"Sure. Annoy the people involved until the guilty party tries to make you go away.”
Nancy Drew did not have to solve supernatural crimes. The Scooby Gang mostly found out that the evil ghost was secretly Old Mr Jenkins. Veronica Mars had a lot on her plate, but not magicians.
So I wanted to do a supernatural lady sleuth.
Lucky for me, there are a lot of heroines who get on the solving crime in urban fantasy scenarios. Anita Blake of the Laurel K. Hamilton novels, Jill Kismet and Dante Valentine of the Lilith Saintcrow books, Toby Daye in the Seanan McGuire novels.
I really like that kind of novel! Lots of magic, lots of noir-y feelings, stars a lady who tends to be awesome at her job! There is a dudely example—Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden novels—but I’ve seen more ladies.
And I have a favourite. She is Kate Daniels of Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series, starting with MAGIC BITES and continuing on (one hopes to infinity but so far with four more books, MAGIC BURNS, MAGIC STRIKES, MAGIC BLEEDS and MAGIC SLAYS).
Kate’s job is a plotline. Not only that—it’s not a plotline with ups and downs and promotions and a boss she doesn’t like—I mean she changes jobs three times in the series.
But she is always, of course, sleuth-y. (That's a legit term.)
She starts off as a mercenary. A lone wolf drinking hard lemonade. It’s very noir: she’s living in a world that has been partially destroyed by magic and in which magic shuts down technology periodically. Kate’s future version of Atlanta may count as a dystopia, though it’s hard to say when there is magic involved. What I think it counts as is some cool world-building.
Kate uses noir turns of phrase all the time – ‘She had wailed loudly enough to wake the dead and make them call the cops.’ And the first case of her first book is, of course, a case where This Time It’s Personal: her guardian Greg has just been murdered. He died thinking Kate disliked him, when he was the only person she really had to care about. ‘Greg Feldman was my only family… I’ll find who or what killed him.’ We are thus introduced to Kate at a deeply low point in her life… but it’s clear Kate’s life has always been hard, and solitary. The life of a Lone Maverick Detective is not glamourized.
‘When I come crawling home, bleeding and filthy and exhausted, the house is dark and empty. Nobody keeps the porch light on for me. Nobody hugs me and says, ‘Hey, I’m glad you made it. I’m glad you’re okay. I was worried.’ Nobody cares if I live or die. Nobody makes me coffee, nobody holds me before I go to bed, nobody fixes my medicine when I’m sick. I’m by myself.’
But Kate doesn’t stay the solitary noir detective. Kate is a deconstruction of the lone wolf protagonist, too strong to need anybody else--or any urban fantasy protagonist who only needs herself and maybe a love interest. She evolves, despite a very hostile environment and having to solve all the crimes in it.
‘In a perfect world, Joshua’s vertically gifted murderer would’ve had himself a monologue before rampaging, during which he loudly and clearly would’ve announced his full name, occupation, religious preference, preferably with his god’s country and time period of origin, his goals, dreams, and aspirations, and the location of his lair. But nobody had ever accused post-Shift Atlanta of being perfect.’
So, ruins of the cities where we live now everywhere, life is uncertain, werecreatures prowl the streets, our knight errant Kate sometimes has to ride a horse and always carries a sword. I was going to say Kate is like Han Solo (mercenary who answers to no one!) but then I was also going to say she’s like Decker in BLADE RUNNER (noir detective in a world where technology has run mad!) and at that point I began to worry people would picture Kate as Harrison Ford.
Due to events following her investigation of her guardian’s death, Kate then officially becomes a liaison for the Order of Knights of Merciful Aid (the team you call when you have a harpy on the telephone pole) and a friend to the local Pack (assortment of were-people), but there are many policy disagreements between her and the Order. Bureaucracy does not really suit Kate.
“Any messages for me?" Usually I got one or two, but mostly people who wanted my help preferred to talk in person.
"Yes. Hold on." She pulled out a handful of pink tickets and recited from memory, without checking the paper. "Seven forty-two a.m., Mr. Gasparian: I curse you. I curse your arms so they wither and die and fall off your body. I curse your eyeballs to explode. I curse your feet to swell until blue. I curse your spine to crack. I curse you. I curse you. I curse you.”
In the end she is forced to choose between loyalty to the Order and her guardian’s legacy and the lives of werewolves. Her boss says ‘We’re people. They’re not’ and Kate goes to help them anyway, because of course they are people, and because she thinks it is right.
And then she sets up her own detective agency, with a loan from the werepopulation of Atlanta. But this isn’t back to a lone noir actually-a-detective-now situation, because over the course of these books Kate has picked up people to be her family.
We see the building blocks of Kate, who was raised to be a lone predator but who also has from the start had the potential to build friends and family around her.
Kate says of her adoptive father, who trained her to be a lone wolf expert warrior: ‘His training had a fatal flaw: he cared. He asked me what I wanted to eat for dinner. He knew I liked green, and if he had a choice between a blue sweater and a green one, he’d buy the green one for me even if it cost more. I like swimming, and when we traveled, he made it a point to lay our route so it would go past a lake or a river. He let me speak my mind. My opinion mattered. I was a person to him and I was important. I saw him treat others as if they were important… He helped people, when he thought it was right.’
Kate meets her best friend Andrea, a tiny blonde who loves guns and romance novels, at the Order in the second book, MAGIC BLEEDS. Andrea insists on eating lunch with Kate and Kate finds herself suddenly and decisively befriended: Kate’s struggle against this lasts about as long as it takes for Andrea to get in trouble, and later Kate woos Andrea to join her detective agency. “Would you like to work here with me? We have no clients and the pay is shit.”
Andrea raised her hand. “This is the hand that slapped Aunt B (the leader of the werehyenas).”
“Maybe you should have it gold-plated.”
“Here, you can touch it, since you’re my best friend.”
Kate doesn’t just have a best friend. She has an adopted child, Julie, who is eleven and has a missing mother when Kate is asked to guard her for an afternoon. Kate’s been orphaned too: Kate instantly dedicates herself to finding Julie’s mother. ‘Hold on, Jessica. I’ll find you. And I’ll keep your baby safe.’ But the next time she promises to keep Julie safe, she calls her ‘my girl’ and when the leader of the werepeople Pack offers to take Julie in she says ‘I’m taking my kid and leaving.’ She has known Julie for one day.
“I'm a substitute mom."
"You're more like a crazy aunt who only gets called when somebody needs bailing out of jail.” – And these words turn true. Kate is Julie’s ‘Aunt Kate,’ though she refers to her as ‘my kid’ continually and almost from the start. When Julie’s mother turns out to be dead Kate does adopt her, worries about her at school, saves her life at some pretty terrible and morally grey cost but also has Julie’s pictures plastered up around her house. Kate’s in her mid-to-late twenties as the series progresses: an adolescent is a lot of commitment to take on! But Kate does it, and Kate clearly loves Julie: Julie just as clearly loves Kate back.
Kate gets a sidekick, too. Every good sleuth has at least one: he’s a young werewolf called Derek who is introduced before Andrea or Julie, who acts as the small end of the wedge when it comes to getting Kate to let the world in. (Fact: all werewolf stories are improved by werewolves called Derek. I have statistics that will back me up on this.) The detective agency also has a fifteen-year-old werehyena sex fiend intern.
Kate even gets a pet—‘my attack poodle,’ Grendel. She gets all the things she describes herself as not having (well… not the sex fiend intern, he’s an unexpected development), the things she believes she cannot have, over the course of the series. And it doesn’t solve anything, but you can see it making her stronger and making it all more fun, even though it further complicates her life and gives her so much more to lose. It is worth it.
While we speak of emotional connections: I love that Kate is not only given companionship through romance, and that Kate isn’t all about romance, but I should perhaps mention Kate’s Significant Other. Curran, the king of all wild things. Or in other words, the leader of all the werepeople in Atlanta.
Curran is a werelion, and depicted as a lion on all the book covers. This led to my mother asking me personal questions.
MOTHER: So you really like these books about a woman... fighting Aslan?
SARAH: She's not fighting him! THEY'RE IN LOVE!
SARAH: He's not Aslan!
MOTHER: So when you were reading the Narnia books, how did you feel about Aslan?
Their initial reaction to each other is irritation with a side helping of noting that this being of the other sex is cute. (Obviously after Curran turns into a person. Kate is not like ‘Get a load of that lion’s ass.’) Their basic attitude is: ‘You are an attractive person. Good work you. Now cease immediately to be an obstacle in the path of my doing my job because I am very career-oriented!’
“What kind of woman greets the Beast Lord with 'here, kitty, kitty'?”
… My kind of woman. And, as it emerges, Curran’s kind of woman, too.
‘ “His Majesty needs a can-I girl anyway. And I'm not it."
"A can-I girl?" Andrea frowned.
I leaned back. "'Can I fetch your food, Your Majesty? Can I tell you how strong and mighty you are, Your Majesty? Can I pick your fleas, Your Majesty? Can I kiss your ass, Your Majesty? Can I..."
It dawned on me that Raphael was sitting very still. Frozen, like a statue, his gaze fixed on the point above my head.
"He's standing behind me, isn't he?"
Andrea nodded slowly.’
But as they bicker, fight (like physical fighting, sparring with each other, battling on the same side, and also once in an arena… Kate and Curran’s lives are complicated…) they learn to respect each other, to want to take care of each other, to want to negotiate a relationship that isn’t perfect but is exactly what they need.
The books continue on after Kate and Curran are together, dealing with being together: “You snore worse. At least I don't turn into a lion in my sleep."
"I only did it once."
"Once was weird enough, thank you.”
You know. Normal couple stuff!
Two things Kate says in a time of romantic crisis:
‘ “If you come back to me, I'll never leave you", I whispered into the furry ear. "I'll make you all the pies you could ever eat.” ‘
‘ “Know this: if you come to remove me, come in force, because if you try to separate me from him, I will kill every single one of you. My hand won't shake. My aim won't falter. My face will be the last thing you'll see before you die.” ’
She can kill everybody: she can make really great pie. Both those things are awesome.
Her man is the one who makes the move for an emotionally committed relationship, but in a scary lion way.
‘His voice was a ragged snarl. "I miss you."
This wasn't happening.
"I worry about you." He dipped his head and looked into my eyes. "I worry something stupid will happen and I won't be there and you'll be gone. I worry we won't ever get a chance and it's driving me out of my skull."
No, no, no, no...
We stared at each other. The tiny space between us felt too hot. Muscles bulged on his naked frame. He looked feral.
Mad gold eyes stared into mine. "Do you miss me, Kate?" ‘
Basically imagine if in this scene Matt Damon was turning into a lion.
‘I gave him my hard stare. “You're a control freak and I fight all authority. And you want us to mate?”’
… Aw, maybe Kate is Han Solo after all, and Curran is Princess Leia. Meant For Each Other! Plus, let us face it, a man who references the Princess Bride to his lady is a winner.
There is a lot more awesome to Kate from the very start, before her evolving career and support system.
Kate has a mysterious background that reads to me as epic, the kind of backstory more usually given to a dude—she’s the daughter of Roland, and there’s a dark tower involved of course, a Sauron-esque figure we haven’t seen but who kills all his children. She’s Zeus, and he’s Cronus who swallowed all his children but this one. And her mother, the beautiful long-dead mother of many stories, is more complicated than Kate knew at first: Kate’s mother was a trickster protecting her child, like Rhea in the legend.
But Kate isn’t just the Chosen One, with special blood and a destiny.
Kate has skills – ‘Kate's Speciality: Killing things, with much bloodshed. Talking trash, infuriating authority. Driving Beast Lord crazy.’
She is prompt, which is essential! ‘I had an appointment with a sexual deviant and I didn’t want to be late.’
‘Maybe if I prayed to Miss Marple, she’d hook me up with a clue.’ (Excellent instincts Kate! Praying to Miss Marple is always the answer.)
"Clear out!" I barked.
They paid me no mind. Asshole innocent bystanders.”
Kate has boundaries – ‘Cute. I think I would prefer to be stabbed in the eye rather than be called cute.’
She is not all-knowing but she is sassy. "Becker the Gory? Lighthouse Keepers? Boston?"
"I would've preferred Becker the Easily Surrendering or Becker the Quite Reasonable, but beyond that his name tells me nothing.”
As you can see, she’s funny, she’s loyal and loving, and so far, she’s solved every case. Which as will emerge in Unspoken, is not so easy. Supernatural shizz can really derail an investigation.
So. Kate Daniels, my favourite urban fantasy sleuth. There she is, and there’s why.
Do you guys have favourite urban fantasy sleuths of your own?