Carolyn Cushman Reviews Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews and The Affair of the Mysterious Let­ter by Alexis Hall

Ilona Andrews, Sapphire Flames (Avon 978-0-06-287834-2, $7.99, 393pp, pb; -295258-5, $26.99, hc) August 2019. Cover by Gene Mollica.

The action-packed Hidden Legacy series of urban fantasy romances starts a new trilogy – the fourth novel overall in the series. The previous trilogy centered on Nevada Baylor and her tempestuous relationship with the powerful Prime Connor Rogan, but now they’re conveniently out of the country on family business, and the focus turns to the second daughter in the Baylor family, Catalina, just 21 and taking over as Head of her family’s House. Switching leads in a series can be tricky, but it works well here, with Catalina’s distinctly different magical talent and personality changing the mix just enough to add new life to the series. Classed as a Prime with the rare Siren ability, she can make others love her and want to do anything for her, but in the past she’s accidentally made people love her so much they try to tear her apart. She’s understandably nervous about using the talent – but, like her sister before her, determined to keep her House independent. Finances for the family investigation business are bad, and a new case turns out to be too big – but then she gets some help from sexy Italian count Alessandro Sagredo. He’s the playboy Prime on whom she’s had a crush for years – and her sisters know it. Unfortunately, his sudden involvement is suspicious. The current case involves assassins, and builds to a House war – and in this world, House conflicts are conveniently ignored by law enforcement. As in past volumes, humor and hard­core magic-infused action mix for plenty of thrills, building to the usual wild final battle with the enthusiastically over-armed (with both magic and munitions) Baylors triumphing over seemingly impossible odds. It’s great fun, with an offbeat romance that bodes well for future installments.

Alexis Hall, The Affair of the Mysterious Let­ter (Ace 978-0-440-00133-1, $16.00, 340pp, tp) June 2019.

Sherlock Holmes gets a weird and witty trans­formation in this amusing mystery, in which the Sherlock character is the infamous, easily bored sorceress Shaharazad Haas. Watson is John Wyn­dham, a former military man raised female in a puritanical society. She’s difficult and frequently drug-addled; he’s somewhat Victorian in his prim use of language, yet accepting of same-sex couples. Their world is a place of shifting realities, where time travel, other universes, and empires that once spanned galaxies are well known. Part of their city of Khelathra-Ven is underwater, due to an ancient conflict against the Empress of Nothing, the same foe John once fought. It’s a fascinatingly warped and weird backdrop for a mystery, which involves a blackmailer’s attempt to stop the wedding of Miss Eirene Viola with Miss Cora Beck, of a respected family of businesspeople who would not appreci­ate Eirene’s shady background. The investigation mostly involves visiting Eirene’s past lovers, in­cluding a vampire countess, the owner of a theater with its own pocket reality, an underwater under­world boss, Eirene’s childhood fiancé in Carcosa, and a lady of literary interests. Each visit has its own dangers and fascinating setting, but the story ends up being more a string of adventures than a cohesive mystery. Instead, the quirky characters hold the plot together against the fascinating setting with its unpredictable mix of Victorian elements and cosmic horror.

Carolyn F. Cushman, Senior Editor, has worked for Locus since 1985, the longest of any of the current staff, and handles our in-house books database, writes our New and Notable section, and does the monthly Books Received column. She is a graduate of Western Washington University with a degree in English. She published a fantasy novel, Witch and Wombat, in 1994.

This review and more like it in the November 2019 issue of Locus.

Locus Magazine, Science Fiction FantasyWhile you are here, please take a moment to support Locus with a one-time or recurring donation. We rely on reader donations to keep the magazine and site going, and would like to keep the site paywall free, but WE NEED YOUR FINANCIAL SUPPORT to continue quality coverage of the science fiction and fantasy field.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *