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REVIEW: Ice Blue by Anne Stuart

Dear Ms. Stuart,

ummer Hawthorne, the heroine of the third book in your Ice series, is the curator for a Los Angeles museum that specializes in Asian art. She is also the owner of a blue ceramic bowl that her Japanese nanny entrusted to Summer just before she died. Summer's self-centered mother belongs to a religious cult known as the True Realization Fellowship. The group's leader, a Japanese man who is known as the Shirosama (Meaning “White Lord” in Japanese), covets the bowl, which Summer's mother has promised him.

Ice Blue by Anne StuartBut Summer feels her mother had no right to do so, and she doesn't want the Shirosama to get his hands on it. When a bowl matching the description of Summer's shows up in one of Summer's museum exhibits, the Shirosama follows suit. On her way to her car that night, Summer is kidnapped by two of the Shirosama's men and rescued by a mysterious half-Japanese man, Takashi O'Brien.

Like the heroes of your previous books in this series, Taka is an agent and assassin working for the shadowy organization known as the Committee, which believes in saving the world by any means, including the killing of innocents. In the previous book, Cold as Ice, Takashi was captured and tortured after helping save the life of an innocent woman, and this is his first assignment since then. Taka tells himself that he's learned his lesson from that experience.

Now the Shirosama is planning terrorist attacks throughout the world, but only after he holds an important ceremony for which he needs the bowl, and knowledge of the secret location of a Japanese temple. He and Takashi both believe that Summer has that information. To obtain it as well as the bowl, the Shirosama intends to capture Summer and torture, then kill her. To prevent that from happening, the Committee's leader, Madame Lambert, orders Taka to find and kill Summer.

Though she doesn't fully trust Taka, Summer soon realizes that he's the only thing that stands between her and the Shirosama, so she allows him to take her into hiding. Summer was sexually abused as a child and has never truly enjoyed sex, but she finds Takashi almost mesmerizing in his beauty. Taka too feels a powerful sexual pull toward Summer. He realizes that killing her will only be harder if he gives in to the attraction, or allows himself to get to know her, but it becomes impossible for him to be as cold toward her as he would like.

I think that the Ice series is some of your best work and Ice Blue is no exception. I enjoyed it very much. First, let me say Yay! for Takashi O'Brien. I'm so glad that you and the folks at Harlequin / MIRA recognized that a hero with an Asian background can appeal to readers.

Takashi is a fascinating hero — dark, dangerous and conflicted, lethal and ruthless relative to most people, but not as ruthless as he wants to be, especially not where Summer is concerned.

Summer doesn't have the same kind of hypnotic magnetism, but she still held my interest. Several of the events in her past made her sympathetic to me, and I could understand why she blinded herself to the clues that would have allowed her to see that Takashi was ordered to kill her.

The last hundred or so pages of Ice Blue take place in Japan. While I'm by no means an expert on all things Japanese, the setting felt authentic enough to me. I would have liked more descriptions of the country, but I enjoyed the setting very much. I’ve always loved contemporaries set in foreign countries, so this was a treat. A Japanese side character named Reno was great, too.

There is a leanness to your writing that gives it a powerful emotional punch. Much of the time, you don't flinch from complicated, messy realities and the result is a gritty, spare and full of impact.

I think I would have enjoyed Ice Blue even more if I hadn't read Black Ice and Cold as Ice first. That's because some elements in these books, while very compelling, are starting to get a little repetitive.

In each of the three books the heroine is someone the Committee sees as expendable, and the hero feels he might have to kill her. In Ice Blue, this goes further than it did in the other two books –" Taka takes over half the book to come to the decision not to kill Summer. More than once, he puts his hands on her neck in order to break it, but can't go through with his intent. A lot of the book's power comes from the tension between Taka's desire to kill Summer and his more human desire for her as a person.

I found Taka very sexy, but I also had to ask myself what it says about me that a hero who comes close to killing the heroine three times is so compelling to me. My uneasiness with this aspect of the book interfered a bit with my enjoyment, and I liked the second half, in which Taka committed himself to saving Summer's life, much better.

Another element that was present in the earlier books is the hero's thoughts about his ability to use sex as a weapon and to break the heroine with it. In one scene, Takashi muses that:

He'd always been able to compartmentalize his life and his work –" sex was an everyday part of his job, one he did with his usual skill. It was said he could seduce a seventy year old lesbian and make her like it, and he didn't doubt it for one moment. Everyone had skills. Peter was a sniper, a born assassin. Bastien Toussaint could be anyone he wanted, and he was lethal with a knife.

Taka knew how to fuck. He could get what he wanted from any woman, no matter what age or sexual orientation. He had skills that would have made Casanova blush.

I had to laugh when I read this, because Bastien and Peter sure thought they were great at using sex as a weapon, too. It got me wondering if all the Committee's agents went around thinking they were the each the best at this particular skill.

I think the idea of characters who have sex as part of their jobs and use it as a weapon in a battle to save the world is terrific. I love reading about it because it makes for complicated characters and relationships. But it's not feeling as fresh to me as it did in Black Ice.

I also still miss the Committee as it was in its earliest and most ruthless incarnation in Black Ice. In Ice Blue, as in Cold as Ice, Madame Lambert was wringing her hands about each innocent life she ordered her agents to take, while she still gave those orders. Something about this seems a tad hypocritical. I think I'd find her a more interesting, and believable character if she compartmentalized the way her male agents do, or at least tried to. Her inability to do so doesn't quite jibe with the nature of her job and her past history as an agent herself.

Such are the pitfalls of series –" elements can start to feel repetitive from book to book, or aspects of the different books can seem inconsistent with one another. These issues are present here, but so are some enormously satisfying aspects of this book. For all these reasons, Ice Blue isn't an easy book to grade. My head wants to give ita B- and my heart want to go with a B+. And so, I split the difference between those two grades and give it a B.

Sincerely,

Janine

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character driven novels in historical romance, fantasy, YA, and the occasional outlier genre. Recent examples include novels by Katherine Addison, Meljean Brook, Kristin Cashore, Cecilia Grant, Rachel Hartman, Ann Leckie, Jeannie Lin, Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Miranda Neville, and Nalini Singh. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, “Kiss of Life,” appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

29 Comments

  1. kardis
    Mar 29, 2007 @ 07:41:52

    I’ve been really struggling my way through this book so far. I had put it down with the intention of getting back to it at some point (i.e. never) but your review convinced me to give it a shot. I do love Japan! I think Taka is an interesting enough hero, but as you said, these books are getting so repetitive. Unfortunately, it seems that the “smart” heroines are one element. To me, Summer just comes off as flat, veering towards TSTL. Better than the previous heroine though. Black Ice is still my favorite of the lot, but I appreciate the inspiration to finish this book! :-)

  2. Janine
    Mar 29, 2007 @ 08:29:46

    Black Ice is my favorite, too, kardis. I’m glad if this review was helpful. As I said in it, the second half was more rewarding for me, so I hope it is for you as well.

  3. Keishon
    Mar 29, 2007 @ 08:31:39

    I did buy this book—the idiot that I am – because of the setting. I don’t know if it’s a deliberate intention on Ms. Stuart’s part to make her heroine’s completely clueless and spineless or what. I have no clue. I hated Into the Fire, Black Ice was OK (C read for me). The heroine’s are the weakest part of her stories. As a reader who is more drawn to the HERO of the story, I am annoyed with her heroines. If they weren’t so much apart of the picture, I could probably finish one of her books. I did start this one and read a good chunk of it before putting it down for something else (my sanity was saved). To each his own. I will finish it but only after reading my mystery first.
    Oh, did Taka have skills? I hadn’t unfortunately, read up to that part yet. Maybe that should be impetous enough to move on with the story. Maybe. This is my very last Anne Stuart book.

  4. Jane
    Mar 29, 2007 @ 09:04:50

    Keishon – we so don’t believe you. I think you made the same claim last time. :) It’s okay. We’ve all got those authors we can’t let go of.

  5. May
    Mar 29, 2007 @ 10:23:44

    Can I skip the earlier ones in the series?

    I’m really only curious about how she hendles a half-Asian hero–I’ve read Stuart in the past, and wasn’t tempted to try again, though the Ice book before this one tempts me.

  6. Janine
    Mar 29, 2007 @ 10:59:03

    Keishon, sorry you didn’t like it. I don’t love Stuart’s heroines — her heroes are almost always far more fascinating — but I can live with her heroines because they bring out interesting responses in the heroes.

    Jane, LOL.

    May, yes, I think you can skip the other books in the series though in my opinion Black Ice is pheonmenal and Cold as Ice is good too.

  7. Keishon
    Mar 29, 2007 @ 11:54:17

    [quote comment="25535"]Keishon – we so don’t believe you. I think you made the same claim last time. :) It’s okay. We’ve all got those authors we can’t let go of.[/quote]

    WELLLL…….it’s true!!!!!!! Mark my words!!!! ::slinking off::

  8. DS
    Mar 29, 2007 @ 12:23:32

    Black Ice did this series in for me. It wasn’t so much Chloe the Witless as the fact that I kept flashing back on Romantic Suspense novels of the 60′s, not the good ones either like Mary Stewart or Elsie Lee but the humourless ones by authors who were rarely heard from again:

    1. Foreign country √
    2. Not too bright American girl √
    3. Inconsiderate friend who pushes ntbAg into a bad situation √
    4. Large luxurious country house √
    5. Sinister gathering that you have to be a ntbAg to not realize something nefarious is going on √
    6. Pretty clothes √

    The only thing I can’t remember is whether in Black Ice there was a blond bland guy to play off against the sinister hero so the ntbAg can create suspense by confiding in him then wondering how the baddies are one step ahead of her.

    I had the same reaction to The Widow. Anne Stuart used to be an autobuy for me when she was with Onyx, but now I wait until I find a used copy if I buy it at all. I also am tired of her neurotic heroines. At least make them as psychotic as her heroes so they have a fighting chance.

  9. Jane
    Mar 29, 2007 @ 14:08:43

    Non Sequitur – DS – I love your checkmarks.

  10. Robin
    Mar 29, 2007 @ 14:40:22

    I don’t mind Stuart’s “neurotic” heroines (perfect word!), but I had a REALLY hard time buying the love connection in Cold As Ice, and having started Ice Blue, I’m getting worried with this one, too. Black Ice was the very first Anne Stuart book I LOVED, and it’s starting to look like it might be the only one. Oh, and could we please have some neurotic heroines who don’t like/are afraid of/ashamed of/new to sex/coming/their bodies/their curves? Pretty please?

  11. Janine
    Mar 29, 2007 @ 15:16:49

    DS, No, no bland blond guy in Black Ice. Your list of familiar elements only makes me appreciate Black Ice more, not less. I recognized most of them too (though more from movies than from older books), and I loved that Stuart was able to take them and fashion something that still felt so original and fresh, and very different from any other secret agent book I’ve read in the romance genre. That book knocked me out.

    Robin, keep us posted on how Ice Blue works out for you.

    Black Ice was the very first Anne Stuart book I LOVED, and it’s starting to look like it might be the only one.

    I think Black Ice was something truly special and I suspect that no matter how many Ice books Stuart writes, we may not see it’s like again.

    Oh, and could we please have some neurotic heroines who don’t like/are afraid of/ashamed of/new to sex/coming/their bodies/their curves? Pretty please?

    I think you meant dislike rather than like? And if so, amen to that.

  12. Robin
    Mar 29, 2007 @ 15:26:09

    Oh, and could we please have some neurotic heroines who don’t like/are afraid of/ashamed of/new to sex/coming/their bodies/their curves? Pretty please?

    I think you meant dislike rather than like? And if so, amen to that.

    Oh, yes, Janine — thanks! Frankly, I’d love if it Stuart wrote a heroine who is passive aggressive AND uses sex like her heroes do. Genevieve’s anger in Cold As Ice, for example, really interested me, but it would have been so much more compelling, IMO, if she hadn’t been so stereotypically martyred in other ways. Chloe, for all her naivete, never felt passive aggressive or angry or martyred to me, and so I felt no need for her to be more overtly aggressive — in fact, I liked her, and I liked her for Bastien. I haven’t figured out where to classify Summer yet.

  13. Karen Scott
    Mar 29, 2007 @ 16:31:09

    I found Taka very sexy, but I also had to ask myself what it says about me that a hero who comes close to killing the heroine three times is so compelling to me.

    I felt exactly the same about Bastien Toussaint. I think it’s because this kind of hero is so far away from the stereotypical Romanceland hero.

  14. Janine
    Mar 29, 2007 @ 17:51:09

    Oh, yes, Janine — thanks! Frankly, I’d love if it Stuart wrote a heroine who is passive aggressive AND uses sex like her heroes do.

    I would too, but I don’t know if Stuart is interested in writing such a heroine.

  15. Janine
    Mar 29, 2007 @ 17:56:16

    I felt exactly the same about Bastien Toussaint. I think it’s because this kind of hero is so far away from the stereotypical Romanceland hero.

    Great point that Stuart’s type of hero is so different from what is common in Romanceland. But I had a bigger problem with Taka than with Bastien because

    SPOILER
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    Taka literally put his hands on Summer’s throat with the intention of breaking it, more than once. He couldn’t bring himself to do it, but that was very hard for me to read, more so than anything Bastien did to Chloe. Bastien was completely dedicated to saving Chloe’s life for the better part of Black Ice, and that was a big part of why I loved him. I liked Taka very much, but not as much as I loved Bastien.

  16. kardis
    Mar 29, 2007 @ 19:59:12

    I agree with what you’re saying about Taka, Janine. I guess what makes this book so hard for me to stay engrossed in is that Taka’s conflict seems so very hollow. It goes on for way too long. The fact that Bastien decides early on to protect Chloe made him so much more compelling for me. And I actually like Chloe the best of any of these heroines (which says very little!).

  17. May
    Mar 30, 2007 @ 04:01:30

    Thanks Janine. I’ll see what I can get my hands on first. :)

  18. Destiny
    Apr 11, 2007 @ 08:55:59

    I’d like to ask whether or not Ms. stuart plans on continuing the Ice Blue storyline. I would absolutely love if she did a continuation story for Reno, Taka’s cousin. I’m dying to know why he hates gaijins and what his relationship will be with Summer’s little sister. Btw, Reno is my favorite FF character and I personally like Miyavi. (Though Gackt and HYDE are hiz-ot!)
    Do you think she’ll continue it? Who here would like that? And what’s your opinion on Jrock?

  19. Janine
    Apr 11, 2007 @ 13:32:05

    Destiny, I get the sense from Ms. Stuart’s website that she does plan to continue writing about Reno. I’m not personally familiar with J-rock, so I have no opinion on it one way or another.

    What’s an FF character?

  20. Liz Kluczwski
    Apr 20, 2007 @ 18:33:56

    I am reading Ice Blue now and I am more that half way through and loving every minute. I always read Anne Stuart’s books. Her books are the best in romantic suspense. Even her earlier books like Moonrise, etc. were great. I love taki very much and would read another book with take as the hero. Anne Stuart one of my favorite authors outside of James Patterson.

  21. Liz Kluczwski
    Apr 21, 2007 @ 18:49:44

    Can any one tell me who taka would look like. I cant picutre anyone at all

  22. Shoregirl
    Apr 29, 2007 @ 17:10:17

    I think he looks a bit like Keanu Reeves.

    By the way, I thought this was a great book. Looking forward to the next.

  23. Liz Kluczwski
    Apr 30, 2007 @ 17:38:59

    I never thought of Keanu Reeves, but that is a good choice. I was thinking maybe someone a little bit older. Thanks for responding. How anyone could not like Anne Stuart’s writing is beyond me. I have so many of her older books. Cant wait for her new book in November.

  24. Liz Kluczwski
    May 02, 2007 @ 20:06:47

    I Searched the web for a photo of Keanu Reeves with long hair and found a web site http://www.womenrepublic.co.uk/entertainment/reeves/rv8.htm. I love his eyes and I can picture him as taka. I also rented the “watcher” which I haven’t seen in a long time. Check all the photos.

  25. Shoregirl
    May 05, 2007 @ 21:50:48

    Try this photo: http://www.funmunch.com/celebrities/actors/keanu_reeves/keanu_reeves_15.shtml

    Also- you should rent Something’s Gotta Give. He’s great in it.

    And… he’s 42. Not that young anymore!

  26. Liz Kluczwski
    May 06, 2007 @ 10:12:20

    Thanks for the photo. Yes I love it. I saw Somethings Gotta Give and loved him in it. Also it was a funny movie. I just finished Ice Blue. Took my time as I didnt want it to end. Im thinking about reading it again and really think this was her best blue series. Right now Im reading Special Gifts by Anne Stuart. One of her old silhouette Intimate Moments books published in l990. It has never been reissued like most of her other books. Im looking forward to Ice Storm published in November and also a story with about Reno and Jilly. Now that looks interesting. Hope to hear from you again and thanks for the photo. Loved it. Also when I mentioned Special gifts, meant to say mostly all of her older books are never reissued.

  27. Bonnie
    May 08, 2007 @ 21:15:02

    I loved all three of the Ice books and I enjoy Stuart as an author. While her heroines are not as strong as the heroes, I love the darkness and the unexpected humor in her writing. The twistedness appeals to me.
    I am amused by the use of a Final Fantasy character and I am looking forward to his novel, I wonder if he ends up with who I think he is going to end up with.
    For those who were wondering who the character looks like, I have emailed her before and she was very prompt in answering when I asked if one of her characters was inspired by Keith Urban.
    Also she is doing an anthology with Jennifer Crusie and Eileen Dreyer that should be terrific that is due out this summer.

  28. Liz Kluczwski
    May 09, 2007 @ 16:50:33

    Bonnie Hi I’m a little confused about certain things in your email. Who is the Final Fantasy character and how does it relate to Ms. Stuart and Ice books. Am I missing something here? Who did you email and Keith Urban. He’s a character in Ice Blue? Also who”s novel are you looking forward to by “he”. Appreciate you getting back to me. Thanks.

  29. daala
    Jan 07, 2008 @ 22:35:06

    final fantasy is a videogame and in it reno is a member if the turks.also taka would look more like jrock artist hyde not that reeves fellow.

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