I wanted to read some Ilona Andrews because it seems like a lot of readers really love their books (it’s a pseudonym for a married couple). Someone suggested starting with the Nevada Baylor trilogy. TL;DR: I love them, everyone was right. And it’s perfect reading for October, because MAGIC.
Nevada Baylor is a 25-year old who is running her own detective agency, supporting her younger sisters, cousins, mother, and grandmother after the death of her father. She is forced to take a case finding egomaniacal fire mage Adam Pierce who is on the run after burning a bank building. Mad Rogan, also known as the Scourge of Mexico, is a reclusive veteran with the most destructive magic in Houston. He’s chasing Pierce for other reasons. Nevada and Mad Rogan make a great team in battle.
Houston is my hometown and it’s not a common setting for novels. It’s a dirty, shitty, mixed-up town, with very rich and very poor neighborhoods and all kinds of gritty locations. It’s actually quite a good setting for novels, as long as your characters like spending time in cars. Andrews uses the town well, with visions of a post-apocalyptic swampy Jersey City (which is, in fact, a part of Houston that has subsided quite a bit), lots of highway driving, tall downtown buildings, and public art. The main characters in the book are all white people, but the secondary characters are diverse. Houston is the most diverse city in the United States, so I’m glad that a novel set there includes more than just white people.
Photo of Houston skyline by Houston TranStar used under Creative Commons license.
Mad Rogan went into the Army to avoid family obligations and drama, and ended up plowing through the jungle in Mexico with his team for years even though he could have escaped on his own. After coming back home, he has been a recluse for 5 years.
When you say Mad Rogan, I think Mad Morrigan. Does anyone else remember Willow? Yeah.
Val Kilmer as Mad Morrigan in Willow (1988 film)
I kind of picture him more as Loki, though. He creates chaos wherever he goes and has a hard time grasping empathy.
When we meet Nevada Baylor, she is doing some private eye hotel-lobby monitoring of a cheating husband, who she eventually tases after he blasts her into a door with his magic. She gets hurt protecting the wife. Nevada is brave, but she is also empathetic and most of all, protective of her family. She is the breadwinner in a family of 7, and she takes it very seriously. She is not going to put up with anyone who gets in the way of her family, and she is also not going to put up with anyone’s shit.
Mad Rogan is a total alpha-hole. He is self-important, smug, egotistical, and forceful. I hate alpha-holes, because usually in novels they are paired with women who– even if they appear strong– bend like reeds under the man’s forceful will. Nevada is not that girl. She has a lot on the line in this story, and she’s not the type to let a man run her life.
At first, because she is a private investigator, I was envisioning her all wrong. I don’t even want to describe how I envisioned her. But this is how I now see her:
Sarah Connor from The Terminator, after she gets really pissed off about the whole situation.
She’s constantly covered in bruises and cuts from fighting, and she can electrocute a person just by touching them. Do not mess with this lady.
Burn for Me (Book 1)
Burn for Me is the first in the Nevada Baylor trilogy and the first in the Hidden Legacy series. So far there are 3 books out, which completes Nevada’s series– it looks like the next 3 will focus on her sister Catalina. There is a novella designated 3.5 in the series coming out later this year, Diamond Fire.
Mad Rogan’s first interaction with Nevada is chasing her down at the botanic garden (Mercer Arboretum!), kidnapping her, chaining her to the floor in his “basement” (in Houston there are no basements, I’m not sure what this room is), and trying to get answers out of her because he mistakes her for an Adam Pierce fangirl. Rogan is a loose cannon and there are several places in the book where Nevada has to stop him from hurting or killing people (and one squirrel) recklessly.
After Rogan kidnaps her, Nevada gets shockers implanted, which are a bionic weapon that pose a huge risk to herself. She seems afraid not only of Rogan but of other forces in the Adam Pierce case, and she takes control. She uses the shockers on Rogan after he uses his tactile powers on her in the Galleria. It’s basically her slapping him after he makes a pass at her. There is a lot of aggressive flirting in this book but zero sex. At the end of the book, after the resolution of the Adam Pierce case, Nevada seems ready to work it out and Rogan disappears.
White Hot (Book 2)
Nevada slowly realizes that Rogan is protecting her, not trying to steal her independence. They have some mysterious vision-sharing experiences where Nevada can see Rogan’s dreams. We have a lot more development of secondary characters like Nevada’s siblings Arabella, Catalina, and her cousin Leon. The peak of the book is when Nevada and Rogan are trapped in a cavern under downtown, and an ice mage is trying to slowly freeze them to death. They team up to kill the ice mage and Nevada saves Rogan’s life. This scene really solidifies their relationship, because of an intense vision-sharing experience and each saving the other’s life.
Rogan suggests she establish a house, which is one of the signs that he is not trying to erase her identity but lift her up to be her own person. We also find out in this book that Rogan sent her a package of books that she has been using to learn about magic! I mean, books are the way to my heart so thumbs up Rogan.
Wildfire (Book 3)
In this book, we get a lot more information about the powers of Nevada Baylor and her family. Rogan’s ex Rynda hires Nevada to investigate her husband’s disappearance, and Nevada realizes that Rynda is trying to get in Rogan’s pants but is remarkably mature about the whole thing. She trusts Rogan and she keeps things professional with Rynda. It’s a test of their relationship. TBH I was a little worried when I read the summary but it speaks to Nevada’s maturity and strength that she deals with that situation so well.
There’s a plot tying all three of the books together that is not fully resolved at the end of Book 3. Lots more to come! I read all 3 books in a 3-day weekend, it was kind of hard to stop, more because of the plot than the romance. This is no more a romance than any Piers Anthony book was, and it kind of I will definitely be reading more Ilona Andrews, these are adventure books with some romance. I love the characters and the relationships. Downsides: The covers for these books are not my favorite and I’m not even going to replicate them here. The sex scenes totally creep me out, I don’t get Rogan’s weird tactile sex magic powers and frankly I find it kind of icky. I’m hoping that we can just stop hearing about that whole tactile power thing in future novels. I could also do without all the guns, I’m not really into gun violence and there is plenty of magical violence in these books. I guess even in the paranormal universe, Houston is a shithole of gun culture. But I really love the world that is built here, and the locations in Houston. I grew up reading a ton of fantasy full of alpha-holes, and it is really nice that at least in 2018 we have fantasy with alpha-holes and the women who can put them in their places.
Looking for more books set in Texas? Check out my review of Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke, a mystery set in East Texas featuring a black Texas Ranger solving the murders of a white woman and a black man.