REVIEW: Caressed by Ice by Nalini Singh
Dear Ms. Singh,
A group of readers are rereading all the books in the Psy/Changeling series and discussing them on Twitter in preparation for the release of Wolf Rain. I don’t have time to reread all twenty, but I decided to read a handful of old favorites—and Caressed by Ice, book three in the series, is nothing if not an old favorite.
Judd Lauren is a Psy, a member of a race that has abandoned emotion for cold indifference so as to keep their dangerous tendencies in check as part of a protocol known as Silence. Not that Judd isn’t dangerous even when Silent. When he was part of the PsyNet—a network of Psy minds that provides the biofeedback Psy need to survive—Judd was one of the Arrows, an elite squad of assassins.
When his family members were slated for mind-destroying rehabilitation, Judd chose to defect with them. Expecting to die in the process, Judd and his brother Walker asked the SnowDancers, a pack of wolf shapeshifters, to take in the Lauren children, Judd’s nieces and nephew. The wolves agreed, but miraculously, even Judd and Walker survived the detachment from the PsyNet and its vital biofeedback. Thus, they too were adopted by the SnowDancers, albeit reluctantly.
None of that changes the hatred between the SnowDancers and the Psy, or the suspicion Judd encounters from members of the pack. His coldness and his aura of danger don’t help matters, and that’s how he wants it, because of a power he has kept secret, his TK-cell ability. It’s a telekinetic power, one that allows him to teleport and move objects, but also to change organisms on a cellular level. As a child, Judd experienced the danger of his powers, and now he won’t risk feeling anything.
Brenna Kincaid, a female wolf changeling, was recently kidnapped, imprisoned and tortured by Santano Enrique, a psychopathic, Psy serial killer. But although she was rescued and survived, Brenna is still fragile. Enrique used his telepathic and telekinetic abilities to rape not only her body but also her mind. He has made changes in her brain that she senses, but she doesn’t know exactly what this legacy of her tortuous past might be, and it scares her.
Brenna is attracted to Judd despite the fact that he not only belongs to the Psy race, but also embraces the chilling discipline of Silence. Even more strangely, Brenna feels safe with him. Judd has assisted Sascha, an empath, in Brenna’s healing sessions, and so he has entered her nightmarish memories of her imprisonment.
Before her kidnapping, Brenna had a promising future. She worked for a computronics degree and was a happy, lighthearted girl. Before her kidnapping, Brenna’s brothers had no need to be so overprotective of her that she felt smothered. Before, Brenna’s eyes were entirely brown, instead of brown and the shattered blue that signifies the changes Enrique has made in her. Before, she would never have desired Judd. In fact, she’d given him a wide berth.
But now everything has changed, and further changes are on the horizon. When the body of a SnowDancer wolf is discovered, Brenna realizes that she witnessed the murder in her dreams. Disturbed, Brenna wants more information from Judd, but opportunities to talk to him are limited. Brenna’s brothers, Riley and Drew, are so protective that after seeing Brenna with Judd, they do not allow her to leave the family’s rooms. Finally, she sneaks out and asks Judd to take her out of the wolves’ den.
Outside the den, Judd raises the possibility that Brenna’s dreams could be a sign of mental degradation and sets up a meeting with Faith, a Psy with forecasting abilities who is now part of DarkRiver, a leopard changeling pack, to discuss Brenna’s precognitive dreams.
During their discussion Brenna asks Faith if it is possible for Judd to break Silence, as Faith herself has done, but Faith is skeptical and thinks Brenna needs a different kind of man to help her heal. But Brenna doesn’t want to be pitied or coddled; she’s attracted to Judd more than she ever would be to a warmer, kinder man. Faith advises Brenna to keep pushing Judd until he feels.
A number of other things are going on at the same time. The murderer suspects Brenna of knowing something and plots to kill her. The Psy Council, the ruling body of the Psy, have put in place a plan to kill the SnowDancers. And to prevent the Council from implementing a technology that would turn the PsyNet into a hive mind, Judd has joined forces with an insurgent known only as the Ghost.
While Judd is out setting a bomb in a Psy facility where the technology is being developed, Brenna has another shattering dream. She tries to reach out to Judd mentally and is hurt to find the way blocked. She confronts Judd when he returns, and he acts as if she means nothing to him. But the truth is far different, and to avoid his growing feelings for Brenna, Judd asks to be sent away.
Brenna follows Judd to a remote cabin. There, she reveals that her trauma has cost her the ability to shapeshift, and Judd, breaking all the rules he’s been taught to uphold, confesses his own trauma—that while drugged and carrying out his orders as an Arrow, he killed someone whom he later learned didn’t deserve to die.
Brenna and Judd grow closer, but then hyena shapeshifters attack. To save Brenna, Judd teleports her away, shocking her by revealing his telekinetic abilities.
How will Brenna react to the knowledge that Judd shares Enrique’s abilities? Can she overcome Judd’s Silence, when Silence is the only force keeping him from turning into an accidental serial killer? Will the attempts to breach Silence damage Judd physically and emotionally? And can the pack, including Andrew and Riley, accept Judd as a possible mate for Brenna?
Caressed by Ice is my favorite of your books for multiple reasons. First, there’s the way the book turns the traumatized heroine trope on its head. In most romances with traumatized heroines, the hero is the one who sets out to gently heal the heroine, and therefore he has more agency.
This book reverses that, with Brenna the one who pursues Judd, the one who is intent on making him whole. Heroine in pursuit is a great trope, but one that is underutilized in romance. But in this book, it’s used to great advantage, because in the process of pursuing Judd, Brenna reclaims her sexuality, agency and power, thus coming into her own—not just healed, but stronger than ever. She heals herself, with Judd’s help, yes, but with help she demands from him with great courage.
The other trope that is reversed, at least to a certain extent, is the Psy=bad, Changelings=good equation that is prominent in this arc of the series. Here, for the first time, the villain is trusted changeling, while the hero is a Psy.
There are other Psy heroes and heroines in the series, but one of the things that makes Judd stand out is the dichotomy in his character. Though planted in the SnowDancers’ den, he isn’t trusted by most of them, and he has several qualities that outwardly, at least, cast him in shadows. He’s an assassin, an insurgent fighter, the man who possesses the same abilities as Enrique, the most hated Psy of all, and he’s also a ticking time bomb, if the walls of Silence inside him ever crumble.
Yet despite all this, Judd fights both the pain of dissonance, a psychic trigger inside him, to feel love for Brenna, while at the same time, fighting just as hard to keep his ability from harming others. That the two goals are in conflict means he is faced with thorny choices.
Additionally, Judd’s insurgent activities kill no one (he only does property damage), but they protect many of the Psy. Among the male characters in the series, Judd has one of the strongest moral compasses. It’s no accident that his meetings with the Ghost take place in a church, and a priest is their compatriot.
The plotting in this book is at least as strong as the characterization, with events coming one after the other, and impacting one another. Judd and Brenna navigate dangers from within and without, all while discovering their strengths, discovering each other, and coming together.
Some of the best scenes in the book involve Judd’s Psy abilities, which are among the coolest in the series. Here’s an incomplete list:
Spoiler (Spoilers): Show
This was also the first book set in the den of the SnowDancers, and it is here that we really get to know the wolf pack, get to see how the den functions, with Hawke, the SnowDancer alpha, as its center, and his lieutenants its support system. The Ghost is first introduced in this book, and we become much better acquainted with the kids in Judd’s family, his nephew Toby and his nieces Marlee and Sienna, the latter a teenager with lethal potential.
In a way, the book is almost as much about the Lauren family’s relationship with the SnowDancers as about Judd and Brenna’s romance. Both these relationships develop through Judd and Brenna’s interactions, and the acceptance of Judd’s Psy relatives into the SnowDancer den and of Judd by Brenna’s brothers, Drew and Riley, is as crucial as Judd’s willingness to accept both his love for Brenna and Hawke as his alpha.
In terms of flaws, I can’t think of many. I wavered a little when Brenna went along with Judd using his telekinesis in the bedroom and it didn’t bring up her traumatic experiences with Enrique. Not that I wanted it to, I just thought that would have been more believable.
The book is written in your inimitable style, with vivid, sometimes violent imagery and big emotions. It’s not a style that’s for everyone, but even when I notice the writing ticks, I also find it very effective.
When I first read Caressed by Ice, over a decade ago, I might have given it a lesser grade. But over the years, I’ve read it at least three more times, and my enjoyment of it remains undiminished. A.