Happy Thursday! I am going to start this review off by saying, I have a major bias/blinders when it comes to Ilona Andrews. I have been reading their (husband/wife duo) books for years, and as far as urban fantasy goes, they are in the top three. The Kate Daniels series is one of my all time favorites, and Hidden Legacy is just as kick ass.
Emerald Blaze is the second spin-off of an original trilogy of books (aka book 5), and while I am going to do my best at keeping this review spoiler free, I do highly recommend reading the original trilogy beginning with Burn For Me for full worldbuild purposes. these books are hot and filled with action!
From the Publisher:
As Prime magic users, Catalina Baylor and her sisters have extraordinary powers—powers their ruthless grandmother would love to control. Catalina can earn her family some protection working as deputy to the Warden of Texas, overseeing breaches of magic law in the state, but that has risks as well. When House Baylor is under attack and monsters haunt her every step, Catalina is forced to rely on handsome, dangerous Alessandro Sagredo, the Prime who crushed her heart.
The nightmare that Alessandro has fought since childhood has come roaring back to life, but now Catalina is under threat. Not even his lifelong quest for revenge will stop him from keeping her safe, even if every battle could be his last. Because Catalina won’t rest until she stops the use of the illicit, power-granting serum that’s tearing their world apart.
In the Hidden Legacy world, magic users were created from something called the Osiris Serum, and it was discovered belatedly that users of the serum passed on their powers to their children. After a prolonged power struggle, the magic users formed into family Houses, that intermarried with other houses and created a complex ranking system for how strong their magic users are. “Prime” is the strongest category of magic user, and thus are often sought out for marriage. The magic users have their own governing body and social order, and Catalina Baylor and her house are brand new to the game.
What I Loved:
- The Magical System. Ilona Andrews always builds a great magical world, and the Hidden Legacy series is right up there. Here, the Prime families all have different specialities, and the magic is ridiculously cool, complete with cost/benefit and nuance in how it is applied. Catalina makes people fall in love with her, but too far and they will obsess and eventually kill her; Alessandro is an antistasi, meaning he defends against mental attacks, but is also wicked fast and strong; Catalina’s patron can create weapons out of literally anything from the size of a toothpick; and her cousin can shoot anything with pinpoint and exacting accuracy after seeing it once, but it doesn’t come with heart-hardening. While the magic obviously makes the characters’ lives easier, each comes with a burden, and the governing body places human rights rules on the more volatile powers. It would be fascinating to live in this world.
- The Worldbuild. I can’t say much on this without veering into spoiler territory. However, I can tell you that the Andrews dynamic duo managed to tie together a million plot points over the span of the five books so far, and whenever this series ends, it will be explosive. The level of attention to detail is astounding, and now I need to reread from the beginning (in a good way).
- The Baylor Family. As great as it would be to live in the world, it would be even better to be a member of the Baylor family. Here is a tight knit group that rose up from poverty and obscurity to become a new Prime house, and they never waver in their devotion to one another. Grandma is a kick ass mechanic, mom is an ex soldier and military mastermind, adopted cousins are brought in without a blink of an eye, and the family business, a PI firm, is the lifeblood. I love how Catalina runs the family just like the business, but with love and warmth, and how every member has a role and the same clearance. No child left behind indeed. The love pours off the page.
What I Didn’t Love as Much:
- The Romance. I know, I know. This is absolutely going to be disputed, and may provide a turnoff for some potential readers. However, I just don’t *feel* Catalina and Alessandro’s love for each other or sexual chemistry as much as Rogan and Nevada from the prior books. Catalina is career driven and serious with a dark sense of humor; Alessandro is a fake playboy and rich boy by day and ruthless but empathetic assassin by night. While their skills complement each other, I felt like Catalina’s transition from lovesick teen to mature adult should have negated the feelings she had for Alessandro, and I can’t picture Alessandro actually being into her. Also, the Andrews team are spectacular writers, but sex, they do not do well. Beyond my own personal issues with the verbiage (not getting into details), they are “one hit wonder” sex scene writers. Steamy romance book, this is not.
- The Time Jump / Pacing. First of all, this didn’t bother me much, but I figured I would mention it. Catalina is very different from the last book Sapphire Flames to now, because it has been six months since and she has dealt with heartbreak. She is more serious, professional, and ruthless. I love this version of her, but all of that fundamental and wonderful growth happened off page, and the reader is told about it instead of shown. A lot happened in those months to both Catalina and Alessandro, and I don’t think it is as effective for us to find out in info dump dialogue, both internal and external. As for pacing, this is peripherally related because at times (mostly in the beginning), Emerald Blaze drags a little to get readers up to speed, but then the ending is explosive and fast and I wanted so much more.
I love all things Ilona, and Emerald Blaze was no exception at all. There is amazing magic and action packed adventure, a hint of darkness, and dry and wicked humor sprinkled in. While Catalina and Alessandro aren’t my favorite characters, they are more than relatable enough, and the world around them and ancillary characters more than make up for it. This series is a tour de force, and I highly recommend binge reading this whole series before the end of September for some late season beach reading. Four waves! Pick up Emerald Blaze here and here (love that mass market pricing), and if you haven’t started this series yet, grab Burn For Me (book one) here. Don’t let the sexy cover fool you; this UF is more kick ass than anything.