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Review: Caressed by Ice by Nalini Singh

caressed by ice nalini singh Review: Caressed by Ice by Nalini Singh

A protocol universally applied to Psy children, the Silence program is designed to ameliorate any propensity towards violence, a trait that has an eerie prevalence amongst the highly intellectual race. However, in seeking to protect the few who may pose a threat, Silence goes a step, or several, further. Completion of the program results in what is near enough to an emotional lobotomy: a dimming of expression, the loss of creativity and spontaneity. For many Psy, this is simply the way things are. For some, those with certain attributes that require them to hungrily engage with emotion, such as the elusive E-Psy, the empaths of the race, Silence is a cage. But for some, it is a form of protection.

Judd Lauren is one for whom this is the case. Designated a Tk-Psy, or telekinetic, from birth, Judd is part of the subset of Psy most predisposed towards violence. Unbeknownst to most, though, the ever-pragmatic Psy Council has devised a specialised use for these individuals, subjecting them to highly specialised training in order that they might become Arrows, skilled and deadly assassins. Judd, having defected along with his family from the all-encompassing PsyNet, has been granted asylum amongst the SnowDancer wolves, but although his days as an Arrow are formally over, he continues to work as a contractor for the wolf alpha, performing whatever violent acts are required of him. It is in this contractor role, albeit in a rather unusual iteration of itrescuing, rather than slayingthat he first comes across Brenna Kincaid, a changeling who has been mentally and physically brutalised at the hands of the wayward erstwhile Psy councillor Enrique Santano.

While Brenna seems initially all but broken as a result of her ordeal, she fights to regain her sense of autonomy and strength, refusing to allow Santono to continue to wield his power over her after the event. But Brenna is affected more deeply than she admits: not only has she lost her ability to shift, a vital part of her changeling identity, but she is experiencing strange mental disturbances that she cant help but associate with those of the Psy. As a result, Brennas sense of self is tenuous, and is about to become more so. It seems that Brenna is once more at riskand this time the threat seems to be coming from within the DarkRiver Pack. Her investigative efforts thwarted time and time again by her protective Pack brothers, Brenna finds herself turning quite unexpectedly to Judd Lauren for support and, it turns out, quite a bit more.'But Judd is scarcely in a position to deal with her advances. Judd is one of the few who takes solace in Silence, relying on the Pavlovian viciousness of his conditioning to keep his dark inner self in check, and getting too close to Brenna may result in an outcome as cruelly terrible as that instigated by Santano.

Caressed by Ice is the third in Nalini Singhs Psy-Changeling cycle, and while its possible to read it as a standalone, those who do so as part of a sequence will likely get more out of it. Singh has constructed a dense backdrop against which to pin her novels, and her cumulative approach to world building will put readers at a bit of a disadvantage if they come into this series midway. However, its unfortunate that while her world building is generally the strongest component of these books, helping to raise them above the standard shifter romance fare, there are certain inconsistencies that pop up between the books. Its as though Singh has happily put in the hard yards with the broad-brush world building, but has no issue with taking a few liberties with some of the smaller novel-level elements, which she is happily making up as she goes along. The Tk-Psy in this book, for example, are a subset of Psy not previously mentioned; similarly, the F-Psy were novel to the previous volume. There is also the introduction of the Arrows, an introduction which, forefronted rather blatantly in the prologue, feels tacked on rather than integrated, and one cant help but feel that in the next book we might become privy to yet another subset of heretofore unmentioned Psy capabilities or even a new chunk of Psy history. Its a shame that these elements are introduced so awkwardly, as they serve to undermine what is otherwise a largely coherently constructed world.

Its not just the retrospective world building that sits a little awkwardly (rather like a jauntily tilted cap in a gusting wind) in this particular installment of the Psy-Changling cycle, however. While I have to admit that Singh does offer a wonderfully paced rip-snorter of a novel that really is quite difficult to put down, I found myself rather more ambivalent about this third outing than I did about the previous two books. The relationship between Judd and Brenna is rather difficult to stomach, for one. Brenna, perhaps due to the trauma experienced at the hands (and mind) of Santoro, latches on to Judd almost on a whim, it seems: Judd, unlike her protective brothers, sees no point in handling Brenna with kid-gloves, and Brenna seems to take this as a sign that they are fated to become mates, which, for those not in the know, is a life-long, monogamous pairing. Brennas attraction to Judd is so abrupt that it seems almost ersatz, almost plaintively wishful, and her constant, needy advances and increasingly possessive behaviour towards him become rather painful, particularly when one is given insight into Judds reticence at instigating a relationship. Judd, after all, is struggling to deal with a two-pronged set of challenges. First, his rigorous training under the Silence doctrine is such that every touch, every emotion that bubbles its way to the surface is met with incalculable pain. But worse, he has a very real fear that breaking the Silence in order to be with Brenna may result in her death, or the death of others. Despite the fact that Judd is open with Brenna about this not insubstantial problem, she persists, which seems an odd response given her prior ordeal with Santano, whose particular psychic abilities rather eerily mirror Judds own. But Judd himself seems to submit to Brennas advances rather promptlyodd, given that he has a lifetimes worth of conditioning against feeling in the first place, and that he is aware of the potential outcome. Moreover, when Judd does eventually choose to break from Silence, the entire event, one that he has spent some time anguishing over beforehand, is over with little more than a snap of the fingers and a few pieces of broken furniture.

Readers should also be aware that Caressed by Ice is less of a mystery than its predecessors (both of which, despite being largely romance-focused, did contain fairly substantial mystery elements). While the reader is led to believe that they should be attempting to solve a who-dunnit whilst raising an eyebrow at Judd and Brennas shenanigans, the eventual reveal is rather less than inspiring given that the character in question has only been mentioned once prior, and even then only in passing. Rather than focusing on the murders, its perhaps best to turn ones attention to the gathering storm that is the clustering of dissent on the PsyNetdespite the frantic positioning of the Psy Council, there are a number of disenfranchised Psy poised to take action that may result in a drastic power shift in Psy governance. Given Singhs sophisticated approach to world building, Im intrigued to see how this political manoeuvring plays outgiven the callous and calculating nature of the Psy, things are no doubt about to become a good deal more interesting. I should also mention that, to Singhs credit, the author does deal with Brennas response to her ordeal in a sensitive and thoughtful manner, rather than resorting to simplistic victim or empowered as a result discourses.

Caressed by Ice is not a book without flaws. In fact, its a book that is somehow immensely readable despite its flaws. And, in spite of myself, I have to admit that even given my numerous and unremitting qualms about these books, I find myself increasingly taken with the world that Singh is slowly and carefully building. While the romantic aspects of her books arent necessarily my cup of tea, I can certainly see how they will appeal to others, and for me, well, the speculative elements are doing their fair share to hold my interest enough to pick up subsequent books in the series.

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Purchase Caressed by Ice

With thanks to Gollancz Australia for the review copy.

See our review of 'Slave to Sensation, the first in the Psy-Changeling cycle

See our review of'Visions of Heat, the second in the Psy-Changeling cycle

See our review of'Angels Blood, Guild Hunter #1

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