on 19 July 2012
I agreed to review Lord of Fire and Ice as some sort of personal challenge. You see, despite several attempts I haven't found a Norse/Viking historical romance I enjoyed, so I was curious to see how Lord of Fire and Ice would fare. But when my fellow blogger friends saw the dated and uninspiring cover and read the cheesy blurb they teased me that it would be an awful read. Well big surprise but Lord of Fire and Ice was a very good read, one I enjoyed a lot! (Which is doubly surprising considering my lack of success with previous Viking romances and the first impression generated by the unappealing cover and blurb).
But now let me tell you why I liked this novel. First of all I enjoyed it because the whole setting made it a breath of fresh air. Instead of the usual Regency drawingrooms/ball rooms we are in snowy hills and Norse huts (and saunas), and Connie Mason and Mia Marlowe definitely took advantage of this setting by wonderfully introducing the reader to some Norse customs and beliefs. I liked that it was different from the usual historical romances and that it was full of interesting details about a culture quite unknown to me. All the research that went into the Norse customs and traditions (just to name a few of the most memorable ones: the bathing ritual, their myths, the wedding preparations and ceremony, inn matki munr, which is a special bond between lovers, kind of like a soulmate connection) was impressive and very interesting.
But besides this very interesting aspect of Lord of Fire and Ice, it was first and foremost a romance. One of my main problems with the previous Viking romances I have read was that they were too harsh and often unromantic for me to enjoy them. That is not the case with Lord of Fire and Ice, this one is a love story combined with some exciting action.
Brandr (whose name means 'sword' in ancient Norse) is about to return home after a 5 year-long absence from the faraway Constantinople when he is drugged and enslaved and given to the widow of a man killed by his father. Katla accepts Brandr as her thrall to avenge the death of her husband by humiliating the mighty son of the man who is responsible for her husband's death, but she realizes that Brandr is a force to reckon with and she can't resist the attraction that sparks between them. Brandr is a delicious hero whose intensity will make your heart palpitate and your toes curl:
"He dropped to one knee before her, point of the sword buried in the smooth dirt, both hands on the ornate hilt. "I give you the edge of my sword, the strength of my body, the breath my life," Brandr said, his gaze glued on the tips of her slippers peeping from beneath her hem. "If you have need of any of them, they are yours for the asking. And even if you don't ask, they are still yours. From this day forward, you are my wife. I'll defend what's mine as long as there is a beating heart in my body.""
Katla was a realistic and believable heroine. Even though she is quite hard and very strong willed, I thought that her coldness and efficient rationality suited her Norse widow status, especially considering all the responsibilities she shouldered.
The romance between them was scorching hot, as Brandr very aptly declared:
"You consume me, Katla, and I don't care a whit. Let the fire burn."
But then their romance became even better and heartwarming as their burning passion developed into something tender and even more important.
"The cold, dark possibility she was dead stabbed his heart, but he shoved it away. Surely he'd know if she was. He'd feel her absence in the very air around him. His body would refuse to keep breathing in a world where she did not."
The writing was captivating and I liked the images, metaphors used by the authors a lot, as in my opinion they were wonderful in giving more depth and nuance to the descriptions. At times they were prosaic at times more poetic:
"A ponderous bundle of years rode on her frail shoulders, but if Wisdom had a soul, she would look out at the world through Dalla's calm gray eyes."
"A smile crackled across her face, leaving her as wrinkled as a winter apple."
"The sounds of the approaching guards were nearer now. Fear made her wing-footed. Katla flew across the clearing and disappeared into the thick undergrowth."
"She wept in silence. She couldn't keen and wail. She was too empty to do anything but let her soul seep from her eyes."
The dialogue between the characters was a bit crude sometimes but it only reinforced the feeling of authenticity of being in a more archaic and wilder time.
There were some paranormal/fantasy elements (Brandr is a fire mage: he can command flames and conjure fire in his palm; lovers share a special bond the inn matki munr, the "mighty passion", a deep connection between soulmates, where they are able to hear each other thoughts) but I wouldn't categorize Lord of Fire and Ice as a paranormal romance or even fantasy romance. It is a Viking romance with some fantasy elements.
Verdict: A wonderful surprise, Lord of Fire and Ice was the very first Norse/Viking historical romance I enjoyed and liked! The writing flew smoothly and I greatly appreciated the evocative narrative and authentic-sounding dialogue. The characters were likable and interesting, and I was very much invested in their lives and struggles. The research that went into the novel was impressive and I very much enjoyed all the details of Norse cutsoms, traditions and beliefs peppered into the story. Lord of Fire and Ice is a romance that will make your heart palpitate and your toes curl, an unusual but wonderful treat for any historical romance lover.
Ending: 8/10 The novel ended too soon after the final battle, it could have done with an epilogue.
Cover: 5/10 It looks dated, too '70s for me, and the story is so much more than what the blurb makes you expect
Overall I give it 4.5 stars!
on 22 July 2012
ARC provided by Sourcebooks for review.
This is my second time reading from this combination of authors, Connie Mason and Mia Marlowe. The first experience was with a Highlander/Scottish romance, which I have a wee soft spot for, and it was really good. This time it's Vikings! A subject matter I have never sampled before, with the addition of some magic/fantasy elements.
The romance was very compelling but I admit to a certain amount of leeriness over the fact that Brandr was taken as a thrall/slave by the heroine. I knew that before going in, but somehow it sounded funnier in the premise than I found it in truth. Partly I think the reason for my discomfort was because Brandr's character was so lovely and strong and proud that it was galling to see him talked about as a lowly thrall and sneered at by people who were no better than he, as a Jarl's son, was.
It also caused my appreciation of Katla's character to cool quite significantly, which is a shame because she was quite amusing when she wasn't being ridiculous and asking him to kiss her foot and such. Her motivations were that Brandr's father had killed her husband leaving her a widow in charge of a large, communal dwelling, a Longhouse, all by herself at only her mid-twenties. Her three younger brothers, in all their wisdom, brought her a hog-tied and doped up Brandr has a present. Saying if she refused to re-wed, she at least needed a strong slave to help about the place. Initially she refused, but when it was revealed who Brandr was and that he was the son of her husband's killer, she changed her mind.
Having never read a Viking romance before this whole idea of slaves/thralls was completely alien to me and I have no idea if it's a regularly used concept or not, but it sat a little ill with me if truth be told. What it did do, however, was make for very interesting dynamics between the two lead characters.
I'm not sure if the addition of magic was beneficial or not because it was largely ignored for most of the novel and there was no other world-building or explanations provided as to why Brandr, in an otherwise magic-less world, could make fire out of thin air. The books read like a regular historical romance set in the real world, so to believe one person could do such a thing was difficult. If there were others who could do it, or there was other magical differences between our world and that one, it might have made more sense, but to just throw it into a historical novel, almost as an afterthought, or to fit it into a genre category, it didn't work.
However, the passion is undeniable. These two ladies certainly know how to write sensually erotic scenes. Nothing vulgar or tasteless, but the sexual tension at times was almost palpable. I almost didn't want them to ever have sex because the denial stage was so enjoyable! There were also some sweet and amusing scenes between the two, and these more than made up for my squeamishness over the thrall thing, and I ended up enjoying the book a lot, almost like a guilty pleasure.