JOINT REVIEW: Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews
Sirius and I enjoy discussing the books in the Hidden Legacy series by Ilona Andrews, and we did it again with Emerald Blaze, the most recent of the books. -Janine
“As Prime magic users, Catalina Baylor and her sisters have extraordinary powers—powers their ruthless grandmother would love to control. Catalina can earn her family some protection working as deputy to the Warden of Texas, overseeing breaches of magic law in the state, but that has risks as well. When House Baylor is under attack and monsters haunt her every step, Catalina is forced to rely on handsome, dangerous Alessandro Sagredo, the Prime who crushed her heart.
The nightmare that Alessandro has fought since childhood has come roaring back to life, but now Catalina is under threat. Not even his lifelong quest for revenge will stop him from keeping her safe, even if every battle could be his last. Because Catalina won’t rest until she stops the use of the illicit, power-granting serum that’s tearing their world apart.”
Janine: How did you feel about the changes in Alessandro? From the moment he appears in the book he is a changed man, more serious, including about his relationship with Catalina, and also more open and willing to answer any question she has. Of course I liked these changes, but I also found it a bit jarring at first. Eventually we get an explanation of what caused him to change, but at the start of the book, it did jar me a little. You?
Sirius: I loved those changes. Of course I did not know the reason for those changes initially but I think that if he was acting the same way as he did in book one I would have been really annoyed with him and with the relationship.
Did the reason behind the changes make sense to you?
Janine: That’s a good point that to have him continuing the book one behavior would have been annoying–and maybe boring as well, since it would have kept the relationship in a holding pattern.
Yes, I thought the reason, when it was revealed, made perfect sense. And I really liked Alessandro in this book. Despite his amazing abilities, he came across as more vulnerable and human here. That made him more lovable, don’t you think?
Also, what did you think of Catalina here? In contrast to Alessandro, she was more closed than she had been in the first book. And some new complications had developed in her character. I thought they made her, if less sweet, more interesting. How did you feel about that?
Sirius: Oh absolutely. I mean relationship wise I loved everything in this book – way better than the first one actually. Funnily same thing happened for me as with Nevada’s trilogy – romance in the first book irritated the crap out of me, but when more was revealed in second book I enjoyed it much more.
Janine: A friend of mine commented on how, with the books about both couples, the second book retcons the hero from how was in the first book–but since the retcon is an improvement, it’s hard to mind.
Sirius: I was not *too* irritated after the first book here, but I just could not quite get on board with just how fast this turned into this amazing love story for Catalina after her having a teenage crush on the pretty boy she never really went out with.
Now as you said when Catalina changed after what happened to her I agree that it made her more interesting, but also her reactions made more sense to me.
Janine: More sense than they did in book one? Or more sense than Nevada’s?
I agree the dynamic between Alessandro and Catalina was stronger and more enjoyable here. I did have one big issue with it, though, and that was the main thing that was supposed to present an obstacle to the relationship. I never felt at any point like Alessandro would have a problem joining House Baylor. Because of that the whole “Woe is me, he won’t want to marry me so I may as well avoid a broken heart” refrain lacked credibility. There was never any indication from Alessandro that he would feel that way.
Catalina also thinks that because of her promise to Victoria never to join another house, there will never be any man (not just Alessandro) who would willingly marry her. Why? Are all the women with magical abilities expected to join their prospective husbands’ Houses? It never happens the other way around? That seems to be the operating theory here but it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t fit with the way the world is portrayed otherwise. This doesn’t seem like such a sexist world; in fact we’ve met many powerful women in these books. Why would society and its expectations require all of them to join the Houses of their husbands and never for their husbands to join theirs? And what about all the men who have no magic and don’t belong to a House?
Did this conflict make sense to you?
Sirius: It made more sense to me than in the first Catalina’s book, sorry about that. You know, it is funny you mentioned that. I partially agree with what you said. I never doubted that Alessandro will join House Baylor either, so I did not consider Catalina’s worries in that regard to be a serious obstacle either. At the same time, I was under impression that women are expected to join their husband’s house, yes. I did not view it as sexist – as you said, we see plenty of powerful women who rule their houses or occupy very significant role in their House. At the same time this is also a world where traditions play an important role.
Nevada and Connor would have loved their kid no matter what – whether he would have magic or not, I don’t doubt that but they still worry, because child of powerful primes still expected to have powerful magic for example. Basically while this obstacle did not really feel like on obstacle to me, I did buy that Catalina viewed it as a real obstacle if that makes sense.
Did you like the adventure/mystery plot?
Janine: Hmmm. That’s interesting, it does seem sexist to me to have it be so one-sided. The women have to give up helping their families in House situations, or even sacrifice a head of House position so as to serve the men’s Houses, potentially in a lesser role. It may be a tradition but it is also a sexist one.
I liked the mystery and adventure plot very much. It was more intricate and interesting to me than the one in the previous book. The adventures are always gripping in Ilona Andrews books but the type of magic involved kicked it up to another level. The danger Catalina faced felt palpable.
What about you? How did you feel about it?
Sirius: Well, there are same sex marriages in this world, so we don’t really know what is happening in those situations, but I have to admit (and I understand that it can be viewed as sexist and respect that), that out of many traditions in the world of primes this one does not bother me too much. I mean, it certainly looks like it is not codified in law and it is possible for the guy to join his future wife’s house, just that the opposite happens more often. But I am way more bothered by some other traditions in the world of primes than this one. That they are allowed to freely assassinate one another (if it is House Business) and police won’t even interfere to investigate House Business and then other House will do the revenge. It feels like a Wild West to me and this is the tradition I dearly would love to see gone.
I don’t mean to dismiss your dislike of woman joining her husband’s house – just trying to explain that to me it is harmless in comparison to what is happening in other areas of this universe.
Janine: It doesn’t seem harmless to me but I agree about the House warfare! It’s a bit absurd that:
Sirius: I both liked and disliked adventure/mystery plot. I always loved that Baylor’s agency does thorough investigation, checks financial records, talks to witnesses, etc. I like that routine aspects of investigations are shown and even sound like fun, not just fighting with bad guys with magic or without (even if this part is more exciting to me to read about in the fantasy book) and I liked that part in this book and suspense and the subject of the investigations. But I thought that resolution of the mystery came ridiculously fast. And not exactly as result of the investigations. I mean I know they were still checking out various stuff, because they did not exactly learn the motive right away, but basically they both zeroed on the killer right after they questioned that person. Boom, I have intuition pretty much. I was disappointed about that part.
Janine: Yes! So true. I was going to mention that and forgot.
I didn’t understand the villain’s motive.
Did that make sense to you? Is there something I’m missing?
Sirius During the interviews with the suspects Arabella comes up with the peculiar line of questioning. I am not going to divulge a huge spoiler here when I say that her line of questioning was related to the Chinese tv dramas and let the reader find out the specifics :). I have been reading Ilona Andrews’ blog for years, so I know that authors watch and sometimes recommend some of these shows and I guess this part was influenced by theirs TV watching, but if I did not know that, I would be extremely confused as to why this did bit needed to be injected in the character’s history and how it was connected to the main storyline at all.
Did this work for you? Chinese dramas connection I mean?
Janine: I see what you mean but that aspect of it didn’t bother me much. I did find another aspect of it illogical. A character who appeared as an actor on a Chinese drama doesn’t know the show has become popular in America? I found it unbelievable that he would not know. Wouldn’t he be interested in information about the ratings enough to know? And since the show was popular, wouldn’t any fans recognize him and come up to him on the street to ask for an autograph?
I also caught a lot of other continuity errors and other inexplicable things, and I mean a lot. Here are the non-spoilery ones:
When searching the murder victim’s empty house, Catalina copies information from his computer onto a USB drive, but then, as soon as she has it, she and Alessandro turn out the light and leave without searching the rest of the house first.
At one point, Nevada asks Catalina if she’s sure that Alessandro won’t put her (Catalina) ahead of taking revenge on a villain. But how did Nevada know about Alessandro’s revenge plan? This is the only conversation the sisters had after Catalina found out about it and Catalina didn’t bring it up.
Along these same lines, at another point Catalina says that she sent Cornelius an email with all the latest information the night before, but in fact, all of her activities the night before are shown before the exhausted Catalina falls asleep and yet this is never mentioned.
A flamethrower that was submerged in water still works, and Catalina and Alessandro don’t even remark on that.
And here are some more that are spoilery:
These things irritated me. They were sloppy mistakes and some of them could have been fixed with the addition of just a sentence or two.
Did you notice these or any others? If you did, did they annoy you?
Sirius: OOOO none of this bothered me and I feel bad. I mean some of it I of course remembered, but interpreted differently. I think since he took a part in the Chinese drama for very short time and had no interest in it by itself, makes perfect sense that he had no idea that it became popular in America.
Nevada asking about Alessandro putting Catalina first I also had no problem with – to me she was just making an inference from what Catalina said.
Same with Linus not asking for more details – we know that he gave a lot of freedom to Catalina in her investigations, I just took it to mean that he trusted her.
I guess email and flamethrower were continuance issues, which I did not spot at all.
So overall, no I either did not notice or it did not bother me.
Janine: But the Chinese drama actor cared a lot about the show’s popularity when it was mentioned to him. What Nevada said seemed like a big inference to me. I agree she would want to know that Alessandro would put Catalina first but she used the word “revenge” specifically and there was no mention of it. And re Linus, the same monsters were attacking him too, and this information was related to how to defeat them. We can agree to disagree, though.
Sirius: I always liked all members of Baylor family, but in this book I was especially impressed with Leon. I thought we were shown very nicely how he was growing up in both personal and professional life. Did you like Leon’s character moments in this book or not?
Janine: Yes, Leon was great. He has grown up a lot from the boy he used to be and was smart and capable. I hope he gets his own book(s)! This world is so interesting and I think the authors could write more books after Catalina and Arabella’s stories. I hope they do.
Sirius: I don’t particularly care for assassin characters and it is no small feat that they made me like Leon so much. I would love to see him get his books too.
Janine: What did you think of Linus and Victoria here, Sirius?
Sirius: Linus, I like him lots and I still think about him what I thought about him after the end of Nevada’s books.
I am disappointed in Victoria though – I mean I disliked her more than I liked her before, but I almost did not feel her humanity in this book and feel like she is starting to resemble all-knowing super villain, which feels a tad caricature like dare I say and I never say it about the villains in Andrews’ books.
I am actually very curious to hear your thoughts on Victoria as well.
Janine: Yeah, Linus was great. He’s a terrific character. I’m also holding to earlier theories about him too, both yours and mine.
Victoria–I was somewhat disappointed too, I wanted to see more complexity and depth there. The very last scene in the book brought up some interesting possibilities but I agree overall she was less interesting than she had been in the past.
One thing I did find interesting was not Victoria but Catalina’s response to Victoria. I thought it was interesting that just as Alessandro was taking his mask off, Catalina was having to put a new mask on.
Where do you think Catalina and Alessandro’s relationship is heading? To me all the conflicts to the romantic relationship feel resolved by the end of this book, so I’m wondering what’s left for the next one. Will it be all about fighting the bad guys and family squabbles, or will there be anything that threatens to come between Alessandro and Catalina? If it’s the latter, I can’t imagine what that would be.
Sirius: Agreed. I can’t see internal conflicts left between them, unless something totally new comes up. I think they will be mainly dealing with cliffhanger from this book?
Janine, I am pretty much ready to grade, unless there is something else you want to discuss?
Janine: No, I was just going to ask you what your final assessment and grade are.
For me, this book feels sturdier than the last one. Sapphire Flames was a very good book, but in this one, I felt like the authors had a better hold on Catalina as a character. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that their strength is in writing tough, dangerous women and in this book Catalina, while secretive and subtle about it, is edging closer to that terrain than she was in Sapphire Flames. Catalina is a quieter character than Nevada or Kate Daniels, so it was impressive to me that the authors could toughen her up while still keeping her characterization consistent. They did that very successfully.
Emerald Blaze adds more depth to Alessandro too, so that we get a fuller picture of them both than we had before. That makes it the strongest of the Catalina books thus far in terms of characters and the plot is strong too IMO. I had a few niggles, so I am going to give it a B/B+.
Sirius: Agreed with most of your summary. It is B+ for me.