I have to thank Malin again for originally introducing me to the Kate Daniels novels. I enjoyed them as much on a re-read last summer, especially since after a year in Atlanta, things like Decatur and Ponce de Leon had geographical meaning to me. Despite that, my reaction to the announcement of a Hugh d’Ambray spin off series was more along the lines of “huh, okay” than excitement. I certainly liked Hugh on his introduction, especially since Curran was being particularly stupid at the time, but during his next appearance, Hugh was in full on psycho villain mode.
So first some more admin type things – it isn’t necessary to read the Kate Daniels novels to dive into these though it would certainly help with understanding the type of magic systems in this world. It should be easy enough to pick up while reading. From a plot perspective, Andrews provides enough context and explanation for everything to make sense without making it feel like hand holding. There are one or two monologues/data dumps that occur to explain the bare bones of Hugh’s back story and though I don’t necessarily think Hugh would have been quite that forthcoming, he is also explaining his baggage/background to a new ally so the exposition piece feels mostly natural to the story, and served as good reminder of events even for someone that has read the series twice.
One other thing that I am curious about going forward is the future timeline. The entire Hugh trilogy takes place before the next Kate Daniels novel but reading order is Iron and Magic, Magic Triumphs (Kate), and then the yet to be released Hugh novels. I am curious to see how that will work out but if the final two novels focus more on Elara’s story, Hugh could easily show up in Magic Triumphs without giving away any surprises from the rest of the trilogy.
I actually ended up loving this one! As much as I enjoy Kate, her novels have become more involved over the years, and Kate faces greater and greater responsibilities so her stories come with a side of darkness, large burdens and great stakes. While this novel definitely still involves life and death, it is also on a much smaller scope which was oddly refreshing. The other thing I liked is that it is a reminder of what the rest of the world is up to. Kate’s background story involves great magical forces so it is easy to forget that her battle is important but also very secret and obscure to many outside the inner circle. Others might know her name, certainly many know of the Pack in Atlanta and its leader(s), but Roland? Though he has been amassing power for ages, he is still very much unknown to most.
After his failure to secure Kate and unite her with her father Roland, Roland cast Hugh out. Roland was Hugh’s everything – father figure, god, mission, purpose. More than that, Roland made himself a part of Hugh through magical means and when he withdraws his power as well, Hugh has a gaping void in his being. He is a wreck, and more or less trying to drink himself to death until the leaders of the army he built for Roland come to him. They are being systematically hunted and slaughtered by another one of Roland’s “generals,” the leader of his vampire navigators (Roland encouraged infighting amongst his generals to prevent any alliances against him). This finally rouses Hugh out of his stupor as he feels the tug of duty to protect his people, reduced to a mere 300 or so from several thousand.
Unfortunately, Hugh’s ethical and moral code was basically “whatever it takes and whatever Roland wants” so he has a reputation as someone that can’t be trusted. To save his troops, Hugh needs someone that has a large fortification, needs an army of their own for security, and is equally desperate. With only a few days’ supply of food left, his advisors find a community that fits those parameters, and Hugh agrees to an engagement to seal the alliance.
Elara is the leader of The Departed, a community of magical people. This novel deals mostly with Hugh, his back story and how to reconcile who he is now with his past self so there are a lot of interesting hints and tidbits dropped about Elara’s past that I expect to be fleshed out more fully in future books. Elara and her people have been kicked out of towns before and they are done wandering. They want to settle, and this small town in Kentucky is their elected home. She and her people were once part of a larger community that split, and there are rumors of some incredibly dark magic. Elara herself is very powerful but her magic is also different, and Hugh can’t define it despite his long life and interactions with a large variety of supernatural beings while serving Roland.
Elara and Hugh have a common enemy and a common need which brings them and their people together, as much as they may hate each other. The two clash violently, and the chemistry is palatable. While the novel explores some of Hugh’s past and his motivations, it mostly does not excuse any of his actions, simply explaining the strength of his bond to Roland and how that sometimes made him overlook obvious wrongs. However, it doesn’t excuse him for choosing those wrongs. Hugh is an asshole, but he is also incredibly loyal to the people he has made commitments to, and protective. I quite enjoyed spending time with him, and as usual, Andrew creates a group of amusing and diverse supporting characters (and animals) to fill out the ranks. I am not as taken with Elara’s people at this point, but the interactions between Hugh and his most loyal and highly ranked soldiers more than made up for any needed development in Elara’s people.
I loved Curran in the beginning of the Kate Daniels series but ever since Magic Rises, it’s been harder to find his big, excessive gestures romantic rather than view them as another example of Curran keeping secrets from Kate (we get the novels from her perspective so this is probably unfair but there have been a few too many moments of concern from Kate about her actions “could break Curran and her” – either he has bigger ultimatums, or she worries more about his feelings). Basically, it was nice to follow a new romantic pairing in this universe that didn’t carry any baggage as a couple while being deliciously antagonistic towards each other. The story itself provided good closure on the events of the novel while also leaving a lot open to be explored in the rest of the trilogy, and I am interested to see how Andrews expands this world to explore other great powerful beings that are not related to Kate or Roland, and what other mysteries are out there.