Black Ice, by Anne Stuart

>> Monday, January 30, 2006

Well, I finally gathered enough courage to try Anne Stuart's last year's release, Black Ice. It took quite a while to get into just the right mood to read it. It's been in the TBR since November, but I'd heard so much about the darkness and the (almost?) amoral hero, that I was never quite in the right frame of mind. Mood reader, me?

The job was a killer!

Living paycheck to paycheck in Paris, American book translator Chloe Underwood would give anything for some excitement and passion--even a little danger. So when she's offered a lucrative weekend gig translating at a business conference in a remote chateau, she jumps at the chance to shake things up.

Then by chance Chloe discovers her employers are anything but the entrepreneurs they appear, and suddenly she knows far too much. Her clients are illegal arms dealers, and one of them is ordered to kill her. But instead, Bastien Toussaint drags Chloe away, and the next thing she knows she's on the run with the most terrifying and seductive man she's ever met.

What were his motives--and would she live long enough to find out?
I definitely did well in waiting for the perfect mood, because Black Ice is not an easy book to read. It was just as dark and difficult as advertised. At first, I had some doubts about whether I was going to enjoy it, but I finally did, quite a bit. A B+.

For about the first half of the book, I feared this was going to turn out to be another Moonrise, which, after some hesitation, I rated a D.

Chloe Underwood is a young American living in Paris, working as an underpaid translator for a small publisher. One day her roommate, another translator, asks her to cover for her and spend the weekend at a château, translating for a group of food importers. Since the money is good (and Chloe is a bit of a pushover for roommate Sylvia), she accepts.

Only, the food importers aren't food importers but arms dealers, and Chloe soon becomes aware of certain discrepancies that make her suspicious. And she's not the only one suspicious. Among the arms dealers is Bastien Toussaint, part of the Committee a shadowy organization supposedly dedicated to fighting terrorism. He's infiltrating the meeting, and to him, something about Chloe feels wrong. He can't decide whether she's an inept agent or a very good agent pretending to be inept. That she is an innocent is way down on the list of possibilities.

This part in the château is the one I had the hardest time reading. The effect his work for the Committee has had on Bastien is to turn him into a feelingless, amoral killing machine. He does whatever he's told, and doesn't waste time questioning whether his orders are right or wrong. As far as he's concerned, the Committee's choices between evils (for instance, that he deliver detonators to Syria, detonators that kill 73 people, including a large number of children, because this is supposed to save more lives) make them as much the bad guy as the people they are supposed to be fighting, and he still works for them, just because this is what he does.

Bastien is ice cold in this part, even in his interactions with Chloe. He coolly considers whether he should kill her a couple of times. He's not looking forward to it, but he doesn't really mind, he thinks. It was when I read these scenes from his POV that I kept thinking of Moonrise. That book didn't work for me because I became convinced that there wasn't enough life left inside the hero to make him human, and Bastien was walking close to that line here. But there were some signs of life and of what might have once been a conscience there: not enough to convince me, but enough to give me some hope. And strangely enough, that hope was realized when he performs his coldest action in the book, delivering Chloe to a sadist to torture rather than compromise his own cover, and this seems to wake him up.

When the action changes to Bastien and Chloe on the run, things changed for the better. The new Bastien was a son of a bitch, but he was alive and I could imagine a HEA for him with Chloe, which I couldn't for James, from Moonrise.

I notice I haven't really said anything about Chloe. Well, she's not really the star of the book -as in all Anne Stuarts, that's the hero- but she's one of Stuart's better heroines, and I did like her. Chloe's just a regular girl stuck in a truly terrifying situation. She goes off for a weekend in the country and, through no fault of her own, finds herself in the middle of an orgy of violence. No wonder Bastien has to rescue her a few times! I really didn't hold that against her, and I thought she was actually pretty brave in not just curling up into a ball and refusing to move.

The ending is a bit abrupt, which is a criticism I remember hearing back when everyone was discussing Black Ice. I'm glad I decided to save (without reading it first) a post by Anne Stuart which was a kind of epilogue.

From Anne Stuart's post (highlight to see)

Well, for the first few months they'd both sort of lay low, make love, and bond in a very tender way to go with the intensely violent, sexual bond they already formed. Her family would come back to see the guest house in ashes but no other sign of trouble -- Madame Lambert would have seen that everything else is cleaned up -- and Bastien is now in place. They met him before, knew he'd saved her life, knew she'd been only half alive since she left him, so they'd welcome him into their lives (though they'd be wary since he's clearly a dangerous man with a dark past -- but they'd know he loves her and that counts for a lot. Her brothers would be particularly protective).

Bastien and Chloe might even go away for a time, to a remote Caribbean Island where they could be safe and quiet and just be with each other. She'd get pregnant in about a year, he'd become a carpenter (he'd need to do something physical and rewarding, and he has tons of money in a swiss bank account so a career is unimportant). He'd probably build them a house on the 320 or so acres her parents have -- far enough away for privacy, close enough for family. Chloe would probably do free-lance translating for a New York publisher while she raises the babies, and no one will ever know that Bastien survived. He'll have hellacious nightmares as he starts to come out of his cold killer persona, but she'll be there for him, because, in fact, she is stronger than he is, at least emotionally.

And they WILL live HEA.

I just like a tight ending, though occasionally I do epilogues. I guess I've been a little too terse recently.

Yep, that fits. :-)


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