REVIEW: White Hot by Ilona Andrews
Dear Ilona Andrews,
Picking up where the first book in your Hidden Legacy series, Burn for Me, left off, book two, White Hot, begins with a scene in which Nevada Baylor costumes herself as “the Lady in Green” to hide her identity and use her truthseeking ability to interrogate a kidnapper and discover the whereabouts of his young hostage.
Nevada succeeds and the child is recovered, but Augustine Montgomery, Prime illusionist and CEO of Montgomery International Investigations, the corporation that owns Nevada’s investigative agency, warns Nevada that her actions that day will eventually have dangerous consequences.
Not only that, but Augustine has only agreed to help Nevada assist the police anonymously in the kidnapping case in exchange for a favor. Now Nevada must hear out an acquaintance of his who wants to hire Baylor Investigative Agency, Nevada’s family business, to investigate the death of his wife.
Augustine’s acquaintance turns out to be none other than Cornelius Harrison, stay-at-home dad and animal mage, whom Nevada first met when she was investigating pyrokinetic Adam Pierce, a reluctant childhood companion of Cornelius’s, during the course of the events described in Burn for Me.
Cornelius is accompanied by Matilda, his four-year-old daughter, and has come to seek Nevada’s assistance in investigating the recent hotel shooting of his wife and three of her co-workers, all of whom worked in the legal department at a company called Forsberg Investigative Services. Nari, like the other lawyers, was at the hotel to meet with another group. None of the team from Forsberg, or for that matter, the security force guarding them, left the hotel alive.
Initially, Nevada is reluctant to take the case. It is, as her dad would have said, above her pay grade. But Cornelius’s obvious love for Nari and his determination to find her killer as well as seek justice get to Nevada, and she agrees to uncover the identity of Nari’s killer.
Since Forsberg Investigative Services is hiding relevant information, the first order of business, Nevada and Cornelius decide, is to question Nari’s employer, Matthias Forsberg. To that end, they attend the Assembly, the governing body of the state’s most powerful magic users. There, Nevada comes face to face with Connor “Mad” Rogan, the man who promised to pursue a relationship with her relentlessly, only to disappear from her life two months before.
Almost before Nevada can process Rogan’s presence at the Assembly, or the fact that he too is there to investigate the same murders she is looking into, Matthias Forsberg is killed. Further communication with Rogan reveals that not only are he and Nevada still drawn to each other like magnets, but that their opponents, including a dangerous ice mage, are powerful enough to make joining forces the best way to proceed.
Will Nevada survive more attempts on her life? Will she go toe-to-toe with Rogan over his morally ambiguous choices? Will Cornelius find justice for the death of his wife? And will Rogan admit that he cares for Nevada?
Like Burn for Me, White Hot is action-packed and exciting, as well as romantic. The world of the series, in which the magically gifted Primes wield power in the name of their Houses (families), makes a great backdrop and foil to Nevada’s dilemmas and her relationship with her family, who are tethered by bonds of deep affection rather than considerations having to do with power.
As in the earlier book, Nevada is a great character, smart, level-headed and funny, as well as utterly devoted to both her loved ones and her work. It’s impossible not to like her. Nevada has three rules on which she runs her business, and these comprise her moral code.
Rule One, we stay bought. Once we’re hired, we don’t switch sides. Rule Two, we don’t break the law unless there are extremely unusual circumstances. Rule Three, at the end of the day we have to be able to live with our choices.
One of the themes of the book is moral codes, and how important it is to have them. Another theme is what makes a family, and here again we encounter some wonderful characters. Nevada’s grandmother is still the tough, resilient mechanic whom we first met in Burn for Me. Her mother is a sniper, a survivor, and the keeper of a big secret which finally comes to light late in this novel.
Then there is Bern, Nevada’s computer whiz and hacker cousin, Catalina and Arabella, her teenaged sisters, whose powers we learn more about here, and Leon, her other cousin, a fifteen-year-old whom Rogan aptly describes as displaying “moral flexibility” and who is frustrated by the latency of his magical skills.
Together, Nevada and her family support one another through thick and thin—and not just one another, but Cornelius and four-year-old Matilda as well. Their warehouse / business office / mechanic’s garage / home is a hub of activity, with Nevada the moral and practical center that is also its heart.
I loved the way this home of Nevada’s was contrasted with Rogan’s house. While Rogan has his own (albeit non-traditional) family—he cares greatly about his employees and they are incredibly loyal to him in turn—his house, for all its greater outer beauty, doesn’t have the same humor and warmth.
As he shares more of himself with Nevada, we come to understand why Rogan needs someone like her, and why, for all her doubts about his ethics, she needs someone like him.
Which brings me to the romance. Nevada’s attitude toward Rogan is different in this book than it was in Burn for Me. Whereas in the first book, Nevada kept telling herself how bad for her Rogan was, and resisted his advances because she believed he would tire of her and discard her, as this book begins, she is bummed that he hasn’t followed through on his declaration that he meant to pursue her.
I was disappointed that Nevada’s change of heart took place offstage, between the two books, because I would have liked to see how and why it came about in more detail than we get in White Hot.
The dynamic between Rogan and Nevada is different here from what it was in Burn for Me for this reason, and for another reason as well. Nevada spent Burn for Me convinced that Rogan was a sociopath but here she quickly comes to understand that there are people he cares about. For his part, Rogan behaves more circumspectly in this book, although he still manages to outrage Nevada a great deal with one of his actions.
The change in their dynamic makes this book better—between Rogan’s shift and Nevada’s changed attitude toward him, Rogan comes across as a more consistent and fully believable character. He shows that he has integrity, even if his values aren’t the same as Nevada’s. I might have found him slightly less exciting here in White Hot than he was in book one, but I also liked him better.
The really interesting thing to me in this book, though, was a moral dilemma Nevada is faced with late in the story. Almost as interesting is the way Nevada has become more proficient with her truthseeking power, and can use in ways that are shady. Now that she’s beginning to swim with the sharks, Nevada starts to sharpen her own teeth to keep herself and her loved ones safe, and that brings her to a new understanding of Rogan.
In this way, the characters meet each other halfway, each willing to compromise on some things but not on others. That makes their relationship both convincing and compelling.
As in other Andrews books, descriptions are utilitarian, but the dialogue shines with humor and wit. I have just one more minor nitpick—while the entire rest of the book is narrated by Nevada in first person, the epilogue switches to third person in Rogan’s viewpoint. That felt jarringly late in the book to introduce his POV.
Let me close with a quick mention of how much I enjoyed Cornelius’s animal mage abilities as well as how much I appreciated the subtle way his young daughter Matilda’s grief for her mother was portrayed. The Harrisons are a great addition to the cast, as is a new villain introduced late in the novel.
I am greatly looking forward to Wildfire, which is scheduled to be published in late July. White Hot gets a B+/A-.