Houston: City of Magic

Despite living in Washington for nearly 15 years, I still associate summer with heat and humidity. The Houston branch of my family will tell you that the weather there will give you a “nice summer glow.” I say the icky sticky makes showering a nearly wasted effort and breathing deeply indoors is a luxury taken for granted. After reading the first part of the Hidden Legacy series by Ilona Andrews, I now think of magic, mystery, murder, and mega romance when I think of Houston.

In this series, Ilona Andrews (pseudonym for husband-wife writing team Ilona and Andrew Gordon) invites the reader into a Houston we’ve never seen before. I’ll let Andrews explain:

In 1863 in a world much like our own, European scientists discovered the Osiris serum, a concoction which brought out one’s magic talents. These talents were many and varied. The serum spread throughout the world.  Eventually the world realized the consequences of awakening godlike powers in ordinary people. The serum was locked away, but it was too late. The magic talents passed on from parents to their children and changed the course of human history forever. The future of entire nations shifted in the span of a few short decades.  Those who previously married for status, money, and power now married for magic, because strong magic would give them everything.

Now, a century and a half later, families with strong hereditary magic have evolved into dynasties. It is a world where the more magic you have, the more powerful, the wealthier, and the more prominent you are. Some magic talents are destructive. Some are subtle. But no magic user should be taken lightly.

Magic rules the world. Families with multiple magic users over more than one generation can form a House. Houses almost come across like mob families in that they are very powerful and often skirt the laws–or break them entirely.

But what if you’re a magic user who has spent your whole life hiding your talents? Being a part of a House means you generally have at least one target on your back at any given moment. The more powerful the House, the more powerful your enemies. Sometimes it’s safer to live your life with your magic hidden, especially if your powers are not well-understood and strike fear into the hearts of established Houses. Because if you are feared, you could be taken out.

Nevada is basically a human lie-detector. Catalina is a siren; she can make anyone instantly love her. And Arabella can shift into a giant beast that cannot be physically restrained. Basically, if the government found out that the sisters had these extremely rare magical talents they would be locked away in secure facilities, forced to work for them.

Yeah. No thanks! I’d rather keep my secrets to myself, too.

But such is life for the Baylor family, who are not a House because they have kept the daughters’ abilities secret. Nevada, her maternal grandmother, mother, two sisters, and two cousins all live in a large warehouse that is part home and part headquarters for their family investigation firm. Grandma brings in extra cash retrofitting vehicles for Houston’s elite Houses, and Mom is a retired military sniper. Everyone pitches in with the family business, but none is more dedicated and shoulders the burdens like Nevada. Ever since her father died of cancer and left the business in her care, she has made it her personal mission to see the family business succeed.

To ensure continued success, Baylor Investigations has three rules everyone follows:
Rule 1: they stay bought. When a client hires the family, they are loyal to them.
Rule 2: they don’t break the law, keeping them out of jail and safe from litigation.
Rule 3: most important: at the end of the day, they still have to be able to look their reflections in the eye.

These rules pop up frequently, because the Baylors, and Nevada in particular, are constantly up against powerful and deadly forces who nearly always ask them to break their personal principles in order to stop catastrophic consequences.

Powerful rogue magic users are rampaging through Houston and threatening to topple the world’s House hierarchy. These acts of terrorism have the magic community and the general population on high alert. Enter Mad Rogan, one of the most powerful telekinetics on record. He is working on the fringes to stop the terrorists and crosses paths with Nevada. At first thinking she’s a part of the conspiracy, he eventually learns to work with her in order to stop anarchy and protect society.

This is a high-concept urban fantasy/romance series where the stakes are high and the characters are well-written and relatable, despite the whole magic thing. The first three novels follow the terrorism arc with Nevada and Mad Rogan the protagonists. The novella (and the soon-to-be-published next arc) follow Catalina and her own adventures.

I’m a sucker for a series that dedicates a book to each sibling in a large, loving, and somewhat looney family. But stretch that series out with multiple books per character in a way that doesn’t feel stretched out at all but in fact feels absolutely perfect and wonderful and I think I’m obsessed? Yes. I am here for it. And now that I’ve finished what’s been published so far in the Hidden Legacy series, I’m going back to the other Ilona Andrews series and seeing what trouble I can get into.

I recommend the Hidden Legacy series for fans of superhero comics and movies, those who dig a good family saga, romance lovers, and anyone who fell in love with Harry Dresden. But don’t stop there. Fall down the Ilona Andrews rabbit hole with me. You just know it’s going to be magical.