I have been waiting for this Iron Seas novella forever! Okay, maybe not forever, but the original publication date was supposed to happen in April, so it’s been two months of me chomping at the bit wondering why the latest installment of the Iron Seas series was not residing happily in my kindle.
Knowing how busy Meljean Brook is pumping out books, I’m hardly going to criticize, particularly since she priced this beauty at only $.99 for the first couple of weeks! That would be a terrific price for just her novella, but I enjoyed the other two stories in this anthology, and they were all of very decent length (definitely novellas and not short stories).
With the excellent title of Fire & Frost, these authors have each crafted a tale in which one character seems a bit cooler and one is running damn hot. Whether you plan on chilling out in the air conditioning this summer or soaking up the sun, this anthology has something to help you get into the vacation spirit!
“Speed Mating” by Jessica Sims
I’d never read anything by Jessica Sims before, but I enjoyed this novella, set in the same world as her Midnight Liaisons series (whose books I have now ordered!). Sims specializes in shifter romances and since I like a certain tone to my shifters (see my effusive posts regarding Jennifer Ashley’s Shifters Unbound series and you’ll get the drift), I was pleased to find myself enjoying her characters and their dilemma.
Estella is a liger – half lion, half tiger – trying to stay off the radar in Vic’s tiger clan. Most shifters are not accepting of hybrids, so she considers the wary glances and automatic distance par for the course. Who would be interested in a 6′ 2″ liger when hybrids are known to be sterile? Not a shifter male for sure.
But now the tables have turned because Estrella realizes she’s going into heat, a sign that she is in fact fertile. Surprise! With her body knocking loudly on her door, she needs help choosing someone to be the father of her baby. Someone responsible, hopefully sexy, someone strong, someone a lot like…her alpha?
Muscled, tattooed, body shop owner Vic is all those things and the head of their clan. He accepted her when no one was inclined to and she’s forever grateful, but Vic is reserved and continually frowning, making her confession of her dilemma all the more embarrassing. He immediately seizes on the crux of the problem and says that she and her future baby have nothing to worry about – they will both always have a place in the clan. Estrella is grateful and clearly her desire to rub up against Vic is just the heat talking, right?
She tries a shifter dating service, interviewing tigers from other clans, and trying to stave off the problem herself with open windows and cold baths, but nothing works. Throughout it all, her alpha is “involved” and his presence must be the reason that everyone looks like chopped liver in comparison to him. But until she tries a hare-brained scheme dreamt up by a friend, Estrella won’t be able to tell if Vic would really be willing to “help” her.
My sole criticism of this novella would be that we only ever experience the heroine’s POV and while it perfectly defines the conflict, I do prefer to hear what’s going through the sexy hero’s mind as well, particularly when the heroine has reason to have low self-esteem regarding her body and the acceptance of others. I’m looking forward to trying Sims’ other novels after reading this example.
“Conjuring Max” by Carolyn Crane
It’s the 1980s and Veronica is a witch interested in all those newfangled personal computers. Her unorthodox approach to witchcraft using bits and bytes is brilliant, but she’s gotten the attention of more than a few dangerous characters, witch and human, with her craft. Which is why she keeps conjuring dead detective Max out of a photograph in order to protect her from the bad guys.
Max may not be able to stand Veronica’s fixation with Don Johnson in Miami Vice (that guy is a horrible cop, after all) but he’s more than happy to keep protecting Veronica and killing bad guys. He’s been killed a few more times himself, but always brings him back as they are both determined to bring down the mob lowlife targeting her because she used her magic to put his son behind bars.
The problem is that Veronica, with her isolated life and mangled leg, doesn’t like all the feelings she has for Max, feelings that make her feel vulnerable and wishing she wasn’t covered with scars or walked with a limp. Max sees Veronica for the powerful, smart woman she is and forces her to confront her fears and live life to the fullest, something that’s easy to model when he’s only on it for seven days at a time. When the forces against them threaten not just their lives and new feelings for each other, but Max’s ability to keep coming back to life, this couple must face head on the heartache that comes from love.
This was a highly unusual novella that threw me through a loop. The 1980s setting was startling and it took me a while to warm up to Veronica. Crane skillfully writes the situation, peeling back one layer after another so you gradually understand the situation and the characters, a comprehension which leads you to appreciate and care for them.
“Wrecked” by Meljean Brook
Here is the story I purchased the anthology for! Another installment in Brook’s brilliant Iron Seas series, in this novella we see lovely Elizabeth on the run from her powerful father. Continually tracked by hunters – indentured servants tied to him via shackle bracelets which will kill them if they do not return to him periodically for resetting – Elizabeth is lonely but thankful for her freedom as she moves from place to place assuming different identities wherever she goes.
A few years ago she was actually caught by one of them, the handsome Caius. She had been enamored of Caius since he arrived at her father’s menagerie at the age of fifteen, just a few years older than her, but his anger and disgust at what he viewed as her privileged lifestyle could not have pushed them farther apart. After her father’s heart-stopping plan for her was revealed, Elizabeth fled in horror. When Caius captured her and attempted to bring her home, she revealed to him why she was running. He didn’t believe her and instead told her about himself – his childhood, how he missed his mother and sister, how he had been in love years ago with a girl – and explained that her father agreed to give him his freedom if Caius returned his only daughter. Realizing she couldn’t ask this man to surrender his freedom for hers, Elizabeth chooses to risk death by leaping from the train over an abyss in the hope that she can escape and live.
It’s now a few years later and Caius waits in shadows watching Elizabeth flee her father’s hunters and hounds as she finds an airship which will get them off her scent. He is elated she’s alive but knows she doesn’t realize that he has been tracking her since her escape – not to recapture her for her father, but because her leap to freedom shattered him, releasing the knowledge that his anger over all the years was due to the fact that he didn’t want her to be as beautiful and kind as she appeared. Yet tracking her and hearing how she was the same sweet lonely girl everywhere she went confirmed he has been a fool. Making an incredible personal sacrifice has separated him from her father and his mission is now to protect her from the man’s clutches.
Naturally Caius’ appearance on the airship throws Elizabeth into a panic – he’s even more handsome than ever before – but she knows she can’t trust him after he was willing to give her back to her father even after she told him the insane man’s plan for her. Yet Caius’ confession of his longstanding love for her and his protective behavior as they come under attack prove he might be telling the truth.
Meljean Brook’s ability to write characters who are both vulnerable and damaged while having enormous strength never ceases to amaze me. The Iron Seas world is once again drawn phenomenally well and the reader needs no knowledge of previous books in the series to enjoy this in depth steampunk work. Fans of the series, however, will love seeing the little bits and pieces they already know, including their favorite mercenary airship toward the end of the novella. I would recommend that if longstanding admirers of the series haven’t read Tethered, the recent novella that is a follow-up to Heart of Steel, you might want to do so in order to understand why a female quartermaster stands on the deck of Yasmeen’s ship.
Now I just have to wait a month until the next novella in the series – to be published in the Enthralled anthology – comes out under the Berkley Trade label on July 2nd. Considering Meljean’s ability to write one amazing story after another in this world, I have zero doubt it will live up to my high expectations of her writing.