Ilona Andrews’ 2014 Burn For Me is the first volume in their1 Hidden Legacy series.
PI Nevada Baylor isn’t the logical choice to nab a dangerous killer like Adam Pierce. After all, the cops are already trying to track down and kill Pierce for murdering one of their own. She is, however, the ideal solution to a vexing problem for Montgomery International Investigations. The company has to keep their clients, the wealthy Pierce clan, happy without risking agent lives. Or at least the lives of their own agents. Time to outsource the problem, to a small PI agency that owes MII money. A little genteel blackmail and Nevada finds herself stuck with an assignment that will likely end in one of two ways: failure and the collapse of her family’s agency, or failure and the loss of her own life.
Pierce isn’t just a narcissistic killer with a terminal case of affluenza. He is one of the most powerful, and dangerous, pyrokinetics alive2.
Finding Pierce and convincing him to surrender (if she can do so without being incinerated) is only the first step in the job. Pierce has a confederate: sixteen-year-old Gavin Waller. Gavin’s mother aims to keep her son from being “shot while resisting arrest” and while she does not have the Pierce billions, she does have a unique resource of her own: her cousin is Connor “Mad” Rogan, one of the most powerful, and dangerous, telekinetics alive.
Once Rogan discovers that Nevada is making regular contacts with Pierce in an attempt to convince Pierce to surrender, Rogan decides that Nevada could be an asset to his own current scheme. This is bad for Nevada. Rogan is much scarier than Pierce: he’s a mass murderer smart enough to ensure that the law is always on his side when he removes impediments. Impediment is exactly what Nevada and her family will be if she does not cooperate.
The logical alternative to getting smushed like a bug by a mildly peeved Rogan is to work with him. Rogan as a partner is barely better than Rogan as an enemy, but they do need to learn how to cooperate. The fate of an entire city depends on it.
It is funny to see how genre conventions evolve. I expect that fifty years ago, Rogan and Pierce would have been sold as mutants or psionic adepts or something else pseudoscientific. Now the authors can just say “a wizard did it.” It’s a real time saver.
At the risk of repeating a sin I committed in earlier reviews, I will note that I expected some bad worldbuilding, but did not encounter it. This book is set in an alternate universe a century after a major development: the discovery that psychic talents existed and could be reliably used. Thanks to this turn of events, the setting is not our world with a few superficial changes. The geopolitics of this world is significantly different. Mexico, for example, drew some good cards in the magical resources game and is a significant rival to the US.
I am familiar with Andrews’ work3, but I had not encountered this particular instance until someone requested a review. I had to venture into the romance section of the library to find a copy. Given that romance makes up fifty percent of fiction sales, I am somewhat embarrassed that it took me this long to make my first foray into the romance section of the Kitchener Public Library, particularly given my stated view that romance-oriented SF is the hardest of hard speculative fiction.
I am not quite sure why this book was shelved in romance and not fantasy (unless the marketing division hoped for better sales). There’s a considerable romance angle to the story, but not more than one normally encounters in other Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance books (henceforth UF and PR). Indeed, this novel plays with UF/PR romance4 conventions in an interesting way. A number of UF/PR books have a female lead whose romantic life is an example what is commonly known as egregious domestic abuse. Consent issues are ignored, and the romantic partner often seeks to control the protagonist’s life in all kinds of insidious ways. This kind of relationship is presented in many run-of-the-mill UF/PRs as acceptable and normal5.
That’s not the case here. There is a level of mutual interest but (at least where this volume is concerned) the fact that Rogan is a poorly socialized mass-murderer who might decide to squish her entire family to make a rhetorical point is a deal-killer for Nevada. Good for her! But if what I read in other UF/PR books is an indication of what readers like, I suspect that many readers were disappointed that Nevada did not immediately hook up with Rogan. That may explain why no novel-length6 sequels exist (so far as I can tell).
Burn for Me is available here.
1: As the bio in the back of the book makes clear, Ilona Andrews is the pen-name of husband and wife team Ilona and Gordon Andrews. This is the first time I’ve had to decide how to categorize books with two or more authors of different genders sharing one pen-name. My current system cannot properly document this.
I would have run into this earlier had I reviewed more Kuttner and Moore stories, since they were cheerfully carefree about who did what work and which of their many pen-names they used to sell the story
2: Don’t get me started on the rating system they use for pyrokinetics. It involves how long it takes the pyrokinetic to melt dissimilar items whose temperature is never specified. I can only assume the authors made this choice to annoy detail-obsessed readers like me.
3: Annoyingly, I am missing about a year of my SFBC reviews and the Andrews books I read appear to be in that year. I am not sure which books of theirs I have read.
4: I see the two categories (UF/PR) as pretty much the same thing. It seems to me that they run to different sorts of covers: if there is a mopey dude scowling at the reader, maybe with some eldritch fire around one hand, it is UF. If it is a scantily clad woman standing in an anatomically impossible pose to show off her boobs and lower back tattoo at the same time, it’s PR. This book’s cover features a hunk and a woman who is way too pale skinned to be the protagonist, and I cannot quite parse the message cover artist Richard Jones is trying to convey. More study is needed. Send grant money.
5: UF/PR usually features dubious views on relationship etiquette, as previously mentioned; the genres also seem to feature rigidly stratified social hierarchies that would make the Sun King consider voting NDP. There is a touch of that in this book, but the sense I get isn’t that the common folk see deference to adept Houses as ideal. It’s just that it’s unavoidable.
6: The short story “Of Swine and Roses” is set in the Hidden Legacy universe.