Not many people know this about me, but I’m a closet romance addict.
A lot of my friends find this really surprising, partly because I have a somewhat sarcastic, sardonic, and decidedly derisive view of romance in the real world, and partly because they’re aware of my passionate hatred of 90% of paranormal romances, despite the fact I love the supernatural.
The natural conclusion is that it’s the romance I object to, but actually, I love a good romance.
Emphasis on the word good.
Despite being a voracious reader I’m actually incredibly picky about authors I truly love, and it takes a spectacular author to deliver the double whammy needed to make me genuinely enjoy a romance.
I’m a huge fan of Marian Keyes because although there’s a heavy romantic cant to most (if not all) of her novels, they also go a lot deeper and tackle real issues in the lives of her characters beyond their simplistic need to bone the hot guy/gal.
Paranormal romances frustrate me because they are so frequently shallow.
The characters are two-dimensional, the plot (where it exists at all) is created to serve the needs of the romance rather than the organic growth of the characters, an intriguing premise, a complex mystery, or even basic common sense.
So while I’m a sucker for a good romance I set the bar for what constitutes ‘good’ incredibly high.
The book needs to be so good that you could take all the romance out of it and still have a complete story that I would tear through and love.
Meanwhile, the romance needs to feel genuine and involve real characters, with real depth, who are well-drawn, rounded out, and have true chemistry and connection with each other.
I have zero interest in reading about two people who run into each other and spend 300 pages rutting simply because they each find the other unbearably hot.
Nor do I have any interest in the absurd contrivances that frequently crop up in paranormal romance novels, namely: inexplicable chastity; characters who would not, in any real-world situation, act the way they do; or relationships between people who refuse to act their age, whatever that age may be.
This is actually a much bigger problem in fantasy, and particularly urban fantasy and paranormal genres because characters are so frequently hundreds if not thousands of years old. And while they may not look it, and may still have the emotional reactions of a normal person, they have real-world experience and (presumably) have had numerous relationships.
So why do they persist in repeating high school for no good reason and become utterly obsessed with a girl as bland as the colour beige?
But I digress. This is not another Twilight rant.
In fact, it’s quite the opposite, because I’ve just finished tearing through a romantic urban fantasy series that I LOVE.
Like, seriously can’t get enough of it and will probably have re-read it within the week.
The dynamic duo responsible for bringing us the Kate Daniels series (AKA my favourite urban fantasy series ever) have published a few other, currently considerably shorter, series and I had yet to read any of them. This was largely because I was aware they had a heavy romance element and I was terrified I’d hate them.
There is nothing I find more crushingly disappointing that reading a new series by an author I adore and finding it sucks.
I’m still not over my disappointment at Robin Hobb’s Soldier Son Trilogy and the god-awful first book in the final trilogy in her Realm of the Elderlings series. So much so that I’ve only read The Fool’s Assassin once, and have yet to read the final two books at all.
This is a series I have read in its entirety at least once a year, every year, since I was 16.
So when a friend whose bookish judgment I trust implicitly told me the Ilona Andrews’ Hidden Legacy trilogy was even better than the Kate Daniels books, I immediately rushed out and bought them. (That friend is, coincidentally, also called Kate, and you can read her take on this trilogy over on my column on Sci-Fi Fantasy Network.)
But then I panicked, stuck them in a cupboard, and re-read all the Kate Daniels books.
At length I finally plucked up the courage to read them and holy crap, am I glad I did.
Burn For Me: A Review
Before I start I should tell you, I devoured this whole trilogy in two days. Three novels, all around 400 pages, and they didn’t last 48 hours.
I got to the end of Wildfire and wanted to cry because it was all over and the next novella in the series won’t be out until November.
But let’s start at the beginning with book one.
Burn For Me is a rare breed of a book even by straight urban fantasy standards, let alone romantic urban fantasy.
There are only two criticisms I can make about it at all. And that is after sitting here wracking my brains trying to come up with something, anything, to give my fangirling some semblance of balance.
- The proofreading is not up to snuff, and I found this irritating.
- If I read the phrase ‘sealed his mouth to mine’ one more time I may vomit.
The former is no fault of the author, the latter is probably only something I notice because of the number of times I’ve read all the Kate Daniels stories and the fact it’s a favoured expression used by Ilona Andrews.
So there are only two things wrong with this book. One of them could be fixed by an extra proofread to add in all the small words that are missing (a, the, they, etc.), and the other is a byproduct of the fact this author is so damn good I’ve memorised most of her books after reading them so many times.
The worldbuilding is exceptional throughout, the characters well rounded and completely believable, and the plot complex and engaging.
Each individual book in the series has an excellent plot, and when you put them together it all builds into an equally excellent overarching plot.
And that’s without the romantic elements.
With the romantic elements it’s a veritable page-turner, and at no point did I get even slightly frustrated by the romance.
There’s no insane ‘will they, won’t they, should they, shall they?’ Nor is there the seemingly inevitable contrivance of throwing the characters together tearing them apart, throwing them back together, tearing them apart, in increasingly more elaborate and less believable ways. All in the name of holding off from giving the audience what they want until the very end of the last book.
This is a common problem that frequently happens in fiction of all genres because the romance is often the thing that keeps people interested, and nothing is more boring than a happy couple in love going about their happy business.
That’s not what we want.
We want fireworks.
We want sizzle.
There is also none of the ridiculous ‘oooo I hate him so much for no real reason and I’m too dumb to understand this is actually sexual attraction’ that so often happens.
I get it, enemies to lovers is a great trope that many people love. But the character actually have to be enemies for it to work, and frequently they’re not. Frequently we’re just told the MC hates this character because…well…I guess we can’t make it an enemies-to-lovers book if they don’t start out hating each other?
Add to that absence of nonsense the fact the love interest in Burn For Me is a living, breathing, vibrant presence throughout, and not brought in simply to prance around shirtless and generally be annoying, and it’s hardly surprising I love it.
If Burn For Me ever saw a romance cliche coming it would hit it in the face with a stick until it turned to mush. Then it would set it on fire and paint with the ashes.
As always, Ilona Andrews has knocked the proverbial ball out of the park and into the stratosphere where characterisation is concerned. The leading lady, Nevada Baylor, is similar to Kate Daniels in a lot of ways but also extremely different. Likewise, her main man Connor Rogan bears some similarities to Curran.
They’re both indisputable badasses, the former is wilfully independent, strong-willed, has a strict moral code she adheres to unerringly, and is painfully human. The latter is fierce, deadly, possessive, incredibly strong, and viewed by the world at large to be impervious to the ways of love until the pair collide and everything changes for both of them.
It’s not an unfamiliar formula, yet it’s still fresh and compelling because while the basic archetypes of their characters are very familiar the specifics are extremely different.
Nevada, for example, is hardly the stone killer Kate has been since she was a young child. She’s also not a physical fighter in the sense of being exceptional at martial arts and swordplay. Yet she’s mentally very strong, has her own special brands of magic, and takes steps to ensure she has excellent defensive magic.
Rogan is the perfect match for her because he’s simultaneously her polar opposite and perfectly on the same wavelength.
So the core romance revolves around two great characters.
Beyond them, the remaining characters are equally excellent. Even minor characters who have very little page time are vibrant and feel reel.
Nevada has a family she’ll fight to the bitter end for, and they’re all great. A lot of children and teenagers feature throughout the trilogy and none of them are annoying.
Added to this is the fact Nevada is a PI struggling to keep her father’s business intact and a roof over her family’s head. She’s simultaneously juggling the live grenade that is her magical talent, trying to navigate the complex world of the magical elite, and solve a case she was given with the full expectation of her failure and death. There’s so much to work with there’s no time to be bored, or annoyed.
The romance is allowed to develop organically without the ‘insta-love’ nonsense we often see, or the overcompensation of dragging it out endlessly before anything actually happens. At the same time, it’s not an overbearing presence in the book.
Certainly, it’s given a lot more attention than the romance aspects of the plot in the Kate Daniels series, and Nevada is far more inclined to wax lyrical about the hotness of people than Kate ever would, but it doesn’t get in the way.
The actual plot still clicks along at a good pace, and Rogan isn’t manhandled out of the way whenever there’s a need for a non-romantic scene.
As a result, we get to know him a lot more as a character than is often the case with love interests, who are frequently only there when a scene calls for the main character to be lusty and/or frustrated by their actions.
There’s plenty of lust, plenty of frustration and misunderstanding, but also plenty of stuff that normal people do and say when they’re falling for each other. And while Rogan is a little overbearing at times, we get to know him enough to understand why that’s the case, and exactly what it is about Nevada that captivates him so much.
That’s really unusual, and I’m not sure it can even be said of the Curran/Kate dynamic because so often Curran isn’t actually present. Kate takes the lead and they split up to do their own thing, or because they’re fighting, or because circumstances separate them, or a multitude of other reasons. The amount of time Curran and Kate actually spend together is minimal, and that works, because that series isn’t really about their romance. It’s about Kate.
Nevada and Rogan spend a lot of time together because the series is very much about them as a couple. Sometimes it’s hot, sometimes it’s charged, sometimes it’s downright cold, and other times it’s no different to any other scene with characters Nevada has no interest in whatsoever.
All of this is a ridiculous hard balance to achieve, and Burn For Me strikes it perfectly…