A month ago, I received a mysterious white package. I opened it. Yay!* It was an ARC of Nalini Singh‘s Caressed By Ice. I probably held out for about half a second before I started reading. I know. When it comes to fun storytelling, I’m weak.
In a future, alternative Earth, tensions simmer between the Changelings (shape-shifters) and the Psy–humans with evolved mental powers who have ruthlessly quashed their emotions through a protocol called Silence. In their search for perfection, the Psy have thoughtlessly disposed of anyone in their way–from the Changelings whom they regard as nothing but animals–to even their own kind showing any “flaws”. It’s only once that the Psy atrocities have been discovered that Changelings, humans, and defecting Psy try to fight back.
Caressed by Ice concerns Judd Lauren, an assassin for the Psy Council who had defected to protect his family from the horror of being “rehabilitated”, and Brenna Kincaid, a wolf Changeling who had been tortured by a Psy killer. Amidst the search for a murderer and the machinations of the Psy Council, Brenna and Judd struggle with the fact that there is even a relationship between them. While Brenna wonders why she is attracted to an emotionless man with the capacity for evil, Judd fights developing feelings that could literally kill him.
Science fiction and romance are two genres that are often at each other’s throats. Many attempts at mixing the two have resulted in poor results. However, Singh manages to weave what is essentially a romance with sci-fi elements. The romance and the characters are compelling–Brenna is a strong female who knows what she wants as Judd desperately clings to Silence even though it’s falling on him like a ceiling studded with sharp spikes. The nuts and bolts of the world-building are not obvious, but the world is surprisingly thorough and complex (enough so that I would strongly recommend reading the previous books first if you decide to delve into the series). For example, Silence is not merely a plot device. It is a logical outgrowth from the Psy’s abilities and psychological proclivities. In one aspect, the series is speculative psychology. Envision Pavlov’s experiments taken to the extreme. The conditioning strongly hinted in the previous two books of the series is explored with Judd’s character.
After finishing the novel, more questions are raised than answered. So far, only the Changelings and Psy have been described in any detail. It’s been mostly Changeling vs. Psy with humans as minor characters if they appear at all. So how, exactly, do humans fit in this world? Who is the Psy rebel called “The Ghost”? Where do the loyalties for certain mysterious and ambiguous Psy Council members really lie? How fragmented are the Changelings? And what will certain characters do now that their initial plans for the next phase of Psy evolution have been derailed?
Of course, questions aren’t entirely a bad thing. They’re effective hooks. And I, for one, will be waiting for the next installment to find out if they get answered or if everything gets even more delightfully byzantine.
*This is becoming a habit. I’ve started Singh’s other reviews similarly.