Saturday 5 October 2019

#CBR11 Book 69: "Sapphire Flames" by Ilona Andrews

Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

This is the first book in a new trilogy, so it will work fine to anyone new to the authors or this fantasy world, but readers may want to have read at least Diamond Fire, a novella which introduces the heroine and bridges the completed trilogy and this new one.

In a world where magical abilities bring wealth, power and possibly even fame, Catalina Baylor has reluctantly become the head of House Baylor and the main investigator of her family's detective agency, after her sister stepped down, because she's married to the Prime of another powerful House. While Catalina's sister Nevada has the very rare ability not just to tell when someone is lying, and can also able to coerce the truth out of someone (convenient if you're trying to solve cases), Catalina's powers are almost unheard of and have been kept under wraps by everyone around her for a good reason. .

If she doesn't shield herself, she has the ability to make people love her unquestioningly, an emotion which quickly turns to obsession and madness. A nurse tried to steal her from the hospital when she was a baby. She was home schooled after her little class mates tried to steal parts of her clothing or even tear bits of her hair out. Catalina has spent most of her life tamping down her powers, and only after her family declared themselves a house, with all of the three Baylor daughters as Primes, has Catalina needed to learn how to properly use her abilities. It also means that while she has a supportive and affectionate family, she doesn't really have any close friends and she's even considered any romantic possibilities (because how can she trust that they're not just ensnared by her?)

A few years ago, Catalina worked closely with another Prime, Runa Etterson, in investigating who was trying to sabotage Nevada's upcoming wedding. At the start of this book, Catalina is asked to help when Runa's younger brother is threatening to jump off a building, mad with grief because their mother and sister just died in a fire. Catalina uses her powers to persuade the boy not to jump, and even though she's warned that taking the case of investigating the deaths is a terrible idea, which will probably endanger the Baylors, she can't turn away someone who could actually become a friend in their time of grief and desperation.

It quickly becomes clear that it was no accidental fire that killed half of House Etterson, and the reason is probably connected to the mysterious ways in which Runa's mother had been earning money for the past decade. Catalina is also shocked to discover that Alessandro Sagredo, handsome Italian nobleman and playboy (and her erstwhile teenage crush) is somehow connected to the case. He's one of the many who tells her to keep safe and stay away from the case, but with every new warning, Catalina just becomes more determined to uncover the truth. She just wishes she could keep a clear head around the handsome Alessandro.

The first Hidden Legacy trilogy introduced the readers to the Baylor family and focused on eldest sister Nevada and her developing relationship with super-Prime Connor Rogan. In Catalina's first book, the authors have wisely decided to keep Nevada and Connor off page, in Europe, allowing the readers to properly get to know Catalina and her point of view. It helps that while this book introduces a few new characters, the majority of the supporting cast are the same. While Catalina is the new head of the family, her mother, grandmother, younger sister and cousins all help out with the agency. I am always impressed with how well Ilona Andrews manages to write well-rounded, supportive and loving families. It's one of my favourite things about their books.

The most important new character introduced is obviously Catalina's love interest, Alessandro Sagredo, Italian count and international playboy. He and Catalina met briefly during the Baylor sisters' trial to prove that they had Prime status. Alessandro's Prime power is that he can nullify the magic of others, but even he was briefly overwhelmed by Catalina's Siren lure. If his social media accounts are to be believed, Alessandro's life involves racing fast cars, dating beautiful women and posing handsomely in any number of glamorous international locations. Catalina comes to realise that this is a carefully calculated smoke screen, and that Count Sagredo is in fact very dangerous, utterly lethal, and despite them barely having spoken, strangely protective of her. It took the writers about a book and a half to make me really like Rogan, I think they won me over with Alessandro by the second scene he showed up. I can't wait to see what secrets he's hiding, and how he and Catalina will eventually find their HEA over the course of the series.

Sadly, the next book is unlikely to be out until August next year, at the earliest. I suppose I'll have to content myself with re-reading this one and the earlier Hidden Legacy books while I wait.

Judging a book by its cover: Do I like the pose of the cover model Avon's design department has chosen to portray Catalina? Not really. She looks super awkward, yet also as if she's thrusting her chest out in an exaggerated manner. It brings to mind bad comic book art. Do I like her dress, and that it looks about the way a dress Catalina actually wears at an important scene in the book? Yes, I do. The cover model who's supposed to be Alessandro looks like a budget secret agent. The blue glowing stuff and the runes swirling all around the couple. Kinda cheesy. But in the grand scheme of Ilona Andrews covers, which are far too often just really bad, this is fine. This does the job.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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