate Daniels world, if Curran can let Kate out the door with a sword, then Raphael should be capable of recognizing the value and worth of Andrea's career and identity. So, there is the unequal dynamic of a bad-ass woman who is appreciating her own worth who is committing to a guy who hasn't demonstrated he has a solid grasp of her worth.
One more small critique, where does this fit into the timeline? Yes, it is post-Erra. But, then, we have a Jim appearance and comments about his single state? So, where does the Jim/Dali short story fit? See, I'm a fan but not rabid enough to spend too much time on their web-site. So, the answer to this may be out there but I feel it should have been in the book.
Finally, and again, not the most important point but I loved, loved, loved the American cover art. It was exceedingly well-done.