Back in 2020 I re-read the entire Kate Daniels series from start to finish in anticipation of the release of Blood Heir in January 2021 (reviewed in January’s Reading Round-up). I also wanted to figure out what it is about Ilona Andrews’ work that is so much fun to read, in the hopes of being able to apply some lessons to my own writing. Here’s what I think the secret is to why these books speak to so many readers.
Ilona Andrews writes very tight, snappy prose, usually in first person past tense. First person past tense is one of the hardest POVs for me to write. I tend to write this POV the way that I would tell a story to a friend — that is to say, I skip over important details. Despite how quickly paced Andrews’ novels are, the author does not make this mistake. Andrews is a detail-oriented writer (properly, Andrews is a detail-oriented set of writers, since Ilona and Gordon co-write these books). When new settings or characters are introduced, Andrews paints succinct and vivid pictures, clearly outlining the features of interest to the reader in a way that makes them come alive in the mind’s eye. Taking the time to do this can feel very awkward for the writer, but Andrews does it deftly.
The Kate Daniels novels in particular work very well because they are so well-structured and plotted. Each novel has a central conundrum (perhaps a murder being investigated, for example, or an invitation to a deadly event to negotiate) that has ripple effects into a larger plot (Kate Daniels’ true identity and her goal to keep that identity secret, in the beginning, or to survive the fallout of it being revealed, later). Within these larger plot elements, there are additional subplots explored, usually to do with relationships, and the Kate Daniels books include a motley cast of characters to do this with. It would be easy for all of the characters in these large ensembles to blend together, but this is not the case. The characters are well fleshed-out, and you have a clear sense of everyone’s motivations. They also tend to be pretty sarcastic and funny.
Taking the time to pay attention to detail, to do your research, and to clearly understand your cast of characters and their motivations is something that all writers could stand to do well. There’s a lot to be learned from a re-read (or first read!) of any books by this author. Plus they are a lot of fun! I hope that I, too, can become so adept at these elements of writing in my own works.