Winter Kissed, a two author anthology by Michele Hauf and Vivi Anna
Published by Harlequin’s Nocturne line, Winter Kissed is actually two short novels, under a hundred and fifty pages each. I was very excited when I got this book in a giveaway because I had not read anything by either of the two authors. Having heard good things about both, I was anxious to try their work.
I am rather sad to say that I didn’t enjoy either of the stories, for different reasons.
While both stories share a basic setting and general premise-paranormal beings and winter myths-they are not connected in any way. Please note that there are spoilers in this review for the first story. Since I’m extremely allergic to spoilers myself, it is not done lightly in my reviews; consider yourselves warned.
Ice Bound, by Vivi Anna
Another paranormal romance dealing with winter myths, Ice Bound is a re-imagining of the Japanese legend of the Snow Woman, who is said to kill stranded travelers in frozen Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. Here is the blurb:
On a special mission to Japan, Dr Darien Calder hopes to learn more about the legendary Ice Maiden, who purportedly froze lost travelers with just a touch of her icy lips. But when she rescues him from a snowdrift, will the warmth of Darien’s newfound love be enough to thaw the Ice Maiden’s heart?
While Darien’s reasons for being in Hokkaido are explained with some detail in the first chapter, the story is really about his meeting, and his developing relationship with, Koori-Onna, the mythical Ice Maiden. Once human, Koori has been cursed for a thousand years to ferry the souls of those lost in snowstorms and blizzards to ‘the other side.’
This curse is the punishment meted out to her by her brother in law, a powerful mage, in revenge for the death of Koori’s husband. As is de rigeur with curses, there is a way to break this one, though neither Koori nor Darien know for sure what this is (even though Koori repeats the mage’s words). Both the characters and the reader start getting an inkling of the answer as things between these two heat up (heh, bad pun), and there are some interesting scenes related to this-such as the self-healing ice castle and the labyrinth.
This story worked a bit better for me A Kiss of Frost, in large part because it focuses on the two main characters instead of a large cast, but it’s not without some major issues.
For one, there was too much repetition, which is never good but it’s particularly bad for such a short story. Koori mentions her lover, Shiro-or Shiro, her lover, that’s the extent of the variation-four or five times, when once would really have been enough.
Then there are the language choices-and while I am the first to admit, English not being my first language, that it’s easy for language quirks to intrude in one’s writing, there should be limits to this. For example, how can a person dry off meagerly after a bath? Quickly, yes; haphazardly, yes. Meagerly? Not so much, no.
Then we have the contradictions.
Koori remembers pain and violence as the legacy of her marriage, and while I am willing to assume that her sexual experience with Shiro must have been better than that, I find it difficult to reconcile repeated sexual abuse with her thinking of herself as “once being a woman who enjoyed the sexual arts, who excelled at them” (emphasis mine). I mean, she was cursed pretty much immediately after her husband’s death, and there are no indications that her affair lasted all that long, so when did she have time to become an expert at sex?
Further, as Ice Maiden, Koori has remained in her prison for a thousand years (how does she measure the time again? but never mind that) leaving it only for short periods of time, and then only to meet the poor souls whom she’ll finish off and ‘ferry over.’ There is nothing there about long conversations about politics, technology or current pop culture. How is it, then, that Koori knows what Darien is doing in Japan and not only understands English but speaks it so well?
Of the two main characters, Darien is just too perfect for the part of hero-he falls in love with Koori’s ethereal, perfect beauty on sight, and is forever more willing to sacrifice his life to free her from the curse. (No need to know the person behind the face and body, really-and who knows how he’ll feel about it once she starts getting wrinkly and saggy.)
Darien is also a Boy Scout, having extra thermal clothing and footwear in his backpack (he should have packed a towel instead-and not just so that he could dry off properly instead of meagerly).
Koori is a tad more fleshed out, feeling some regret for her adultery, but her attraction to Darien feels too self serving for most of the story-she wonders if he’s the one who’ll break the curse. So now that he has and she has to live with the man who is likely not to pick up after himself and never to hand over the remote, I wonder how long the attraction will last.
Ice Bound gets a 5 out of 10.