REVIEW: Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews
Readers please note: A reader told me her ebook opened to the first chapter, skipping the prologue, and so she didn’t even know it was there. The prologue is important to the story, so if you get the ebook and this happens to you, I recommend backtracking to read it.
Trigger warnings: In light of our recent discussion of ableist language, I feel a need to state that the hero’s nickname (mentioned far more frequently in this book than his first name) is ableist. Kidnapping and interrogation come up in the review as well. If any of these are among your triggers, you may wish to avoid reading this review.
Dear Ms. Andrews,
Ever since I’ve heard about your new Hidden Legacy paranormal-romance-with-urban-fantasy-elements series, I’ve been eager to read this first book.
Burn for Me begins with an untitled section which explains that in 1863 the Osiris serum was discovered. It had the capacity to awaken dormant magical powers in people, and these abilities were inherited by future generations.
Magical abilities manifest differently in each individual, both in terms of the nature of the power and in terms of its degree, but only the wealthy and socially powerful could afford the serum, so it is they and their descendants who hold most of the magic. Their families or “Houses” remain influential and powerful as a result.
Next comes a prologue that introduces us to Kelly Waller. Kelly’s teenage son Gavin has fallen in with a pyrokinetic named Adam Pierce who involved him in burning a bank. Innocent people died or were harmed, and now the authorities want to capture Adam and Gavin dead or alive. Kelly fears her son will be killed on sight and she approaches her cousin Connor, known as Mad Rogan, for help.
But asking the head of House Rogan for help is dangerous. Kelly hasn’t been in touch with him for years, and he has since grown into a lethal force. His telekinetic power is unbelievably strong, and he is thought to be unstable, perhaps even a psychopath. Kelly fears for her life but oddly, Rogan agrees to find Gavin and turn him in so he can have a fair trial.
The book then switches to first person and our narrator is Nevada Baylor, a private detective. The first chapter, in which Nevada steps in between a cheating husband and the wife who hired her to track him, reveals that Nevada is brave and protective.
Nevada’s only magical power is lie detection, and she keeps it a secret because she doesn’t want to spend her life interrogating others. But even so she can hold her own in a physical fight.
Nevada is also the head of her household. Her family is poor and lives in a warehouse. Her father is dead and her mother,a former sniper, disabled. Her sisters are still in high school and her cousins, who live with them, are in school or in college. Her grandmother, a mechanic who fixes armored vehicles, also lives with them but the family is scraping by. Thus, when Nevada is called in to see Montgomery International Investigations executive Augustine Montgomery, who holds the mortgage for her agency, she has no choice but to report.
Augustine has an impossible mission for her – capture pyrokinetic Adam Pierce alive and deliver him to House Pierce, which has hired MII to do just that. But Adam’s magical classification is prime, the highest, and Nevada has no way to keep him from burning her alive should he decide to.
It’s easy for Nevada to detect the truth—Augustine believes she has no magical abilities and is therefore expendable. He must save face with House Pierce so he’s threatening Nevada with foreclosure to get her to die in place of magical detectives whom he values more. But Nevada can’t bear to see her family homeless, so she agrees.
Things go from bad to worse when Nevada goes home and learns from her cousin Bern, a technology mage (this power made no sense to me) that Mad Rogan is connected to the case. She has a miniscule chance of convincing Adam to turn himself in, but if Mad Rogan decides to interfere, she’ll be up against two, not one, very dangerous men.
Using her investigative skills, Nevada finds a way to get a message to Adam. She meets with him at a park and while he’s not about to turn himself in, she manages to intrigue him enough to stay alive. But after Adam leaves, Nevada finds herself face to face with the terrifying Mad Rogan.
Rogan captures Nevada, chains her in his basement, and attempts to use a magical ability to interrogate her into revealing the nature of her connection to Adam. But Nevada’s own ability is will based, and she succeeds in breaking his spell without revealing the information he wants. Rogan returns Nevada home, but she knows he’ll be back.
I won’t reveal what happens next, except to say that eventually a change of circumstances prompts Nevada to ally with Rogan despite her distrust of him in a partnership that, as she tells him, is strictly professional. Trouble is, Nevada is attracted to Rogan, even though there’s plenty of evidence that he’s bad news. She may need his help to stop Adam from hurting more people, but can she accept it without getting hurt herself?
Reading this book made me think of some of the recent discussions of “id reading” on Sunita and Liz McCausland’s blogs. For me, Burn for Me was an id reading kind of book. This novel taps into some of my favorite tropes and I had a hell of a blast reading it.
This doesn’t mean I didn’t notice flaws, but rather, that although I noticed them, I still had a terrific time. The book also has merits, and I’ll recount both merits and flaws, but keep in mind that this was my kind of catnip.
First, Nevada. I loved her. I loved her down-to-earth quality, her resourcefulness, her role as the breadwinner for her family, her human fears and her bravery in the face of them. I loved her backbone and I appreciated her mixed race background. I loved that she resisted Rogan, kept saying no and laying down her boundaries, instead of jumping into bed with him at the first opportunity. I also loved the way she discovered her full capabilities and powers and came into her own bit by bit.
Since I love morally ambiguous characters Rogan was right up my alley too. He could swing between callous and remote to funny and supportive, so it was hard to get a bead on him. I tend to prefer characters to have a moral compass, even if they ignore it, and I wasn’t always sure whether Rogan had one. I wanted a sense of whether he had a code of honor, whether he cared if people died– sometimes it seemed he did and sometimes it seemed he didn’t.
This was confusing, but it also put me in a similar position as Nevada’s. She has to keep guessing about his true nature. I’m hoping we find out more about this in future books, but regardless of this and regardless of my reservations about Rogan, I loved reading about him.
I also loved the nature of Rogan and Nevada’s partnership. Each was a mentor to the other. Rogan pushed Nevada to defend her life better and to bring her magic to the forefront, just as Nevada was Rogan’s mentor in not killing more than he had to, having a little humiliity, and just in general what it means to be a regular person.
Initially the dynamic between Nevada and Rogan reminded me a little of the first book in Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter series. In both books the heroine wants nothing to do with the hero because she recognizes the danger he presents, but they must work together to track down a villain. This book is written with more humor and it appears the romantic arc will be more drawn out, which is all to the good IMO.
Another thing I loved was that Nevada and Rogan’s working relationship develops into a full partnership and not just one character always saving the other one. Here they each took turns saving the other, both taught and began to learn from each other and on occasion they each took the other down a peg or two with their banter. It really was wonderful to read, and I love that they didn’t jump into bed and time is being taken with the physical side of their relationship.
The side characters were also great, especially the strong women in Nevada’s family, including her mechanic grandmother and her disabled former sniper mother, both portrayed with dignity and strength. Nevada’s computer geek cousin Bern was also delightful.
The action comes fast and furious for much of this book. It’s not a thoughtful and contemplative read but it sure is exciting, like a high adrenaline roller coaster ride. This may not be everyone’s cuppa but it sure was mine.
Now for problematic elements. Ableist language was used a lot in this book, and there’s also cultural appropriation in a plot twist involving a magical artifact from another country (I’m trying to avoid spoilers here). The hero may or may not have a moral compass; he kidnaps the heroine and chains her in his basement and that’s clearly problematic too.
There are other types of flaws too. The setup takes a while and Rogan and Nevada don’t meet until about a quarter of the way through the book. I got a little impatient waiting for that to happen.
Adam Pierce’s motives are still shrouded in mystery at the end of the book — I hope we learn more about them in the next book.
My other issue had to do with the characters’ magical abilities. The world itself was interesting and entertaining but the way the magic worked seemed inconsistent. I’ll hide these details because they involve spoilers.
This book wasn’t perfect, but I just couldn’t help loving it. It was so entertaining, almost pure fun. I had such a great time reading it that I will be anticipating the next Hidden Legacy novel even more eagerly than I did this one. B+.