Oddly enough, although I thought Ice Blue suffered from a number of problems, I enjoyed it nonetheless. The third in Anne Stuart’s Ice series, it’s not as good as the first book, Black Ice, but much better than the second, Cold As Ice. It’s kind of a mess, but an agreeable one.
When Summer Hawthorne was a child, her beloved Japanese nanny gave her a beautiful ice blue bowl to look after until she returned. The nanny was killed shortly afterward, and the bowl remained in Summer’s possession, one of her most cherished belongings. Then her flaky mother falls under the spell of the Shirosama, head of Hollywood’s latest fad religion, the True Realization Fellowship. While the bowl holds great sentimental value to Summer, it holds even greater meaning to the fanatical Shirosama, who plans to use it in a ceremony to spark a global apocalypse, purging evil from the world. Summer doesn’t know his reasons, of course. She just knows there’s no way she’s forking over the bowl to the creepy crackpot. But she learns the hard way the Shirosama doesn’t play fair when it comes to getting what he wants when she’s kidnapped from the museum where the bowl is on display.
The mysterious Takashi O’Brien comes to her rescue. But he, who claims to be with the Japanese Department of Antiquities, may be an even greater threat than her abductors. Taka’s mission is to stop the Shirosama’s plans, and if that means killing Summer to prevent the cult leader from getting to her bowl, then so be it. When Summer reveals that the bowl on display isn’t the real one, but actually a replica, she earns herself a reprieve until she reveals the location of the real bowl. But the longer they find themselves on the run from the Shirosama’s ruthless minions, the more Taka finds his resolve regarding Summer’s ultimate fate threatened.
The book is neither as tightly written nor plotted as Stuart’s best. It’s kind of all over the place, and not all of it works. There’s a subplot involving Summer’s sister that I couldn’t have cared less about, both because the sister is annoying and it unfolds too predictably. Some of the early scenes from the point of view of Taka’s boss Isobel seem to exist solely to say, “Hi! I’m Isobel! My book’s coming up next! Here’s some slapdash character insight to get you interested in my story in case you weren’t already! Don’t forget to buy it!” On the other hand, the Shirosama starts out as a truly chilling villain, a religious fanatic capable of just about anything. His early scenes pack a real punch and are truly scary. But it may have been better to get less of him to keep that sense of menace intact. After a while, some of the scenes from his perspective became more tedious than creepy, until I started to think, “Good Lord. Not more of this windbag.” The all-powerful Committee’s ability to get its members in the right place at the right time also verges on ridiculous, and both the climactic scene and ending underwhelmed me.
And yet, it was still a fairly fun read while it lasted. The story works best, as Stuart’s so often do, when it sticks to the interactions between the main characters, exploring the tension between a vulnerable woman and a dangerous man. With the exception of some of the more effective scenes of the villain and his scary minions, most of the rest of the book just seemed like filler to me, extraneous stuff I had to sit through to get to the meat of the story. Fortunately, the meat was pretty good. Stuart delivers the expected intensity and darkness in their relationship, and the result is as deliciously fascinating as it should be. I found Taka’s ambivalence about killing Summer more involving than a similar dilemma in Cold As Ice, with those moments where it seemed as though he might go through with it utterly gripping.
Both characters are engaging, even if neither feels entirely fully-formed. Summer is perhaps an overly familiar Stuart heroine, with too many recognizable traits from previous Stuart books. She may not be winning any Strongest Heroine contests, but she does show some spark and has enough fight in her from being completely weak. Predictably enough, the hero is the more intriguing character (though his cousin Reno is even more fascinating – now there’s someone whose book I’m dying to read). Besides the moral ambiguity surrounding his character, I’m always interested in Asian heroes, and Taka’s cultural background gives him some interesting dimensions, even if I did think certain aspects of his character could have been developed more. All of the Japanese aspects, from Taka’s character to the history of the bowl, were very cool and really gave the story a fresh, unique flavor.
Ice Blue doesn’t come close to Stuart’s best, or even the best in this series, but at its heart is another compelling tale of dark attraction and irresistible passion that should keep fans of this author and this series hungry for more.