Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews

SapphireFlamesSaphire Flames
(4th book in the Hidden Legacy series)
by Ilona Andrews
2019

This series is something of a guilty pleasure for me and this is the fourth book and the first one about Catalina Baylor, sister to the prior main character, Nevada Baylor.

The reason this is a guilty pleasure is the set up, which is an urban magic world where about 150 years ago, there was a serum developed that gave people magical powers. (Or killed them, or turned them into monsters, but the survivors at this point have magical powers.) And this has created something of a three-tiered society, where there are civilians going about their daily lives with no magic, and living their lives much like anyone else in the modern day; there are magic-users who have a little bit of extra magical skill; and then there are the members of the magical Houses, where families have bred themselves into powerhouses and accumulated vast wealth and are essentially above the law and only counterbalance each other in particularly lethal ways. The bad guys are the people who are trying to destabilize this society.

In any reasonable universe, I would be cheering on the rebels trying to take down this insane society. Instead, I am agog to see what these high society magical killers are doing in their love lives.

The (purported) good guys are the super-handsome, super-wealthy, super-powerful, super-psychopathic killer, scions of these Houses who, despite being psychopaths who barely feel compassion for anyone else, are desperately in love with our main protagonists: lovely ladies who had once thought they were in the middle tier of magical civilians, but discovered their ‘hidden legacy’ that means they are actually extremely powerful and have now formed a House of their own.

Don’t judge me. I love these.

Unfortunately, I don’t love this particular book as much as the previous three (I still like it though!), because the narration keeps on trying to convince me that Catalina and Alessandro are desperately in love even as they deny themselves and each other, despite them having met for all of 15 minutes three years ago when she was 18 years old. He’s a high society heart-throb who she was able to cyberstalk on Instagram (while secretly being a James Bond style assassin maybe?), while there’s hints that he might have actually stalked her for a bit (wealth, power, etc, make all things possible), but the narration keeps on denying that it’s a crush, or simply lust, or obsession. It’s love! Which mostly means that there’s no character arc for them to fall in love because it starts out with the premise that they are both in love already, just pining from afar. My suspension of disbelief, which is normally quite strong, hit a snag on that.

But anyway, the world building is still fascinating and the action sequences are ludicrous and amazing and the dialogue is fun.

What I enjoyed even more is the prequel novella:

DiamondFireDiamond Fire
by Ilona Andrews
2018

This is a good segue between books three and four, as it covers the wedding of Nevada Baylor and Mad Rogan, and sets up Catalina Baylor as a main character who is about to have a lot of changes, and thus book four can happen after the three-year training montage implied at the end of this novella. But in the meantime, the novella itself is fun and a detective story because all of Rogan’s kookie/creepy/lethal relatives show up and then the family wedding tiara gets stolen and shenanigans ensue, with Catalina being conscripted as the detective.

Magic Breaks

By Ilona Andrews

Book CoverEach of the first three books of Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series was better than the last, but once they passed that trilogy mark, each subsequent book got a little more joyless and plodding. Magic Breaks is the seventh book (of what was initially planned to be a seven-book run, but has now been extended to ten planned books) and the first to be released in hard cover,* so it was the first that I decided not to buy and instead checked out from the library. By halfway through the book, I was starting to think this might be the last book of the series I read at all.

I had initially been attracted to the series because it has such an unusual approach to the vampire/werewolf genre and it was laugh-out-loud funny. The last several books have lost pretty much all humor, just sort of slogging through long gory descriptions of violence. The first half of this book felt like a bit of a chore.

However, much like Patricia Brigg’s vampire/werewolf series, this one ends with such a game-changer that I am once again hopeful for the series. The violence continues to escalate, until things (temporarily) resolve in a very interesting way that should clear out some of the distracting clutter of previous story lines in a very interesting and potentially very funny way.

—Anna

*Unfortunately, as much as the authors and publisher try to market this hard cover edition as a possible introduction for new readers, it really isn’t a stand-alone book, and has to be read in the order of the series.

Christmas Present from Ilona Andrews

For those of you crazy people out there who don’t obsessively check in on their favorite author’s websites, we at Bibliotherapy here for you!

Ilona Andrews is one of my favorite authors currently writing and she has quite an active website, in which she posts regular snippets of stories, and, more to the point, posts Christmas presents to her fans.

Her Kate Daniels series is all told from the point of view of Kate Daniels, but has Curran, the Lord of the Beasts and Kate’s love interest, as another main character. The Christmas present is a collection of short snippets retelling pivotal moments in the Kate Daniels books from Curran’s point of view. It’s quite fun and while I recognize several of the snippets from having been posted individually on prior occasions, other snippets I don’t recognize at all.

So, if you enjoy the Kate Daniels’ series: here’s a “Merry Christmas!” from Ilona Andrews.

Magic Rises

By Ilona Andrews

Book Cover: Magic RisesThis is the sixth book in Ilona Andrew’s Kate Daniels series, and Rebecca has previously introduced the series here.* It is my favorite in the over-abundance of series about spunky women in a werewolf- and vampire-populated world, but to my mind the series peaked at book 3 and went downhill from there. (As an aside, Rebecca and I had a lengthy discussion about whether this is a common phenomena; are trilogies so standard because authors tend to lose steam after the third book? There are a lot of series that support that thesis, and only a few that belie it.)

Maggie Q as Nikita

As an aside on first impressions, when I first got the book, I was somewhat taken aback by the cover. The featured woman looks somewhat different than previous illustrations of Kate Daniels, which is fine, artists change visions, etc., etc. But, doesn’t she look strikingly similar to someone else instead? I feel like, as an artist, you should take your inspiration from wherever you like, but maybe don’t make it so blatant.

A very mild spoiler for the series: book 3 settled a romantic tension that had run through all three initial books, and all the subsequent books have had relationship drama that I don’t care for, and increased violence, possibly to counter-balance the relationship drama, now that I think about it. A lot of the violence, too, was starting to be directed toward various magical (and deadly) creatures that populate the world, and I have a big problem with violence against animals, even fictional ones. A true hypocrite, I don’t have nearly the same problem with violence against people, which is why I was fine with the earlier books. I was still committed to the series, but was not anticipating this book with the eagerness I had earlier in the series.

In fact, this book way exceeded my expectations, and I believe rejuvenated the series a bit in a very clever way. Andrews changes the setting from Atlanta, Georgia, where all previous books are set, all the way to Europe, so there is a freshness just in the change of scene. With the new setting, she also constrains the number of characters, which had been expanding exponentially with each book, until the action started to get muddled with so many players. Magic Rises is pared down to just a cleanly written and plotted, extraordinarily fun supernatural adventure, and I am just so, so happy to have my favorite fluff series back.

One caveat to all of my praises: I went back to the earlier books to double-check a minor character’s name, and it reminded me of the casual humor and one-liners that made the early books such a pleasure. As the books have ratcheted up the drama and tension, that humor has mostly disappeared and I miss it. I almost feel like that as the authors have become more accomplished, they perhaps have edited out those parts as being less polished, and that makes me sad.

* There has been some update in information from this original review. The series has been expanded to ten books instead of the previously planned seven, when the authors realized that they would not be able to wrap it up conclusively in just two more books.

Stalking Authors, the Ilona Andrews edition

Magic_RisesPeriodically I like to drop by the websites of my favorite authors to see when their next books are coming out and if they have anything new and interesting up.

Lois McMaster Bujold doesn’t tend to update her website very much, alas. But she does actively support fanfiction, which I appreciate.

Patricia Briggs is pretty good with her website, although she’s gotten somewhat less active on it as her career has taken off.

Ilona Andrews is still very active on social media, including their own website, AND posts regular free stuff.

Robin McKinely has a decent website, although I’m generally somewhat disappointed in her. I love her early work (The Blue Sword, The Hero and the Crown, and Beauty) and feel like Sunshine was her absolute Best Book Ever! Ever since, it’s been just kind of down hill. But I still like to check up on her, periodically, to see if maybe there will be a sequel to Sunshine at some point, or if any of her more recent books look good.

Megan Whalen Turner has possibly the least active author’s website I’ve seen, and yet I still check back because, by god, if there’s going to be another book in series, I will start stalking bookstores and possibly publisher’s warehouses in the hopes of getting to it just that much sooner. (So far, no luck. I will just have to re-read the four that already exist.)

Anyway, this is all a long wind up to letting you guys know that Ilona Andrews has the first chapter of her next book up! This is book 6 is the Kate Daniels series, Magic Rises, due out on July 30, 2013. Yay! You can read the excerpt: HERE!!!

I love this series.

However… the chapter raises some concerns for me.

Thus: Here Be Spoilers (for both Book 5 and for Book 6).

Continue reading

Steel’s Edge (excerpt)

By Ilona Andrews

Book cover: Steel's EdgeSo, Rebecca has previously reviewed the third book in Ilona Andrew’s Edge Series, and in her review she wrote that she thought each book in the series was better than the preceding one, which I disagreed with. The third book was actually my least favorite and had pretty much convinced me to bow out of this series.

Then, I was bored one day and noticed that Andrews had posted a lengthy excerpt from the brand new fourth book, Steel’s Edge, on her website; I figured it couldn’t hurt to read it, just to congratulate myself on my decision not to read any more of them.

However, as you have probably noticed from this lead-in, it is really good! Each books features a male protagonist introduced in a previous book and a new female protagonist, and I was almost immediately interested in the new female character. Both characters are also in their early- to mid-30s, which is both refreshing and increasingly more relatable to me. I’m now very much looking forward to reading this one, though I’m at least sticking to my guns on not buying it, so I’ll await the library.

—Anna

Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews

Gunmetal Magic
by Ilona Andrews
2012

This is a pretty mixed review given that it’s for a book that I enjoyed in a series that I loved.

I enjoyed this book a lot. There was fun banter and exciting action and all sorts of fun. On the other hand, it wasn’t exactly the best work of literature I’ve run across, not even the best by this author. The plot depends more on shiny-magic-handwaving than it does on logic and the characterizations are pretty dependent on introductions from previous books. There are also a few scenes that seem to have been included for no particular reason at all.

I assume those scenes are part of the set up for the next book, actually. That actually brings me to skirting around a spoiler that I wrote about in one of my spoiler posts, regarding how this book was written primarily in order to set up some circumstances in preparation for the events in the next book. This book is well-worth reading as the next building block in a really awesome series, but I don’t think it can or should stand alone. I definitely recommend the series, though, but start at the beginning and read them in chronological order. While the main series is planned to have seven books, I would say that this counts as book 5.5. While focusing on a side character, the events of this book are necessary to the development of the series in general.

The suggestion to read the books in chronological order includes, incidentally, the suggestion to read the novella, Magic Gifts, which is included at the back of this book, before reading Gunmetal Magic. Which means, that when you get the 448-page book, the first thing to do is to flip to approximately page 330 and start reading. Magic Gifts is the story of what Kate Daniels, the main character of the series, is doing in the background during Gunmetal Magic, which focuses on the adventures of Kate’s best friend Andrea.

Anyway, a couple of things about the book in particular:

On the plus side: One thing that I really appreciated about Gunmetal Magic is how deftly it managed to flirt with but then avoid the classic romance-novel cliché of the love triangle in which one girl must choose between two guys. While the structure is still there, Andrea deals with the situation in a realistic fashion without all the angst and general waffling that I had feared. I was impressed. The characters were fun, the banter was fun, and I was pleased at the romantic resolution.

On the minus side: This could be a plus or a minus, depending on your perspective, I suppose, but the book covers some heavy ground regarding extreme childhood abuse very lightly. Maybe a bit too lightly. It’s not that I want to read a realistic depiction of how extreme childhood abuse affects adult relations (which I assume would be horribly depressing,) but I kind of think that introducing the issue and then not dealing with it might be worse. On the other (third?) hand, I’m willing to handwave away some of that with a vague explanation of magic and societal changes, etc.

So I will end this review with the suggestion that you go read Magic Bites (Kate Daniels, Book 1)