REVIEW: Fire and Ice by Anne Stuart
Dear Ms. Stuart,
Fire and Ice is the fifth and (if I’m not mistaken) final book in your Ice series, which features the agents of a ruthless spy organization known as the Committee. This one is all about the flamboyant Reno, Taka’s younger cousin.
Back in the third book, Ice Blue, Reno, aka Hiromasa Shinoda, a video-game loving Japanese punk with long red hair and teardrops tattooed on his cheeks, met up with Jilly Lovitz, Summer’s brainy half sister, who was then eighteen years old. From the moment those two laid eyes on each other, a powerful attraction was born, but Summer and Taka made Reno promise to stay far away from Jilly.
Fire and Ice opens two years later. Reno is now twenty-seven and an agent of the Committee (though how exactly he is able to do the Committee’s work looking as conspicuous as he does is not explained). In the opening scene, Reno learns that while Taka and Summer have gone into hiding from Russian mercenaries who have been hired to take out all the Committee’s agents, Jilly, unaware that they are no longer in Tokyo, has decided to pay them a visit. Realizing that Jilly is in danger, Reno breaks his promise to stay away from her in order to go to Japan and save her life.
Jilly has come to Tokyo in the wake of a one-night stand that went so badly she is uncertain whether or not she is technically still a virgin. Jilly, who at age twenty has already graduated from college and is now working on her PhD, has always been isolated from her peers because of her intelligence and her studies. In the two years since she last saw Reno, she has not gotten over her crush on him, and he is one of her reasons for coming to Japan.
Just as three of the Russian mercenaries are about to grab Jilly from Summer and Taka’s deserted apartment, Reno shows up and kills them. After escaping on the back of a motorcycle to a traditional Japanese inn where they encounter more mercenaries, Reno and Jilly head for the mountains. Reno’s grandfather, a yakuza (Japanese mafia) boss, has an onsen (traditional bathouse) there.
On the way to the onsen, they bicker as Reno does his best to annoy Jilly in order to maintain a distance between them and thus keep his promise to Summer and Taka, and even more so because he values his own freedom and recognizes that his feelings for Jilly endanger it. Jilly, meanwhile, keeps telling herself that now that she has seen him kill, her crush on Reno is a thing of yesterday. But even she realizes that she protests too much.
Just as they are about to arrive in the onsen, all hell breaks loose, leading Reno to wonder if there’s a traitor in his grandfather’s organization. So Reno and Jilly go on the run again, and this time, sharing close quarters leads to growing intimacy between them, as do close calls with death and desire.
Fire and Ice is a tough book to grade and review. At the end of my review of Ice Storm, I indicate that I have enjoyed the Ice series, but that its pleasures were diminishing for me. I loved Black Ice so much that though it’s not perfect, I gave it an A. Cold as Ice was a B+ for me, Ice Blue a B, and Ice Storm a B-.
So how did I feel about Fire and Ice? Fortunately, I am not sorry I spent $6.99 on it. But at the same time, I wish I loved it as much as I loved Black Ice.
One of the best things about Fire and Ice is that it is only nominally about the Committee. Except for a very brief appearance by Peter Madsen in the first scene of the book, the only other Committee agent who shows up in this story is Taka, and he is there far more in his capacity as Reno’s cousin and Jilly’s brother-in-law than as a secret agent.
That is all to the good in my opinion, because the Committee came very close to being reduced to a bunch of bumbling fools in Ice Storm, and I think that as a consequence the ruthless spy organization aspect of this series is pretty much played out.
Other elements we have seen before in the earlier books are present in Fire and Ice, including the pairing of a relatively innocent and softhearted heroine with a more experienced and tough hero, the hero and heroine’s going on the run together, the hero’s saving the heroine’s life while forcing her to confront her own desire for him, the heroine’s initial certainty that the hero doesn’t return her feelings, and her shock when faced with the brutality of death and killing.
While some of these ingredients are key to what made me love Black Ice, the fifth time around they don’t feel as fresh as they once did, and for the most part (with exceptions like a powerful scene in Reno’s apartment that involves an unexpected twist), I think Fire and Ice is at its weakest when they come into play.
The book is at its strongest when exploring newer terrain, such as the Japan setting, the relative youth of its hero and heroine, Reno’s fear of commitment, and the vulnerability that lies behind his punkster facade. You win big points from me for these aspects of the book. Reno, in particular, is a truly memorable character, especially in those moments where he reveals himself to Jilly or to the reader.
The fact that Reno and Jilly are in love to begin with is both a weakness and a strength in my eyes. It is mentioned on your website that a free story about Reno and Jilly’s first meeting will be available soon. I look forward to reading it, but there were times when I wished that falling-in-love process was shown more in the pages of Fire and Ice.
It’s clear why Jilly has a crush on the flamboyant Reno, and why her feelings deepen as he protects her, but it’s not so evident why Reno would feel the same way about Jilly, beyond his physical lust for her body, since although we are told she is brilliant, that brilliance isn’t shown, and otherwise there isn’t much that makes Jilly distinctive or different from many other young women, except perhaps for her for her sexual inexperience.
There is a scene in which Jilly puts together some information about Reno and arrives at a different view of him than she had before, and this scene does give a bit of insight into why Jilly might have attracted him. I would have liked to know even more about this aspect of his background.
At the same time, the presence of Jilly and Reno’s mutual obsession from the very first page of the book also serves to give the book a different twist that the previous Ice books did not have. Because he is already in love to begin with, Reno is softer with Jilly and more protective of her than Bastien, Peter, Taka and Serafin were with Chloe, Genevieve, Summer and Isobel, respectively. That is one of the things I liked best about Fire and Ice, especially since Reno is young and not ready to settle down, confused by his promises to Summer and Taka to stay away from Jilly and not sure what he wants to do about any of it.
On the whole, I found Reno intriguing enough to hold my attention easily, but Jilly less so. The Japan setting felt well-researched to me, and I was glad to read a book that was set at such a different locale. While there were times during Fire and Ice that I felt I was reading something I’d read before, there was just enough freshness to keep me interested, and I also savored your lean, tight writing style at several points. Had I not read the earlier books in the series, I would probably have liked Fire and Ice even more, but I still liked it as much as its most recent predecessor, or perhaps even a bit more. B- for Fire and Ice.