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Winter Kissed, a two author anthology by Michele Hauf and Vivi Anna

winter-kissed

Published by Harlequin’s Nocturne line, Winter Kissed is actually two short novels, under a hundred and fifty pages each. I was very excited when I got this book in a giveaway because I had not read anything by either of the two authors. Having heard good things about both, I was anxious to try their work.

I am rather sad to say that I didn’t enjoy either of the stories, for different reasons.

While both stories share a basic setting and general premise-paranormal beings and winter myths-they are not connected in any way. Please note that there are spoilers in this review for the first story. Since I’m extremely allergic to spoilers myself, it is not done lightly in my reviews; consider yourselves warned.

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A Kiss of Frost, by Michele Hauf

This paranormal romance is loosely based on the myth of Jack Frost as a winter god, only not a benevolent and frivolous one. This Frost executes human beings whose actions and choices cause grave damage to the environment.

Here is the back cover blurb:

When winter god and assassin Jal Frost’s latest assignment targets mortal Kate Wilson, the last thing Jal anticipates is falling for his victim. But she provides a warmth unlike anything he’s known. Soon Jal faces his most vexing challenge as he must choose between the woman he loves and his duty as a god…

As background for Jal and Kate’s story, Ms Hauf creates a hierarchy of winter gods (Snow, Ice, Frost, Old Man Winter) and a mythology in which gods ‘serve’ for a millennium after which they are rewarded by becoming human and mortal again. Like the current gods, their replacements are born human ‘changelings’, orphaned by “the universe” at a very young age, and brought over to Nordica to be trained into their “banes” and godly duties.

Unfortunately for me, and while Jal is an engaging character in his innocence of all things human, there were too many inconsistencies between the rules of the universe and the actual behaviour of the characters for me to fully buy the story. And I don’t mean Jal falling in love with Kate-after all, there have to be exceptions to confirm the rule, right?

But when we are told that gods don’t have feelings, yet then we are told that Snow is cranky and bored; we are told that Snow is in love; we are shown that Old Man Winter can feel anger if defied by another god; we see that Ice feels enough compassion for Frost to plead his case before Old Man Winter and appeal to the latter’s ego (which last I looked is a feeling)… well, it would seem that the exception would be a winter god without feelings.

For her part Kate felt… well, short changed. Compared to Jal’s quaint innocence and confusion, she was much more limited, more… one dimensional. Her reactions feel more like plot device than anything a person would experience. Like, “oh, look, strange man shows up out of no where, in the middle of no where, obviously he’s trustworthy and I can give him my full name, profession, and details of my living arrangements”-not to mention nookie within a few days.

Not to mention her reaction to the existence of winter gods and her own changeling status, which I feel tempted to sum up with, “oh, so that explains why I’ve always been different.”

And that brings me to Kate’s backstory, which is also riddled with contradictions and holes-orphaned at birth by “the universe”, but gee, since she was adopted pretty quickly, the winter gods got fooled into thinking they had to kill her adoptive parents to bring her over. Excuse me? Gods being fooled by little things like adoption papers? And that’s but the beginning. Those pesky humans proved too hardy to be killed soon enough, so by the time they were killed she was too old.

Buy hey, what’s this I hear? Kate’s adoptive parents were killed on the third try (finally, go, winter gods!)… yet her adoptive mother-to whom she’s not close-lives down in Florida.

So… ummm… which is it?

And none of the above is really the worst.

I am afraid that the ending of this story breaks one of the tenets of romance for me-and here be the promised and dreaded spoilers: there is no happy ever after, there is no happy for now. What there is, and in an epilogue no less, is a “happy for one season a year until one of the two dies” thing that is, for me, more depressing that hopeful.

Last peeve: how can there be ten months between that last chapter, set in the middle of winter, and the first snowfall of the next winter in the epilogue? Are the years longer or the seasons shorter in this alternative universe? But no, the story is set in Minnesota, close enough to the Canadian border to sort of guaranteeing much longer winters than that, I would think.

Okay, I lied. That was not the last peeve, this is the last peeve: what are the mechanics of Jal suddenly being human and yet living in Kate’s cabin and, apparently, her life? If it’s not going to be explained, why even mention that he’s put her book together or that he’s in contact with the publishing house?

So we have poor to no character development, an absurdly contrived external conflict that breaks the rules of the universe, and a world building with so many holes, it collapses like house of cards build on an electric sander. And while the last one could be excused on the basis of length (after all, less than 150 pages makes for tight writing), there is no explaining away the other two.

A Kiss of Frost gets 4 out of 10 from me.

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Ice Bound, by Vivi Anna

Another paranormal romance dealing with winter myths, Ice Bound is a re-imagining of the Japanese legend of the Snow Woman, who is said to kill stranded travelers in frozen Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. Here is the blurb:

On a special mission to Japan, Dr Darien Calder hopes to learn more about the legendary Ice Maiden, who purportedly froze lost travelers with just a touch of her icy lips. But when she rescues him from a snowdrift, will the warmth of Darien’s newfound love be enough to thaw the Ice Maiden’s heart?

While Darien’s reasons for being in Hokkaido are explained with some detail in the first chapter, the story is really about his meeting, and his developing relationship with, Koori-Onna, the mythical Ice Maiden. Once human, Koori has been cursed for a thousand years to ferry the souls of those lost in snowstorms and blizzards to ‘the other side.’

This curse is the punishment meted out to her by her brother in law, a powerful mage, in revenge for the death of Koori’s husband. As is de rigeur with curses, there is a way to break this one, though neither Koori nor Darien know for sure what this is (even though Koori repeats the mage’s words). Both the characters and the reader start getting an inkling of the answer as things between these two heat up (heh, bad pun), and there are some interesting scenes related to this-such as the self-healing ice castle and the labyrinth.

This story worked a bit better for me A Kiss of Frost, in large part because it focuses on the two main characters instead of a large cast, but it’s not without some major issues.

For one, there was too much repetition, which is never good but it’s particularly bad for such a short story. Koori mentions her lover, Shiro-or Shiro, her lover, that’s the extent of the variation-four or five times, when once would really have been enough.

Then there are the language choices-and while I am the first to admit, English not being my first language, that it’s easy for language quirks to intrude in one’s writing, there should be limits to this. For example, how can a person dry off meagerly after a bath? Quickly, yes; haphazardly, yes. Meagerly? Not so much, no.

Then we have the contradictions.

Koori remembers pain and violence as the legacy of her marriage, and while I am willing to assume that her sexual experience with Shiro must have been better than that, I find it difficult to reconcile repeated sexual abuse with her thinking of herself as “once being a woman who enjoyed the sexual arts, who excelled at them” (emphasis mine). I mean, she was cursed pretty much immediately after her husband’s death, and there are no indications that her affair lasted all that long, so when did she have time to become an expert at sex?

Further, as Ice Maiden, Koori has remained in her prison for a thousand years (how does she measure the time again? but never mind that) leaving it only for short periods of time, and then only to meet the poor souls whom she’ll finish off and ‘ferry over.’ There is nothing there about long conversations about politics, technology or current pop culture. How is it, then, that Koori knows what Darien is doing in Japan and not only understands English but speaks it so well?

Of the two main characters, Darien is just too perfect for the part of hero-he falls in love with Koori’s ethereal, perfect beauty on sight, and is forever more willing to sacrifice his life to free her from the curse. (No need to know the person behind the face and body, really-and who knows how he’ll feel about it once she starts getting wrinkly and saggy.)

*ahem*

Darien is also a Boy Scout, having extra thermal clothing and footwear in his backpack (he should have packed a towel instead-and not just so that he could dry off properly instead of meagerly).

Koori is a tad more fleshed out, feeling some regret for her adultery, but her attraction to Darien feels too self serving for most of the story-she wonders if he’s the one who’ll break the curse. So now that he has and she has to live with the man who is likely not to pick up after himself and never to hand over the remote, I wonder how long the attraction will last.

Ice Bound gets a 5 out of 10.

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Winter Kissed can be ordered through amazon.com here and amazon uk here.

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