SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for April: Burn for Me

by Sunita

I’ve had this book in my Kindle collection for years. Sirius is a huge Ilona Andrews fan and she bought it for me as a gift. I read about a third of it but then put it aside. I don’t remember why it didn’t work for me, but I just wasn’t engaged. I’ve been meaning to go back to it and this month’s challenge, “Something Different” seemed like a good opportunity because if there’s one subgenre I don’t read, it’s PNR/UF. Yes, I know they’re not the same, but the features they share are the features I generally shy away from.

I cracked it open, started reading, and was immediately engaged with the characters, the world, and above all the voice. I’ve been reading the Andrews’ blog for the last few months, and I could hear the voice that I enjoy there in the book.

I’m guessing many of you have either read the book or know enough about it that you don’t need me to recap. But I’ll give you the setup and a quick summary of the plot. Nevada Baylor owns a private investigation firm in which she’s assisted by her military vet mother and her college-going cousin Bern. They live together with the rest of their family (grandmother, another cousin, and Nevada’s two younger sisters) in a converted warehouse. The firm used to be run by Nevada’s father, but he died a few years earlier from cancer. The treatments took all their money and forced them to sell their house and mortgage the business to one of the big Houses of Houston, where the story is set.

This Houston is our Houston but also not our Houston. The discovery and development of a serum that gave people magical powers has created a world of haves and have-nots based on their magic endowments. The Houses are powerful families who have the highest levels of magic and can use that magic to consolidate and extend their power and influence. Augustine Montgomery has taken on a job for House Pierce, a client, to find their wayward son Adam, who is sought by police for a deadly arson at a bank. Nevada doesn’t want the job but she can’t turn it down. Meanwhile, Adam had a partner from another big House, which brings in Mad Rogan, a vet with his own amazing magic skills.

The plot has two main threads: the search for Adam and the development of a partnership between Nevada and Rogan. Both play out against the backdrop of Nevada’s family, a set of characters who are great fun to spend time with. Nevada has a magic skill but because it’s one that is sought after by governments and law enforcement, she has hidden it and not allowed it to flourish. By contrast, Rogan has obvious and over the top powerful magic skills.

The relationship between Nevada and Rogan isn’t exactly a romance, although there’s plenty of mental lusting. The book is the first of a trilogy, so it seems pretty clear they’ll develop something over the course of the series, but in this book they’re mostly partners with interests in each other. I really liked that because I frequently have trouble with romantic suspense where the lusting shows up when the characters are supposed to be doing their jobs or are in danger.

It’s also not clear whether Rogan is a good guy in the romantic hero sense or, well, not exactly a bad guy but not Hero Material. We see him only through Nevada’s eyes, and she’s very suspicious of him. We get hints that he cares about people and isn’t really someone who enjoys killing, but it’s also clear that if he thinks someone needs to die he gets to it and doesn’t look back.

As I said earlier, I was really taken with the worldbuilding. The magic endowments and the creation of powerful Houses seemed to me to be analogous to aristocratic families in the European world, and the discovery of magic is like the coming of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th/19th century. Rogan and even Adam are constrained in what they can do with their lives in the same way as scions of aristocratic houses were, and the careers they can pursue, who they can marry, etc., depends on how those choices further their Houses’ fortunes and interests.

I have a feeling that Nevada is going to turn out to be far more gifted magically than she thinks she is or than she shows here. If anything, I found that to be a bit of a weakness: does she have to be Rogan’s magic equal for their relationship to work? Can’t she be a bit more ordinary? Because I love her and her family’s ordinariness.

That’s another aspect of the novel that I thought was beautifully done: the way in which so many people live paycheck to paycheck. The Baylors have a nice living space: everyone has their own room, they have space for an office and they have high-level technology to use in their work. If nothing goes wrong they can pay their bills. But they are always at the mercy of others and of fate. It happened when Nevada’s father became ill, and it happens when the Montgomerys decide they want her to carry out this job for them.

I’m really looking forward to the next installment of this series, and I had to stop myself from reading White Hot as soon as I finished Burn for Me. Thanks, Sirius!