Caressed by Ice, by Nalini Singh

>> Saturday, September 01, 2007

TITLE: Caressed by Ice (read excerpts)
AUTHOR: Nalini Singh

COPYRIGHT: 2007 (it will be out next week, on September 4th)
PAGES: 368
PUBLISHER: Berkley

SETTING: An alternate version of Earth in the late 21st century, with shapeshifters and psy, a race which has special psychic powers.
TYPE: Paranormal romance
SERIES: Book 3 in the Psy / Changeling series. It definitely shouldn't be read before the first book, Slave to Sensation, since it will spoil the plot of that one. In fact, this review shouldn't be read before reading STS, either!

REASON FOR READING: I love this series. Slave to Sensation was my favourite book last year, and the second one, Visions of Heat, was almost as good.

Explore new heights of sensuality in this return to the world of the Psy-where two people who know evil intimately must unlock the good within their icy hearts…

As an Arrow, an elite soldier in the Psy Council ranks, Judd Lauren was forced to do terrible things in the name of his people. Now a defector, his dark abilities have made him the most deadly of assassins-cold, pitiless, unfeeling. Until he meets Brenna…

Brenna Shane Kincaid was an innocent before she was abducted-and had her mind violated-by a serial killer. Her sense of evil runs so deep, she fears she could become a killer herself. Then the first dead body is found, victim of a familiar madness. Judd is her only hope, yet her sensual changeling side rebels against the inhuman chill of his personality, even as desire explodes between them. Shocking and raw, their passion is a danger that threatens not only their hearts, but their very lives…
THE PLOT: When he lived among the Psy, Judd Lauren was an Arrow, part of a top-secret group of assassins who enforced the Psy Council's directives. When he felt there was a threat on his family, he used his considerable powers and intelligence to find a way for all of them to drop out from the Psynet, which they did, the very first Psy to handle it.

The Laurens found refuge among the SnowDancer wolf changeling clan, but while over the years everyone else in the family have slowly started to let emotions in, Judd remains as cold and emotionless as ever. Unlike them, he will never be able to remove his mental blocks on feeling. The extensive training to become an Arrow, which took place since he was very young, placed some very real and dangerous tripwires on his mind, which any kind of feelings will activate.

And it's very strong feelings that dealing with Brenna Kincaid threatens to cause. If you've read Slave to Sensation, you'll remember Brenna as the last young woman taken by the Psy serial killer in that book. She was rescued before he killed her, but not before enduring weeks of horrific torture, both mental and physical. This has left her with some very serious sequels, and it doesn't help that everyone in the SnowDancer clan seems to now see her as some kind of fragile victim. It's only with Judd that she feels more comfortable, more like a survivor, rather than a victim.

Ever since she returned to her family, Brenna has been having very disturbing, violent dreams. They seem to be just natural results of her experiences, but when a murder is discovered in SnowDancer headquarters, Brenna realizes that her dreams are something else. Did the Psy psychopath succeed in turning her her mind into something dangerous? She can trust only Judd to help her figure out the truth, as well as evade the increasing danger it becomes clear she's under.

MY THOUGHTS: Wow. Just... wow. As I've repeated ad nauseam, I absolutely adored STS, but I'm hard-pressed to decide if I liked it or CBI better.

As in the other books in the series, Singh's created a complex, original, truly fascinating world, and one that feels more deeply developed as the series advances. I love that while there's a complete-feeling story and romance in each of the books, there's also an overarching storyline about the evolution of Psy/changeling/human relationships. There's a sense of big, important things going on and progressing, and that each of the stories told are contributing to it.

But as much as I love the universe Singh sets out, it's the romances that are the true hearts of the books for me, and CBI is no different. I was looking forward to seeing what a relationship between a male Psy and a female changeling might be like, and it was even better than I could have expected. The relationship between Judd and Brenna is amazing, full of passion and a sense of both inevitability and yearning, because having love developing between them seems as necessary as it is impossible.

That was one of the things I loved best about the book, the way the obstacles to a happy ending seemed insurmountable, and how they really, really had to work at them, even having to work through the hopeless feeling of thinking there's no way to solve things. The main obstacle was Judd and both the way his mind was originally and what it had become under Silence. I was impressed by how real the obstacles were in Visions of Heat for Faith abandoning Silence, but that was child's play compared to what Judd has to go through here.

See, there's a double block on his feelings. Judd's mind has been programmed so that any feeling will cause excrutiating pain in his brain, even causing very real injuries. Small ones, caused by small losses of control, he can fix himself, but if he were to really let go, he'd turn his brain into mush. But even if that problem were solved, there's also the knowledge that before Silence, people with his abilities always ended up losing control of them, at some point, and murdering the women they were close to.

So the conflict inside Judd is tremendous. He can't be with Brenna, but he can't not be with Brenna, because the link between them is much too powerful. The scene with the flying furniture was unforgettable! Anyway, I won't reveal how this was all solved, only that it was immensely satisfying and well done.

Something else I loved was Brenna's characterization, most especially the uniqueness of her being a changeling. So far in the series, we'd only really seen male changelings. I mean, we've met females, but since it was the heroes of the last two books who were shifters, we only really delved into how a male changeling relates to the animal inside him. So it was especially interesting to see this aspect of Brenna. It's a very interesting relationship she has with what's inside her, and even when it's lacking the last step for her, as it is at first during this book, when she's having trouble shifting, it's clear that it still shapes her personality. And it does in a way that is recognizable and yet subtly different to that of the males.

All in all, a fantastic read, and one that's right up there with the best I've read this year. I'm going to have such a hard time deciding my best book of 2007!

MY GRADE: An A. Fortunately, the long wait for Mine to Possess will be made shorter by the release of the An Enchanted Season anthology on October 2nd.

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