Avon, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-06-228923-0
Burn for Me is the first book in Ilona Andrews’s new series Hidden Legacy. I suppose we can consider this series a more romance-like one compared to the Kate Daniels books, but if you ask me, this one is Kate and Curran being transplanted into a different setting. The only thing “more romance-like” about this one is the bewilderingly abundant references to the male characters’ muscled torso. There are more pectorals on display here than I can ever remember in a book by this author. If they aren’t shirtless, they are wearing tight muscle T-shirts. It is as if the author had raided the back issues of International Male for inspiration.
Anyway, in this alternate Earth setting, ages ago folks discovered a special serum that unlocked magical potential in people. Drinking it let them control animals, levitate, do telekinetic stuff, manipulate the elements – one skill per person, of course. And no, Marvel can’t sue because it’s magic juice at work here, baby, not magic genes. Anyway, eventually folks realized that it may not be wise to have people with superpowers being given guns and military training, so magic juicing was then forbidden. By then it was too late, though. These magic juicers had popped out brats who somehow inherited magical abilities too. Eventually, the magic juicers formed Houses that boss normal folks around, and somewhere out there, Magneto is reading this series and writing Ilona Andrews a love letter.
So, let’s meet Nevada Baylor. She has a talent – she can tell when a person is lying or not – which makes her ideal for her job, a private investigator. After the death of her father, the family business was in danger because of her father’s crippling medical bills, and the family debts were bought out by a more powerful PI agency owned by House Montgomery. This basically means Nevada along with her teenage siblings and cousins as well as her mother and her grandmother, all employees of the Baylor Investigative Agency to some capacity, are all employees of Montgomery International Investigations.
The fun begins when Augustine Montgomery summons Nevada to the MII HQ for an assignment. She will locate the MIA wanted-by-everyone arsonist Adam Pierce and bring him back to the safety of his not-so-loving family of House Pierce before the cops get him. You see, Adam and his accomplice went MIA after a recent bank break-in resulted in the explosion of the vault and the death of a security guard along with the man’s wife. Well, the problem here is this: Adam is a Prime. No, not the Optimus Prime – he’s a Prime, the most powerful of those with his ability (to manipulate fire). He can do amazing things. Nevada’s colleagues all remember that they have something on when she tries to hire them for this gig, because our heroine has just been issued an order to do the impossible. MII knows this: they give her this gig to placate the more powerful House Pierce (“See? We’re doing something!”) and should Nevada gets charred in the process, oh well, things don’t turn out well, what can we do, we tried. If Nevada refuses the gig, the MII calls in the debt they owe the corporation, and the Baylors would be quickly left jobless, penniless, and homeless.
Fortunately, Nevada finds herself an ally. Okay, he kidnaps her and is practically a sociopath, but Connor Rogan – popularly known as Mad Rogan and is infamous for slaughtering many, many, many people during his stint at war – isn’t taking no for an answer because his cousin is MIA and that cousin was Adam’s accomplice. Okay, he doesn’t really care about Gavin, but his sister begged him to locate Gavin, and his own efforts to track Adam down lead to a dead end. He is filthy rich, has an army of deadly and loyal commandos at his fingertips to command, and, if I squint, I may misread “Connor” as “Curran” and won’t notice anything amiss. His relationship with Nevada is pretty similar, with the occasional sexy molestation thrown in, and all the liberal gender studies graduate ladies reading this book are so captivated by such politically correct virility that the only thing that offends them is the use of the word “Mad” in Connor’s nickname. Ilona Andrews is clearly an ableist! Let’s harass her on Twitter, dox her, get her fired and… oh my, look at Connor’s big juicy nipples glistening on those succulent pectorals! Benedict Cumberbatch for the lead role in the movie adaptation, please!
Reading Burn for Me is like… well, let’s put it this way, there is a noticeable formula in the author’s books, and there is a very done by-the-formula feel to this one. Many things here, right down to Nevada and Connor, feel like old furniture given new varnish. This doesn’t get in the way of me having some fun with this story as a big part of me still enjoys the formula, but I also worry, because if this trend continues, I’d soon find the series stale and even dull.
But a bigger issue for me here is the fact that the author builds Adam up to be the Prime of all Primes, and then, here comes Mad Rogan, who isn’t just overpowered – he’s like God coming down from the heavens to smite a few mortal heathens. On her own, Nevada is fine and the story is actually great because she is not overpowered. There is a genuine sense of danger and suspense in the story as a result. But once Connor starts hovering around her – and I bet within the next few books he’d pull a Curran and completely isolate her to be entirely dependent on him – all sense of suspense evaporates. He can do anything and get out of every dangerous situation. People either fear him 100% or want him 200%, so he only has to flex a pec and things get done his way. Nevada is left to be just there by his side, to be flummoxed by his powers, flustered by his “I want to shag you and I won’t take no for an answer because my hotness turns even the most insane social justice warrior on Tumblr into a steaming pile of wet diapers” mojo. Oh, she gets to shoot dead a few people now and then, but such incidents are also means for him to go, “There, there, killing people makes you all uneasy and blue, that’s okay, just touch my bulges and everything will be alright.”
Oh, and the confrontation between Connor and Adam is one of the worst anticlimax I’ve read. But hey, Nevada helps! She uses a chalk and draws something – it’s up there with the Black Widow dramatically sticking a stick into a portal while the big boys kick real ass in the grand climax of The Avengers. Girl power!
To be fair, I like a certain subtle role-reversal of trope here. Usually, it’s the hero who does the whole “I can read your mind, I can tell that you want me bad!” thing, but here, it’s the heroine who can tell whether the hero is lying or not. Of course, we can’t upset the way of the world too much, so Connor still can tell that the heroine wants him bad and uses this as a means to get some kind of hold over the heroine.
Anyway, Burn for Me. It’s readable, but, unfortunately, it has double the overpowered statuses (it takes a few books before Kate becomes Jesus Sue, but by the end of this book alone, Nevada learns that she’s very powerful, just untrained) and the sexy harassment culture, with bonus déjà vu. Oh, and there are less annoying things like plot, lore, or violence to get in the way of the whole Hurricane Curran experience, which I never liked much. How disappointing, really.