How do you like your heroes? If you like them morally ambiguous, deadly and taciturn, you may want to give the Ice series by Anne Stuart a whirl. Stuart has been at her craft for 35 years — she holds a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Romance Writers of American — and her experience is evident in the sure hand she wields when it comes to the characters, pacing and conflict in these romantic suspense stories.
The Ice series is composed of six novels so far:
1. Black Ice
2. Cold As ice
3. Ice Blue
4. Ice Storm
5. Fire And Ice
6. On Thin Ice
A heads-up if you're one of those people who has to read a series from the beginning: Here at Moore Library, we've got No. 2-5 in the series. So I haven't read the first one, Black Ice, or the most recent one, Thin Ice, which is actually only available through Amazon in their Kindle ebook format. (Next month it will come out as an audiobook.) But rest assured that these books can easily be read as standalones; Stuart provides you with what you need to know in each one and doesn't leave you wondering what's going on or who's who.
The Ice series revolves around the flinty-hearted operatives of The Committee, a shadowy international organization that fights terrorism with a ruthless, ends-justify-the-means mentality. Stuart uses a similar storyline in each: An agent on a mission from the Committee finds his (or her) plans inextricably linked to another person, typically a civilian who's in the wrong place at the wrong time. The operation goes awry, and the two are forced to go on the run together. Literal and figurative pyrotechnics ensue.
Yes, it's formulaic, but Stuart knows how to mix it up just enough to provide readers a pleasing combination of familiarity and variety.
As Stuart says herself in the video above, she's not for everyone, but if she is, she works really well. I think that's quite true. The spooks in the Ice stories aren't the gallant knights-in-white-armor types. They're stone-cold killers who often expend a great deal of energy debating whether or not to off the person they're corralled with, seeing them initially as an annoyance and liability. And when they're not in killer mode, the men in particular, they're usually cranky, mean and mocking.
But Stuart makes it work. She uses that dissonance between the two protagonists to create heat and tension. As their humanity is revealed, the male characters grow on you, as they do the the main female characters. Their crazy courtships, if you can call them that, play out amidst a backdrop of exotic locales, life-or-death situations and nefarious villains.
Nor is it the men who always save the day. One of series' main characters is a female Committee operative with formidable skills herself. But it's the relationship between the two main characters that serve as the heart of the story. And given that these are romantic suspense stories, there's never really any doubt how the end will play out. But Stuart, if she's to your taste, makes the journey worth it.
Check out this video to hear from Stuart herself on the series' conception: