Saturday, December 19, 2009
"Caressed by Ice," by Nalini Singh (Second Chance Challenge)
Alternate Title: The Iceman Cometh
The Chick: Brenna Shane Kincaid. After her changeling wolf pack rescued her from a sadistic psychic killer, she's struggled to recover from the tortures she endured - but her family's overprotective antics aren't helping. The only person to treat her with respect is Judd Lauren, a renegade Psy.
The Rub: The trouble is, he refuses to respond to her overtures. Can't he see they're meant to be?
Dream Casting: Elisha Cuthbert.
The Dude: Judd Lauren. Before he escaped the PsyNet, he was an Arrow - a secret government Assassin capable of killing with his mind. Now he helps the SnowDancer pack, although he's not really accepted as a member by anyone other than Brenna.
The Rub: Brenna obviously wants to bone him, but his brain's trained itself to punish emotion with pain - because too much emotion means he could lose control of his killing powers. But - but Brenna is so pretty!
Dream Casting: Christian Bale.
Brenna: Be my boyfriend!
Brenna: That's NO WAY TO SPEAK TO YOUR GIRLFRIEND!
Brenna: Let's have sex!
Judd: No. I could kill you by accident.
Brenna: So you're just going to live in fear?
Judd: Fear of killing you by accident? Yes, that sounds about right.
Brenna: Grr! Men! *is almost killed several times*
Judd: Well, I suppose I could actually TRY to break silence. *breaks Silence* Huh. Easier than I thought.
Romance Convention Checklist
1 Emotionally-Constipated Hero
Several Bloody Muuuuuuurders
2 Magical Dreams
1 Magical Weave
2 Overprotective Siblings
1 (Literal) Broken Heart
1 Secret Psy Terrorist
Several Pieces of Broken Furniture
The Word: Okay, so this was supposed to be my Second Chance Challenge - Wandergurl from Bookthingo asked me to give Nalini Singh another try (in return, at some point she will read Prince of Midnight by Laura Kinsale). Now, my last attempt to read Nalini Singh didn't go so well. But - as many other blogger friends of mine have told me - her series is supposed to get better as it goes along. I decided to bypass Visions of Heat and go for Caressed by Ice, mainly because the Booksmugglers (who agreed Slave to Sensation wasn't all that) gave Caressed by Ice a perfect 10. A perfect 10! Everyone I meet seems to love Nalini Singh, and I'll admit, I was pretty eager to find a book of hers I liked so that I could join this large and boisterous fanclub.
And it's not like second chances never work - I found Julie Anne Long that way. So did I succeed this time?
It's a good thing that I read Slave to Sensation, because it does give me more insight into the third book in the series, Caressed by Ice. In the Psy-Changling universe, the world is controlled by three races - humans, changelings (werecreatures) and the Psy (powerful psychics). For the last century or so, the Psy have enforced Silence upon their people: a complete repression of all emotion in an effort to curb their race's tendency towards violent insanity. In Sensation, wolf changeling Brenna Shane Kincaid was kidnapped by Santano Enrique, a sadistic telekinetic Psy who murdered changeling women - after torturing, mind-raping, and performing horrendous experiments on them first. Thankfully, the DarkRiver leopards and the SnowDancer wolves managed to rescue Brenna, but not before she'd endured unthinkable horror and abuse.
By the time of Caressed By Ice, Brenna has come a long way along the road to recovery, but she's not (and might never be) completely healed. The loving but stifling overprotectiveness of her brothers is beginning to take its toll, and she's tired of being "poor Brenna." Everyone continues to handle her with kid gloves, but she longs to regain her role in the Pack, even as she has to deal with the humiliating secret that Enrique's torture has left her unable to shift into her wolf form.
The only one who treats her with any degree of normalcy is Judd Lauren, a member of the Psy family the SnowDancer pack unofficially adopted. As mentioned back in Slave to Sensation, the Lauren family, when sentenced to rehabilitation (lobotomies) by the Psy Council, found a way to drop out of the PsyNet (the mental life-support-and-infosharing-network all Psy belong to), and break Silence. However, Judd continues to embrace Silence - without emotions, he lacks the instinct to coddle Brenna and she prefers this. She's attracted to his strength and to the fact that he refuses to baby her. Trying for some independence in her life, she decides to pursue her attraction.
Unfortunately for her, Judd cannot afford to break Silence. Unbeknownst to her, before he dropped out of the PsyNet, he used to be an Arrow - a supersecret assassin for the Psy council, chosen because he has a specific type of telekinesis that allows him to kill with a thought. Silence protects him from losing control of his powers and accidentally killing someone in a rage, and his embedded Arrow training causes his mind to inflict pain on itself whenever he feels emotion. On top of all these science-fictional obstacles is his understandable conviction that Brenna needs someone warm, loving, and untainted by blood and death. Furthermore - he's sure that if she finds out about his special brand of telekinesis (the same form her torturer had) she'll want nothing to do with him.
We have all the building blocks of a great story - obstacles both emotional and physical, intricate world building, two very damaged characters. This should be great, right?
If Linnea Sinclair had written this book, I would have loved it. If Kate Elliott had written this book, I would have adored it. As it was, Nalini Singh wrote this book and reading Caressed by Ice only confirmed for me that I just plain don't like her writing.
It's blunt. It's unimaginative. It's a pounding hammer that tells, tells, TELLS us what's going on in declarative, Captain-Obvious statements instead of showing us. You could boil down her romantic plotting to this: Take two romantic protagonists. Add one Really Big Obstacle. Have characters repeat Really Big Obstacle a million, gajillion times until they eventually tire of saying it, which is usually when they discover - wow! - a totally simple solution to their Really Big Obstacle that was there all along!
As for her worldbuilding, she prefers to distribute it with generous infodumping. Her regular sentence structure is: Line of dialogue - infodump about world. Line of dialogue - more redundant or irrelevant explanation about world. Line of dialogue - here's the author telling us something about Brenna or Hawke or any of the other characters instead of showing us so we can figure it out for ourselves. Rinse and repeat. There's actually a hilarious scene where Brenna gets into the shower to clean away her feelings of being dirty after what Enrique did to her - and then we get an infodump about the water purifying systems the changelings and Psy use. How is that relevant? Why do we, the reader, need to know this? Laughably - why is Brenna thinking about this as she's trying to wash away the taint of her abuser?
A lot of the infodumpery is stuff that, while occasionally interesting, isn't relevant to the story at hand. I prefer my worldbuilding to be expressed through the decisions, actions, thoughts, and dialogue of the characters - not parcelled out every three lines. I appreciate that Nalini Singh created a wonderfully realized and detailed world - I also appreciate the urge to tell the readers all about her awesome new world even if it has no bearing on the story. It doesn't mean she has to, or even that she should.
When it comes right down to it, I appreciated more than enjoyed this story, and way more than I bought the romance. For instance, I appreciated why Brenna decided to go after Judd. However, I also saw that a lot of what she liked about Judd was thanks to the Silence Protocol - he didn't baby her like her brothers did, but that was thanks to the fact that he didn't experience the crushing guilt/anger/relief her brothers did that influenced their decisions.
Brenna also got on my nerves with the way she just decides she and Judd are a couple - without giving Judd a chance to approve, consent, or even return her feelings. Then she throws shitfits at Judd for not living up to her expectations of the relationship she's suddenly decided they have - bitching at him for not taking her side in an argument, or for going somewhere to do his own business without telling her. I never understood where her sense of entitlement with Judd came from.
I'd almost feel sorry for Judd - if Nalini Singh ever bothered to give me a reason to care for him. Again, I think this is mostly due to Singh's tell-over-show writing style, but I felt continually at a distance while reading about Judd. He never really feels or exhibits any emotion - we're told what he does, but not how he feels. A lot of the descriptions of Judd's "softer" side are told in the manner of "I shouldn't have put my arm around her, but for some reason I did." See - with a line like this I don't get that Judd's feeling anything other than befuddlement that his body isn't obeying his mind.
Of course, when his "feelings" start getting stronger, again, we're not shown about how he feels, we're treated to technical descriptions of how his brain is punishing him with pain for feeling. There was no sense of progression or reaction from him - Brenna spots tell-tale gleams in his eye on occasion, but frankly that's not enough. Nearing the end of the book, when a Silence loophole allows Judd and Brenna to get it on, all of sudden Judd has a sense of humour and foreplay. Um, what?
Because of that, I felt there was no chemistry between Brenna and Judd at all - it was like watching Brenna try and seduce a department store mannequin while screaming about how cold and cowardly the mannequin is for not responding. While feeling nothing for the mannequin, I doubted Brenna's motivations - why does she believe she's owed something from a person who's literally given her nothing to work with? Similarly, Brenna refutes Judd's very reasonable and dangerous objections to their relationship without a thought - surely, Judd can "get over it" if he loves Brenna enough. It added a troubling layer of selfishness to their interactions - Brenna doesn't seem to care what happens to Judd, so long as her romantic expectations are validated.
Along with the romance, there is a suspense subplot where someone tries to kill Brenna but don't label it a mystery - the killer's identity is a non issue since he appears exactly once at the beginning of the novel and then never again until he's caught. We also have some issues with Brenna's recovery that remained inconsistent - I still never caught on to how Brenna was picking up on other people's dreams and, of course, once her dreams conveniently help her solve a murder, she never has these oh-so-convenient dreams again.
On a positive note - aside from these points and Singh's writing style, the story manages to tiptoe gracefully across pretty unstable ground. I appreciated (again, note the word appreciated) that Brenna's recovery was not absolute, that she still had embedded fears and triggers that could set them off, but she remained a strong and defiant character. I can't help but compare her to Sascha from Slave to Sensation: both characters went through shit, but while Sascha was a soggy kleenex of neediness, Brenna didn't let Enrique make her a permanent victim. Yes, she remains an irritating character with a bizarre sense of entitlement - but she's not a victim.
Still, I won't be giving Nalini Singh any more chances. Again, I feel a little disappointed that I didn't like it - and also confused as to why people did. However, I also have to accept that my tastes are my own, and despite consciously and deliberately trying to like Caressed By Ice, I was left unsatisfied by ham-handed writing and irritating characters.