OK, thank you to everyone who suggested I give this series a second go (especially you, Orannia!) - I actually really enjoyed the book.
I don't know why #1 didn't work for me - I think possibly because I was over-read on urban fantasy at the time, and the person who recommended it to me (*not* you, Orannia ;-)!) was... extremely enthusiastic about it to the point where they probably oversold it and then seemed highly surprised when I didn't love it as much as they did.
But yes - the writing worked much better for me than in Magic Bites - I felt as though I could easily identify with Kate as a protagonist (and I *LOVED* her banter with both Curran and Bran)
Definitely looking forward to the next one in the series now!