JOINT REVIEW: Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews
Janine: Wherein Sirius and I discuss the latest Hidden Legacy novel. Let’s jump right.
In a world where magic is the key to power and wealth, Catalina Baylor is a Prime, the highest rank of magic user, and the Head of her House. Catalina has always been afraid to use her unique powers, but when her friend’s mother and sister are murdered, Catalina risks her reputation and safety to unravel the mystery.
But behind the scenes powerful forces are at work, and one of them is Alessandro Sagredo, the Italian Prime who was once Catalina’s teenage crush. Dangerous and unpredictable, Alessandro’s true motives are unclear, but he’s drawn to Catalina like a moth to a flame.
To help her friend, Catalina must test the limits of her extraordinary powers, but doing so may cost her both her House–and her heart.
Janine: Catalina is a departure from Andrews’s heroines (at least the ones from the books I’ve read), in that she does not come across as toughened or as someone who even wants to toughen up. Yet there is a lot of courage there. I felt her vulnerability more, but her fears made her seem all the braver when she fought to overcome them. What did you think of her?
Sirius: I loved Catalina. As much as I enjoyed most of their tough as nail heroines. I appreciated so very much how much mental work Catalina had to do in order to present a facade of herself that will make other Primes from the hostile and not hostile houses respect her. I wondered after reading Diamond Fire what kind of further changes Catalina will undergo in the next book and I really liked what I saw.
I actually thought that she was a better Head of the House than Nevada. No, scratch that – not better necessarily, because Nevada clearly did a bang-up job saving them all, but more suitable because she understood that she could not do everything herself and delegated and more importantly stuck by her decision to delegate important tasks and not micromanage.
Janine: That’s a great point, that she makes a better team leader than Nevada, even with all her self-doubts. I really liked her too.
Sirius: For me, her self- doubts really work. I am not saying that I want to read about heroine who hesitates every time she needs to make an important decision, especially if that decision leads to life or death situation , but Catalina doubts herself before she makes the decision and when she determined that she needs to do something – kill people, or fire people or whatever for the good of the people she protects she is all in in my opinion. I guess I like when person hesitates before deciding to do some killing even if it is completely in self-defense and in the fictional realm so very justified.
Janine: Yes! I think that little internal conflict before a big decision is a lot of what makes for interesting characters in fiction.
Sirius: Let’s talk about “Smoochie Poo.” What did you think about Alessandro’s reintroduction? Did you find connection that Catalina still felt to him believable?
Janine: I thought he was retconned a bit–he didn’t seem like the same person he was in the earlier books. But I mostly bought their connection.
Sirius: Considering that we saw very little of him in the past books I actually was ready to buy that we only saw one facet of his personality and here we discovered fuller picture (although of course still not a complete one IMO).
Janine: Hmm. I agree up to a point. I liked the filling out of the picture to a certain degree but the scene in Wildfire where he showed up under her window and pleaded with her to take a ride with him was out of character to the way he was portrayed here.
One thing I really appreciate in these authors’ books is that there’s always more to the romance than *just* sexual attraction. I liked the way Catalina and Alessandro complemented one another—he is a touch reckless where she is careful, he is used to taking lives where it’s a really big deal to her. She makes a home wherever she is, and he doesn’t have one. And of course, they have fighting the bad guys in common. How did you feel about their relationship?
Sirius: I agree with you about their connection *in this book* and how well they complemented each other *in this book.*
What bothered me a little bit (not much but enough to note that) is why Catalina would still remember him and long for him that much. I mean the authors did say several times that she built a fantasy in her head, but the real guy turned out to be much more fascinating person than she thought, right? I suppose I feel a little disconnect between “she thought he was just a pretty face. Okay a very pretty face” and “that was a beginning of a true love.” Does that make sense?
Janine: Yes, it makes perfect sense. And I agree with you. It didn’t really fit in with Catalina’s personality that for three years she would carry a torch for a man who was gorgeous but who seemed to be shallow.
Let’s talk a bit more about Alessandro. He’s got this facade that Catalina dubs “Instagram Alessandro,” someone who loves to pose and preen. But there’s another story under that surface that we slowly begin to get to know. How did you like him compared to heroes like Rogan and Curran, who are more straightforward, where what you see is what you get?
Sirius: See I don’t know yet. I mean considering that he is Catalina’s love interest I think it is a pretty safe bet that he is not a bad guy at all, but I still think we know too little about him to figure out what he is hiding.
I think right now I am mostly intrigued by him. Oh, and his magic is very cool. Whatever we are allowed to see of that mysterious Antistasi magic.
His magic was the coolest of all the magics introduced in this book. I wanted to know if the Antistasi power (trying to be vague here) applied strictly to what he used it on, or to other stuff too.
But I also feel that I don’t know him well enough yet. Intellectually I know he is a good person, but his persona is slick enough that it’s hard for me to fully trust him. Maybe for that reason I was less invested in this romance than I was in Nevada and Rogan’s by the end of book one. You?
Sirius: Not sure yet if I think his magic was the coolest for me but certainly one of the best. Oh, definitely I want to know everything he can do and I don’t think we saw all of his skills yet.
Considering that I had very little investment in Nevada and Rogan at the end of book one, it is not a high barrier for me to overcome :). I guess I don’t think we saw everything about Rogan initially either. I thought he was an ass basically. But yeah as much as I think we don’t know lots about Alessandro yet I like him better with Catalina than I liked Rogan with Nevada at the end of book one.
Janine: I thought Rogan and Nevada’s chemistry was off the charts, and that was very exciting and sexy. Alessandro and Catalina feel quieter to me. So while I like Alessandro as a person a bit better than I did Rogan or Curran (who I thought was too much “Me Tarzan, you Jane”) at this early stage, I’m not as invested in this relationship as I was in Nevada’s with Rogan.
Any thoughts on the pacing? I’m asking because I wondered if Catalina and Alessandro’s relationship was maybe moving a touch too fast for a relationship with a three-book arc.
More generally, the book was a little less frenetic than in the earlier ones, with more quiet down time, and that suited Catalina’s personality. This book was a little less entertaining for me as a result, though still very enjoyable. How did you feel about it?
Sirius: Just to clarify, I liked Rogan way better after the second book when we learned more about his motivations (and Curran will always be my favorite Andrews’ male lead), but not after the first book.
I liked that this book let me take a breath at times and as you said it suited Catalina’s personality.
As to whether the relationship is moving too fast? I guess we are supposed to think that ending slows it down? Otherwise yeah I am not seeing what internal conflicts they may have to overcome in order to be together.
What did you think about mystery/suspense storyline?
Janine: The mystery itself was not all that suspenseful to me–all the arrows pointed to the head bad guy early on, so it was not a question of who was behind it or why.
But with regard to the main storyline here, I thought the action scenes were exciting and I really liked the way Catalina was thrust into the political structure of this world–I think that could lead to some great stuff in the next book. So basically, there was a lot of good setup here. What did you think of it?
Sirius: I agree with your assessment – that mystery was not very mysterious and I enjoyed action scenes in this book, but also for some reason the subject of the mystery so to speak was a bit disappointing to me. I don’t know why exactly – it all made sense and fit within the story and obviously was very related to the world of Primes. I just didn’t care for what they uncovered if that makes sense. OH I know. I think because it reminded me too much about certain plot turn in some comics.
Janine: I agree re. comics. Also, it didn’t feel like a big story, if that makes sense.
Several characters from previous books were absent or mostly absent from this book. Of course, Rogan and Nevada had to be far away so that Catalina could spread her wings (an unintended but horrible pun). But I also missed Cornelius, Matilda, Sergeant Teddy and Zeus. They were all there, but only in tiny doses. Even Arabella was more talked about than involved in the story. The book might have been too cluttered if they had all been involved but I missed them! They bring a lot of humor to the books and I thought there was a little less humor in this one than in the Nevada books. Who did you miss most?
Sirius: I missed Cornelius for sure – I like him a lot and enjoy characters like him but I do think it is a constant issue for them (although not really a bad thing to me). They create so many likable secondary characters that I want to get to know all of them but as you said the book might have become cluttered.
Janine: Cornelius was the one I missed the most too. On the upside we see a lot more of Runa Etterson and meet her brother, Ragnar. What did you think of them and of their storyline?
Sirius: I really liked Runa from her tiny appearance in the previous books. I thought she was very believable here dealing with the horrible circumstances thrust upon her and her brother. I also hope her friendship with Catalina was not just a plot device and will continue in the next books. Ragnar was a teenager hurt beyond all measure but we could see the glimpses of formidable prime he could become later on.
Janine: That’s a great description of Runa and Ragnar. I liked them but they were (understandably) more serious and they gave this book a more serious, less humorous tone. I didn’t buy that they would have been so weak without the help of the Baylors; anyone who can poison others to death from a distance in minutes is a force to be reckoned with. But like you, I’m hoping the Catalina / Runa friendship continues to develop.
Three years have passed since the last time we visited with House Baylor and company. How do you feel the characters have grown or changed? Is there anyone you find less or more interesting now than before?
Sirius: My favorite characters after the first book of the previous trilogy were not Nevada and Rogan but her family members. I loved that the writers let her with the support system and older female family members were alive to provide it too not just her sisters and cousins. I appreciate that her mom was given a chance to make and fix her own mistake not just give support to her daughters.
I thought Bern and Leon remained very static although maybe they will be given their own books and writers don’t want to reveal their full potential earlier than necessary. What about you?
Janine: I agree that Nevada’s support system was one of the best things in the earlier books although I loved Nevada to bits, too. We’re on the same page about Penelope, too—but I was annoyed with her storyline. Abarca’s bad security seemed contrived. I thought Penelope would be too smart to allow that to go on for so long given the dangers and the Baylors’ need to project a strong image.
Bern didn’t change at all but I’m wondering if
Leon was much less interesting to me in this book. Part of it was that he had a storyline before (the question of whether he had a magical ability) and now he doesn’t. Another part of it was that what is fascinating in a kid can be less interesting in an adult.
Two characters are forces to be reckoned with, Victoria Tremaine and Linus Duncan. What did you think of their roles here?
Sirius: I like Linus.
Janine: I loved Linus’s scary power and position, as well as his moral ambiguity. I think I’ve figured out what may be a huge spoiler about him (a different one from the one you just mentioned) that will be revealed in future books. I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds.
Sirius: I don’t like Victoria at all. Clearly most Primes care about their Houses and stuff a lot but we see that a lot of families really love their children. Certainly, Runa’s mom was trying her best and House pride or not, Rogan’s mother seemed to really love him. I don’t see that Victoria loves her granddaughters for themselves as opposed to their blood at all.
Janine: I really like Victoria. I don’t need to like a fictional character the same way I would like a person in real life to enjoy them, and with villains that is all the more the case. What I appreciate most about Victoria is that she comes across as complicated. She doesn’t seem to love her granddaughters, I agree, but she is a delicious villain.
One of the questions I sometimes like to ask myself when I read a book is whether the story could take place in a different setting, or if it could only happen in this time and place. Here the world and the story are completely integrated. I also find the world and the politics of the Houses really interesting even four books and one novella in. You?
Sirius: Not :) I mean I don’t usually ask myself that question. I care very much about the world building especially in SFF books but I am not particularly concerned with whether the same story can unfold in another time and place.
Janine: I’d argue that if the world building is really strong, then the story is integrated into it.
Sirius: I thought politics in the earlier books signaled a little bit different direction than where I think the story will go. We shall see.
Janine: I’m interested in
Sirius: What is your grade Janine? I am between B and B+. Closer to B+
Janine: It’s a B+ for me.