"Magic Burns" does exactly what book two in a series should do, it delivers even more impact that book one: "Magic Bites"
In "Magic Burns" Ilona Andrews moves her focus from the creating an alternative Atalanta, devastated by waves of magic that neutralize tech and strengthen the powers of magical creatures, to developing her main character, Kate Daniels.
The picture of Kate that emerges is a compelling mixture of aggression, vulnerability, deeply rooted ethics, ferocity, loneliness, empathy, isolation and a dark, intoxicating, power that could save or destroy her.
In other words, Kate is someone you want to know more about, who is likely to surprise you, but who doesn't walk through the world unscathed, killing those who piss her off.
"Magic Burns" starts small with Kate trying to capture a crazy arsonist using a magical salamander to burn things down and escalates through encounters with a Celtic warrior, to a Fomorian controlling Wraiths, to a full-scale battle between the Weres and a demonic army.
Along the way we learn a lot more about how Were society functions, including a fascinating visit to the Hyena Clan that gave an original and plausible view of their... proclivities and lifestyle choices. We see Kate adopting a surrogate mother role to an abandoned child, working closely with an Order member with a secret, and slowly starting to understand the meaning of Curran's behaviour towards her.
I know that the Kate/Curran love interest attracts a lot of attention but I don't see it as central to the series in terms of being a romantic interest. For me, it is more about showing that both Kate and Curran need to constantly to exert control to remain who they want to be and not be overwhelmed by what their power might make them.
I thought the most memorable relationship in the book was between Kate and the Celtic Berserker. As Kate spends time with him, she sees that he is not really human any more. Perhaps he never was. He has spent centuries in the service of God, killing her enemies and counting his success by the number of enemy heads he has stored in his home. He has no contact with people, no understanding of how to talk to women, no concept of right and wrong. In seeking to become the ultimate warrior he has allowed himself to become his God's attack-dog. This by itself is an interesting idea. I used to be fascinated by the unromantic brutality of "Slaine", the Celtic Berserker in "2000AD". Ilona Andrews takes that brutality to it's logical conclusion. What lifts the encounter is that Kate, who could so easily become a modern, wittier, sexier version of the hollow-souled Berserker, feels empathy with the warrior and engages with him in a way that, by the end of the book, enables the warrior to reclaim some of his humanity.
It is the thought that sits behind this kind of plot-line that makes this series so strong... together with witty dialogue Curran to Kate “You don't cause problems. You cause catastrophes.” , Kate's bravado - using a vampire's fangs as a hole punch, great action scenes from one-on-one combat to full-scale battles, constant playful (I think) disrespect for the ability of males to think and a pace that is perfectly judged.
That's the second five-star read in the series. I may have to invent a whole new rating just to deal with what happens when this series gets even better.