Sapphire Flames (2019) is the fourth novel in Ilona Andrews‘ HIDDEN LEGACY urban fantasy/romance series, in which powerful magical families control most of society. (Note: You really do have to start at the beginning of this series, with Burn for Me; each book builds on what came before.) Having wrapped up the romance of Nevada Baylor and Connor Rogan in the first three books in this series, Sapphire Flames and the interim novella that precedes it, Diamond Fire, shift the focus of the series to a new main character, Nevada’s younger sister Catalina Baylor, a so-called “siren” with powerful persuasive magic. (By the way, the reasons given for Nevada and Rogan being out of the picture ― out of the country, in fact ― and unavailable to help with the latest life-and-death crisis, are a stretch, but a necessary one for the sake of this novel and the series).
Catalina’s ability to convince others to adore her and cooperate with her every request has always been a heavy burden for her: it’s a brainwashing type of power, and people affected by it love her beyond all reason after a few minutes in her presence, even to the point of wanting to crush her to pieces in an effort to get closer to her. As a result, Catalina was a terribly shy teen who avoided everyone outside of her family, the only ones who are unaffected by her power … aside from, inexplicably, the family doctor.
At the end of Diamond Fire Catalina came to the conclusion that she needed to step out of the shadows, and Nevada’s mother-in-law was happy to help. Sapphire Flames picks up three years later. Catalina is now 21 and the head of House Baylor and their private investigation business. A murder case drops into Catalina’s lap, involving the family of Runa Etterson, the delightful poison mage from Diamond Fire. Runa’s mother and sister have been mysteriously murdered, and Catalina wants to take the case … even though a couple of major players CLEARLY warn her not to get involved (“Sometimes when you search the night, you’ll find monsters in the dark. You’re not ready”). Those warnings, of course, not only fail to deter Catalina, but only make her more determined.
One of those who tries to warn Catalina off is her former teenage crush Alessandro Sagredo, an Italian young man with “Prime” magic: he can nullify others’ magical powers, and also has some particularly interesting if apparently unrelated powers involving weapons. Alessandro has his own interest in the Etterson murder case, and he and Catalina reluctantly (haha) team up when it becomes clear that neither is going to go away. Their investigation leads them to things like assassin firms and crazed people with warped magic. Good times!
It’s fun to see Catalina step up her game … not just a notch or two, but some major leaps forward for our shy young woman. And, holy cow, Alessandro’s character is NOT what I expected given the brief glimpses we had of him in previous depths. Hidden depths, y’all. While their new aspects of their personalities did make the plot much more exciting, both Catalina and Alessandro are now much more standard urban fantasy characters, and less distinguishable from Nevada and Rogan. It’s different magical powers but the same basic formula. Hard to knock what works, though.
On the other hand, Runa Etterson, the poison mage whose family was murdered, has almost the opposite problem: Her ebullient personality was a scene-stealer in Diamond Fire, but in Sapphire Flames she’s a shadow of her former self, ruled by her anger and distress.
Runa’s emotions had clubbed her rational thinking over the head, dumped its body on the side of the road, and took my friend for a joy ride. Just what we needed.
It’s understandable in the circumstances, but I hope we’ll meet up with her again when she’s feeling more herself.
Sapphire Flames is a solid entry in the HIDDEN LEGACY series, with the Andrews’ typically witty banter, imaginative magic, action-driven plot and (let’s not forget) hot romance. I got sucked into it the minute it hit my Kindle and finished it off in one day. It’ll be fun to see what happens next.