I think I came out of the gate too hard for my first Cannonball Read. I don’t usually go for dense literary classics or non-fiction doorstoppers, and I burned myself out a bit with trying to craft in-depth and incisive reviews of heavy books. Then I stated a new job and a pandemic happened and I feel like society is crumbling around me, sooo I didn’t really have the mental energy to put a lot of thought into reviews. It has been a few months (okay 8 months) but here we are.
Luckily, one of my ride-or-die authors, Ilona Andrews, has a new novel out. Ilona Andrews is a pseudonym for a husband and wife writing team, and I have been a fan since around the 3rd book of their Kate Daniels urban fantasy series, many years ago. The writing team is all-around competent in world-building, plot development, and characterization, and Andrews’ protagonists walk the fine line of being incredibly awesome while still having enough personality to make them interesting.
Emerald Blaze is the second book of the second trilogy of the Hidden Legacy series, which follows the lives of the three Baylor sisters. Set in an alternate version of Houston, the emergence of magical powers in the 1800s has created a new ruling hierarchy of the powerfully gifted. Although these are nominally romance novels, unspooling the relationships of the MCs across multiple books leaves a lot of room for the plot. The first trilogy is more or less mandatory reading in order to understand the world-building and characters of the second trilogy.
Catalina Baylor is the young head of in a newly created magical House, as well as her family’s private investigation business. As the magical equivalent of the nouveau riche, her House is in a tenuous position. House politics are literally cutthroat, and established Houses don’t look kindly on the emergence of a new player horning in. In addition to the politics and responsibilities as head of her House, Catalina is burdened by the weight of her gift. Her unique powers allow her to generate intense feelings of love and devotion in those around her, sometimes inadvertently, leading to stalking, abduction, and suicide attempts. Needless to say, her love life is a mess, and the return handsome Italian playboy Alessandro, the only man immune to her powers, is a complication she doesn’t need at the moment. Unfortunately, she and Alessandro must work together to solve the grisly murder of a property developer, and the even grislier conspiracy he was killed to cover up.
One of my favorite things about this series is that the authors are not afraid to get weird. The variety of magical powers present go beyond genre standards like pyrokinesis and teleportation, and enter the territory of magically mutated crocodile people, sentient pacifist grizzly bears, and showdowns between sixty-foot tall, shapeshifted teenagers and summoned extra-dimensional demons on the Houston freeway. There is generally internal logic to the story, these stranger elements are organic to the settling Andrews creates, and it sets the series apart more than the reliably badass MCs (though the characters are good, too.)
If paranormal romance isn’t your cuppa, I completely get it. The genre flamed bright and burned out under the weight of its own mistakes. Too many derivative plots, derivative characters, and sloppy world-building bogged down the genre to the point of self-parody. But there is a reason that Ilona Andrews’ books still make the New York Times Bestseller list even after the PNR boom has run its course. Andrews is, above all else, good at telling a story, and their care and dedication to plot, action, and characterization lead to consistently compelling and entertaining books.
Five stars for this entry, and to the series as a whole.