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REVIEW: Fire and Ice by Anne Stuart

Dear Ms. Stuart,

I was one of many readers impressed with the first novel in your "Ice" series, Black Ice. I sometimes have problems with the power differential between your heroes and heroines, and though Black Ice was no different in that respect, the hero and heroine were nonetheless compelling, as was their relationship.

Fire and Ice Anne StuartThe next two books in the series, unfortunately, felt like a bit of a retread of that same dynamic: ruthless, uber-competent hero and helpless, constantly-in-peril heroine. Still, I looked forward to the fourth book, which would feature a heroine who could not help but be kick-ass: Isobel, head of The Committee, the mysterious group of spies and killers that the heroes of the previous books all belonged to.

Unfortunately, I was destined for disappointment – Isobel was completely defanged in Ice Storm. Not only was she paired with a hero that constantly had the upper hand, but in the end the reader found out that (SPOILER) the hero had basically been controlling Isobel all along, and had manipulated her into her life path; instead of being the ruthless head of a top-secret organization, Isobel was nothing more than a puppet(/SPOILER). Though the book was not bad, this characterization of Isobel was extremely frustrating.

Still, knowing that it was the last book in the series, I did not have any real qualms about picking up Fire and Ice. I like to finish series if possible, and I liked what I’d seen of Reno and Jilly in previous books well enough. I talked in a previous review about "readability", and your romantic suspense books definitely fall under the category of romances that are easy to read, even if the stories themselves have flaws. They are fast-paced and generally easy reads, which is sometimes just what the doctor ordered.

Janine provides an excellent plot synopsis of Fire and Ice here. That leaves me free for the kvetching. My main problem with this book was how repetitive it felt. The bulk of the story went something like this: 1) Jilly thinks about how Reno could never, ever be attracted to her; 2) Reno thinks about how attracted he is to Jilly, but how he doesn’t intend to do anything about it, because he promised Taka and Summer he wouldn’t touch Jilly; 3) their musings are interrupted by bad guys; 4) Reno dispatches the bad guys; 5) Reno steals a car; 6) Reno drives said stolen car too fast and Jilly complains and/or fears for her safety; 7) Reno and Jilly find a temporary safe haven; 8) Jilly whines about how hungry she is; 9) Reno feeds Jilly and then it’s time for 1) again. I think this whole cycle occurred at least three or four times over in the course of the book.

Additionally, while in theory I appreciated the unusual setting of Japan, in practice I felt that it was largely wasted; the Japan of this book felt very cartoonish and superficial to me. Yakuza gangsters (I’ll give you credit for admitting in the foreword that their portrayal was probably not accurate), capsule hotels – I guess I should be grateful you didn’t throw in a geisha or some Harajuku girls at some point.

Similarly, the culture clash between Reno and Jilly was too broadly drawn, at times distastefully so. He calls her gaijin constantly (which I understand is a slur; how serious of one seems to be a matter of debate among the various websites I checked out); she, upon seeing his penis, remarks that she thought Japanese men were supposed to be "small". Ew. Even if this intended to be tongue-in-cheek, it’s a rather offensive stereotype.

Less serious to me, but still annoying, were some of the points used to illustrate that Jilly was a fish out of water in Japan. I don’t doubt that some of the food common there would be unfamiliar to her, but somehow I think a Southern California movie star’s daughter would’ve had miso soup and sashimi before. I won’t eat fish cooked, much less raw, but I have heard of sushi, even seen it on occasion (my go-to dish in Japanese restaurants? Chicken katsu. You can’t go wrong with breaded, fried chicken, IMO).

Finally, several times Reno expresses his hatred for American women, which I found a little off-putting. I can’t imagine Jilly stating repeatedly that she hated Japanese men, but I guess the gender and cultural differences are supposed to make it okay?

When we find out the reason for Reno’s implacable hatred (if there can be a reason for hating a whole countryful of people), it is stupid and clichéd in the "one woman did me wrong, and so they’re all rotten" tradition. It’s also given short shrift as a plot point; his reason is brought up and then it’s never mentioned again, or resolved in any way.

I won’t complain too much about Reno treating Jilly like crap, because I think most readers pick up an Anne Stuart book expecting that dynamic between the hero and heroine. In that respect, actually, Reno is perhaps slightly less of an ass than the usual Stuart hero, which was perhaps appropriate give the fact that Reno and Jilly are somewhat younger than the couples in the previous books in the series. He’s not quite as hard as the previous heroes, and seeing 20-year-old Jilly matched with one of those ultra-ruthless men probably would’ve been hard to take.

I also won’t complain about Jilly’s supposed brilliance not being much in evidence; all my bile in regards to heroines promising character traits and not delivering is still tied up in Isobel of Ice Storm (hi, my name is Jennie, and, yes, I am bitter; why do you ask?).

I will give you credit for creating a truly unique and mostly appealing hero – I wouldn’t want to read about 20-something Japanese tattooed punks every day, but Reno made a nice change of pace. And I’ll reiterate that Fire and Ice is quite readable; it didn’t drag for me or even bore me (in spite of my complaints about repetitiveness). But I’m still only giving it a C+.

Jennie

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or Powells or ebook format.

has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

11 Comments

  1. Robin
    Jun 14, 2008 @ 12:47:43

    I have grown increasingly intolerant to persistent thoughts by the hero and heroine about how sad it is that the other doesn’t love them, that the relationship can go nowhere, etc. IMO it’s such a waste of narrative space, a heavy-handed and ineffective strategy for building conflict, and just damn annoying since we know what the outcome will be. I still haven’t been able to finish Fire and Ice, but Reno and Jilly seem especially predisposed to these thought patterns, making it incredibly difficult for me to overcome all the other stuff about the book that’s bothering me.

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  2. Jill Sorenson
    Jun 14, 2008 @ 18:59:05

    I love Anne Stuart and think the Ice series contains some of the best romantic suspense in the biz. FIRE AND ICE was my least favorite because of the conflict between Reno and Jilly. All of the other heroes were genuinely torn between killing the heroine and saving her life/effing her silly. I wasn’t tired of this theme! It was awesome. Reno seems more annoyed by Jilly than conflicted.

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  3. Ann Bruce
    Jun 14, 2008 @ 23:10:18

    Additionally, while in theory I appreciated the unusual setting of Japan, in practice I felt that it was largely wasted; the Japan of this book felt very cartoonish and superficial to me. Yakuza gangsters (I'll give you credit for admitting in the foreword that their portrayal was probably not accurate), capsule hotels – I guess I should be grateful you didn't throw in a geisha or some Harajuku girls at some point.

    To be honest, I didn’t hold out much hope for authenticity and the like with this book, since in the last one she named the evil Japanese maid Anh, which is Vietnamese. From my understanding of Oriental cultures, the Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese may borrow Caucasian names, but never other Oriental names. It was rather jarring to read.

    I’ll still buy anything with Stuart’s name on it, though. Like you said, she’s very readable, male/female power imbalance and all. (But like I keep sayin’, I’m also addicted to Harlequin Presents.)

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  4. Jennie F.
    Jun 14, 2008 @ 23:50:28

    I have grown increasingly intolerant to persistent thoughts by the hero and heroine about how sad it is that the other doesn't love them, that the relationship can go nowhere, etc. IMO it's such a waste of narrative space, a heavy-handed and ineffective strategy for building conflict, and just damn annoying since we know what the outcome will be.

    Exactly! It just reminds one that one is reading a romance novel, where the HEA is preordained. It’s like constantly writing about the elephant in the room, the one you’re not supposed to be thinking of, and how you and the elephant can never be together because you’re a lion tamer and she’s well, an elephant. I’m not supposed to be thinking about the elephant, so quit reminding me of her!

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  5. Janine
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 17:26:02

    I agree with you about the reptitiveness of the book, and about many other things as well, but I guess that readability combined with Reno’s appeal was enough to make me like it a bit better than you did, since it was a B- for me.

    How do you feel this one compares with Ice Storm, Jennie? I gave them both a B-, but for me, Ice Storm was both more compelling and a lot more frustrating, so I think Fire and Ice edges it out just a little bit.

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  6. Jennie F.
    Jun 15, 2008 @ 23:30:49

    Yeah, I gave Ice Storm a C; in some ways it was more compelling but I was so pissed about what Stuart did to Isobel. I’d rather she not have written a book about her than make her strong and kick-ass in all of the previous books and then totally dominated by the hero as she was in Ice Storm.

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  7. Ann Aguirre
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 09:14:07

    A couple of points…

    Jennie said:

    Less serious to me, but still annoying, were some of the points used to illustrate that Jilly was a fish out of water in Japan. I don't doubt that some of the food common there would be unfamiliar to her, but somehow I think a Southern California movie star's daughter would've had miso soup and sashimi before.

    I just finished this book. I remember where he thinks sashimi is too good to be wasted on a gaijin, but that was in Reno’s POV. Jilly clearly is pretty familiar with Japanese food and culture. To my way of thinking, Reno is a bit of an unreliable narrator where Jilly is concerned; he has all these biases and preconceptions against her. I mean, he’s astounded and appalled to realize later on that she speaks a fair bit of Japanese. She’s not as ignorant as he assumes she is.

    Jennie said:

    I also won't complain about Jilly's supposed brilliance not being much in evidence

    You know, I would have been surprised and disappointed if it had been. I don’t think that would have been consistent with her character. Jilly herself thinks that she is all book smarts and no common sense. I thought she coped with the constant stress and endangerment pretty well, but I’d have been bummed if she’d turned into a ninja with a better idea how to survive in Tokyo than Reno. There was just no reason to show her sitting down doing equations.

    Jill said:

    Reno seems more annoyed by Jilly than conflicted.

    I thought it was a defense mechanism. I didn’t think he was actually annoyed by her, but he didn’t want to let himself care about her, so he tried to convince himself that she was a terrible annoyance and a burden, even though he clearly enjoyed her company.

    I agree that the conflict wasn’t as sharp with Jilly and Reno because he wasn’t supposed to kill her. He was supposed to protect her and keep his hands off. But honestly? I read the one with Taka and Summer a few days ago, and while it was a strong, entertaining story with very visceral conflict… the HEA bordered on squicky for me. He nearly drowned her in the bathtub. Yeah, I know he was only following orders, but still. It sends a cold chill over me to think of a woman staying with a man who almost killed her. With the others, I don’t remember there being any actual physical harm, just the threat of it. But then, I didn’t finish the one with Peter and Genevieve for reasons I won’t go into here.

    The thing that confused me was Jilly’s obsession with food. I mean, on more than one occasion, she would make some crack about, “You can kill me after you feed me.” Was she supposed to be a comfort eater? Or did she just have a high metabolism? Was she diabetic / hypoglycemic? I wanted a line explaining to me why this would be her focus with so much else going on. I like food as much as the next person, but I think if I was constantly in fear of my life, as long as I had water, I’d be okay with fasting for a few days. At least that way I’d know I wouldn’t puke from all the nerves.

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  8. Jill Sorenson
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 10:45:01

    Ann said:

    I agree that the conflict wasn't as sharp with Jilly and Reno because he wasn't supposed to kill her. He was supposed to protect her and keep his hands off.

    Right. I feel a little weird for liking the kill her/kiss her conflict, but it works for me. That’s what I was missing the most here. I still enjoyed the book, just not quite as much as the others in the series.

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  9. Ann Aguirre
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 11:50:38

    I love the conflict. And I like the threat of it… I just don’t want the hero to actually hurt the heroine. I want his longing for her to overcome his obligation to do the job.

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  10. Janine
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 12:29:39

    I thought it was a defense mechanism. I didn't think he was actually annoyed by her, but he didn't want to let himself care about her, so he tried to convince himself that she was a terrible annoyance and a burden, even though he clearly enjoyed her company.

    I agree with this point. I also thought the irritation was manufactured in order to drive a wedge between them.

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  11. Keishon
    Jun 17, 2008 @ 16:50:41

    I think I will try this one.

    ReplyReply

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