The Steel Caress
Major Sarah Ravenowski was an ordinary-looking but effective agent for the U.S. Army’s Central Intelligence Division. Then, on a mission in China, she was shot in the face and left for dead. She survives and deserts the army, believing she was abandoned by her superior officer and lover, Kalen Grady. Bitter and driven, she knows she can never return to the U.S. Endless reconstructive surgeries later she is known as Raven, the world’s most successful supermodel, using her anger at Kalen as her career’s fuel. Before a fashion show, she thinks, “Take your photographs. I want him to see what he made out of me. What I made out of what he abandoned.”
Kalen Grady is a general who still does field espionage (as if the supermodel scenario weren’t unlikely enough); he’s on some sort of important mission involving Chinese tong activity and some Japanese swords. I’ll admit right now that I never understood what the swords had to do with anything – if I were trying to stop organized crime I’d be digging through financial records, not worrying about cutlery. But anyway. A tong heir who was going to give him the swords is murdered along with his girlfriend, who is also a supermodel.
Kalen shows up in Paris with plans to recruit Raven in order to help find the murderer because, as a model and the dead woman’s friend, Raven has an inside track. Sparks fly between the two, who just can’t stay away from each other in spite of their mutual mistrust – Raven is convinced Kalen betrayed her and Kalen, who has known for some time that Raven is really Sarah, believes for some reason that she is a traitor.
What made this book for me, in spite of numerous problems, is the character of Raven. I have a weak spot for characters who are not what they seem to be. Raven’s glamorous life, stunning beauty, and smart-ass attitude all serve to mask a lot of pain. But she’s not crippled by her pain: she’s forthright, self-confident, and deeply honorable. I loved her breezy wit and found her to be good company for this ride. There’s also some fun adventure and a very entertaining court-martial sequence that I loved.
It was no trouble at all to suspend my disbelief for the highly unlikely scenarios contained within this book, but the large gaps in backstory were a problem. I’ve already mentioned my confusion as to exactly how these swords fit in to anything. More problematic is the conflict between Raven and Kalen. Why did she jump to the conclusion that he abandoned her to death in China? Why exactly did/does Kalen believe Raven might be a traitor? What happened at a prior incident in New Orleans that was apparently quite incendiary? I don’t know what happened during that meeting (though some of it I can guess). Because of all this missing information – this lack of backstory – I couldn’t quite get a handle on the things that were keeping Raven and Kalen apart.
I understand that much, perhaps all, of this was covered in the last novel, The Deepest Edge. But what good does that do me? This is Kalen and Raven’s story, so that information about Kalen and Raven should be in this book.
One of the most crippling effects of this is that we never get to know the hero well, even though several sections are told in his point of view. We know that Kalen loves Raven, is jealous and possessive of her, is upset when their work puts her in danger. So why, when she returned from China, did he not seek her out? Why doesn’t he have anything to do with her unless he wants her to work for him? What is the root of his mistrust for her? Who is this guy? The two finally have a reconciliation during which some of this is brought out into the open, but that should have happened a lot sooner. Since he acts like an overbearing jerk sometimes, perhaps the background information on him would have made him more understandable and likable.
If you like action-packed thriller-style romances and smart, funny heroines, you will probably like The Steel Caress. I liked it. But this author needs to try harder to make her books stand on their own.