Since reading this novel, I’ve been wracking my brain for something good to say about it, and I’ve finally come up with one: it’s recyclable. Since this is the first book I’ve read for review, I was really hoping to find something to recommend about it, but sadly, I didn’t enjoy even a single moment.
Ice Maiden is set in 1206 on Fair Isle, an island off the Shetlands, in what is now the UK. A shipwrecked Scot named George awakens to find himself the captive of the island’s Viking inhabitants. For some reason, they speak the same language as he does, although it’s never clear what language that could be; English, Gaelic, or even a Norse tongue are all possibilities. One thing is for sure, and that is that whatever language it may be, it sure sounds like modern English (except for George’s, which sounds like modern English with an on-again-off-again bad Scottish accent). Early in the novel, the heroine refers to herself in the future tense as a “divorcée”, and later, when the hero is confronted by a band of Viking bullies, their leader demands to know “Whatcha lookin’ at, Scotsman?” The first instance caught me somewhere between a groan and a laugh. The second made me want to cry; after all, it was only chapter three. While I wouldn’t expect to the author to write in an authentic tongue (which wouldn’t be something we could understand anyway) the totally modern language just made a disappointing read that much worse.
Language aside, the book suffers from inconsistent characterizations and unbelievable plot mechanisms. The heroine, Rika, believes that all men are violent, sadistic rapists like her missing fiancée Brodir, but at the same time she apparently excludes her guardian Lawmaker from that description, just as she does her enslaved brother Gunnar (whom she is sacrificing all to save), and her trusted friends Ottar, Leif and Erik. In fact, her father and the hero, George, are the only ones to whom she actually applies this supposedly all-encompassing bias. But the main plot hinges on her marrying him in order to gain her dowry from her father, so that she can rescue her brother from slavery. Of course, there are several men on the island – including ones she trusts – who would gladly marry her and/or help in any way she chooses, but for unclear reasons, Rika insists that George is the only possible choice. In addition, she refuses his proffered coin – which would enable her to free her brother as well – for reasons only she understands.
Our hero is no gem either. Proud and stubborn, he refuses at every turn to marry her, but when Lawmaker sends him into a sauna and he spies Rika naked, he stumbles drunkenly out and immediately agrees to the marriage. Apparently, the site of her naked – although he claims to not be attracted to her – is enough to overcome his massive Scottish pride and stubbornness. Toward the middle of the book, Rika falls out of a ship during a storm, and George pauses to consider how convenient it would be if she drowned and he were free of her, before reluctantly diving in to save her. Perhaps this is a great romance in that sense, at least: these two deserve each other.
Throughout the nonsensical plot, Rika constantly keeps secrets from George, and he keeps secrets from her, apparently for no better reason than to cause trouble, and propagate unbelievable Little Misunderstandings, which cause the book (and the pain) to drag on even longer than necessary.
This is the first Harlequin Historical I’ve ever read, and frankly, if this is the level they consider publishable, it may well be the last. If you’re looking for a good Celtic/Viking romance, this is just not it. Go find Johanna Lindsey’s Hardraad series instead. Each story has everything this one does not: a believable plot, excellent characterizations, and a memorable romance.