SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for April: Burn for Me
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!
I am obviously so pleased you liked it. Excellent review .
Thanks. 🙂 It’s so interesting how a book can work or not work at different times. I have NO IDEA why it didn’t work for me before. I’m just glad I went back to it.
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I can’t wait to see what you think about the second book . By the way achievement unlocked I found my word press password and finally was able to post on your blog lol.
Well done! When I lose a password, it’s usually something I really need, like the bank.
That happened too 😀
Everyone seems to like (or love) this series! I never got into Kate Daniels, but I did like their Edge series on audio back in the day, so maybe I’ll try this–though I, like you, am mostly not big on PNR/UF.
I think this series is the best of the authors’ series and also the best showcase for their voice. So if you like the way their voice sounds, it could work for you. I too love the way the characters live paycheck to paycheck and struggle to pay the rent.
That was also one of the reasons I loved the first Edge book so much. The heroine went shopping at Wal-Mart and added flour to the meat patties she made for her brothers because she couldn’t afford 100% meat. Breakfast was usually pancakes.
The Kate Daniels series has less of that and is also more conventional, plus it took about four books to turn around for me. I think the authors’ writing chops have developed over the years.
That said, I think there is a weakness in their voice, andit is in the language. The sentence structures can feel repetitive when it comes to setting descriptions. Here’s an example I gave on Goodreads (it is from Magic Gifts, one of the Kate Daniels novellas):
“A vast lake spread on our left. Blue-green water stretched into the distance, tinted with bluish haze. Here and there green islands ringed with sand thrust through the water. To the right, an enormous mead hall built with huge timbers rose from the crest of a low hill like the armored back of some sea serpent. As we stood there, two karves, the longboats, slid from behind the nearest island, their carved dragon heads rising high above the lake’s surface.”
There’s repetition in the phrase structure here, and the way that inanimate objects are attached to active verbs, often as metaphors, gets wearying to me. In just one paragraph we have “spread,” “stretched,” “thrust,” “rose,”and “slid.” It’s a little much IMO.
White Hot is my favorite of all their books. I can’t wait to see what you think of it.
Liz, I think this worked for me because it resembles an SF procedural. There’s the hunt for Adam and then the hunt for the thing Adam committed the arson for. It’s worth a shot given you like mysteries.
Janine, I agree with you on the writing; I tried the first Edge book and quit partway through, and I think that was one of their early ones?
I see what you mean about the repetition; it may not have bothered me as much because I’ve been reading so much lit fic, and different styles within it, so my tolerance for this kind of writing is pretty high if I like the voice. I just finished a novel where there was so much description of the natural world, and while I wouldn’t have chosen it, it didn’t throw me out of the story. Or maybe it’s just that that kind of overwriting doesn’t send up red flags for me as much as other kinds.
I think the first Edge book was their third or fourth book. They’ve definitely gotten better, and they keep growing. It’s one of the things I find most impressive about them.
I hear you on the style. I wonder if I notice it more because I’m a fiction writer. I think we all have our pet peeves when it comes to overwriting, too.
I have less trouble with overwriting about setting and landscape than about people. For some reason detailed attention to physical features, dress, expressions, etc. is harder for me to read past. Which can become a problem for me in romance!