Fire and Ice

Anne Stuart
2008, Romantic Suspense
MIRA, $6.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0778325369
Part of a series

Grade: B+
Sensuality: Hot

Note: Anne Stuart has written a short story, available for free download, that describes Jilly and Reno's first spoken meeting - those of you who keep up with the series will know they spied each other at the end of Ice Blue. It isn’t necessary to read Married to It before reading this book, but you’ll enjoy the story much more.

We first met Reno in Ice Blue, introduced as Takashi O’Brien’s punk Japanese cousin, complete with piercings, tattoos, and bright red, waist-length hair. While I was amused at the bits of comedic relief he provided in both that book and Ice Storm, I wasn’t sure how Ms. Stuart could transform him into a hero with a story of his own. As the fifth and final book in Anne Stuart’s Ice series, Fire and Ice has a lot to live up to. I had some pretty high expectations, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Jillian “Jilly” Lovitz is heading to Japan for a surprise visit to her sister and brother-in-law. Unfortunately for her, the aforementioned sister and husband happen to be Summer and Takashi O’Brien, who are currently hiding from professionals out to kill them. Knowing that the assassins will use Jilly as a hostage to lure Taka out, the Committee sends someone to get her out of the situation ASAP. Enter Reno.

Reno hasn’t been able to get Jilly out of his thoughts since he saw her that brief time two years ago. When he sees her again, he automatically goes into denial about his feelings and forces himself to concentrate on getting her out of Japan alive. He wants to interact with her as little as possible, and plans to put her under his grandfather’s protection. This is all well and good until Reno suspects that someone in his grandfather’s system is working against him, and he realizes he is the only one who can protect Jilly. Sparks fly between them, and he and Jilly wrestle every step of the way.

I loved, loved, loved the setting, and the author does a great job suffusing the book with various elements of Japanese culture. She even incorporates an incredibly unique scene involving a capsule hotel like the one to your left. The Japanese element of the story and the writing quality itself are so strong that they cover what would otherwise be sketchy parts of the book. Ms. Stuart also does a great job with the amount of actual Japanese dialogue in the book; just enough to get a feel of the language, but not so much that I have to keep a lookout for translations.

Reno as a protagonist is an intriguing character. From the beginning of the book, his personality hit me like a brick, and his sense of humor was a welcome surprise. Reno looks crazy and has a mouth to rival a sailor, but he displays a startling gentleness when he’s with Jilly. After seeing him in the other Ice books, he’s surprisingly…normal. He likes to scare Jilly with shocking statements and the occasional bizarre outfit, but his craziness ends there. The real quirkiness he displayed in the previous books has been reduced to his red braids and tattoos, which disappointed me a little. That didn't last for long, though, because his character is well fleshed, and it was so fun to watch him war with his feelings for Jilly. His backstory is equally enjoyable; who knew that there was a nerdy person hiding inside that punkish exterior?

No book can live up to enormous expectations, and this proves the rule. The romantic aspect of the book begins as a mutual crush based on their one and only meeting years earlier, and somehow develops into love. I had a hard time seeing the point where their relationship passed the physical/infatuation stage. At one point the author simply tells us, “And at that moment Jilly Lovitz knew she was in love.” Oh. Really? While I can see what draws Jilly to Reno, I still don’t know what Reno finds so irresistible about her. We’re told she’s pretty, spunky, and an overall genius, but it’s never there. And that brings me to my biggest problem: Jilly and her smarts.

From the start we’re told that Jilly is a girl with an above-average intellect. For a smart girl, she rarely uses the big brain she is purported to have. She runs away from everything (consequently getting herself into more trouble), and occasionally exhibits general TSTL behavior. She is full of snappy comebacks, but seems to lack real fighting spirit. She somewhat redeems herself later in the book, when she snaps out of her “pity me” attitude and helps Reno, but she never quite matches up to him. I like to think of her as the foolish, good-hearted girl who helps Reno stand out from the crowd.

As for other drawbacks, I was slightly irritated with the “Southern California” stereotypes that pervade the book. I’ve lived in California for a long time, and I get a little miffed every time an out-of-towner is surprised to learn we are not all blond hippie beach bums who get Botoxed as often as we get our teeth checked. That's more or less a minor glitch. A bigger problem was the ending, which was longer and more protracted than the concise Anne Stuart ending I’ve grown to love so much. I don’t usually say this about an Anne Stuart, but I wouldn’t have minded had the book been about 30 pages shorter.

Lest I turn you away from this book, let me assure you: There is a lot to love. Taka’s decision to save his sister-in-law and kick Reno’s butt is hilarious. Reno’s dynamic with his grandfather is surprisingly poignant - I loved their relationship. Sometimes I feel that too much profanity pulls me out of a book, but Reno finds so much simple joy in these words that I could only find myself smiling. This book is truly Reno’s story, and he shines.

Yes, I enjoyed this book so much that I read it all in one sitting, much to my husband’s dismay. It took some time to warm up to Jilly, but for Reno’s sake, I was able to do it. Reno’s utter humanity is a welcome change to the initial aloofness of the other Committee members. He might make a questionable decision here or there, but I can’t seem to fault him. The author does a wonderful job making him believable and real, and I can forgive people for making mistakes. The book has a focused plot, an inherently exotic setting, and also makes use of Ms. Stuart’s favorite epithet, “rat bastard,” which is fun to look out for. Ultimately, Fire and Ice, the last of the Ice books, provides a very worthy ending to a fascinating series.

-- Emma Leigh

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