Science fiction romance requires a balance between the elements, which can be a struggle to maintain. In Frost and Flame, it’s more science fantasy, but the relationship develops along with the story in very real ways. It’s open-door romance and violence, so not for every reader, but the world building was fascinating and allowed the author to touch on deeper subjects.
Right off the bat, you have a realistically portrayed female lead who suffers from fibromyalgia. Because it’s both a romance and fantasy, the costs of her condition are not always in play. At the same time, neither is she cured at first contact, reducing her disability into a checkbox.
Nola must manage and work around her limitations. There’s a complicated genetic history (trying to leave it a surprise), and for most of the book, the improvement is temporary. Her condition mirrors the good days/bad days pattern if not in quality then in impact. Nola also demonstrates the inner strength necessary for survival even when it does nothing to improve her situation. This strength slowly undermines Bane’s prejudice against her bloodline and her physical weakness.
Bane steps into the story with a full history (as does Nola) that informs his path. He’ll let nothing stand in his way, and he already understands everything there is to know about himself. Except when the Terran he’s been dream-walking shows up as he demanded, the foundations of his world start to crack.
This is not a romance layered over a thin veneer of science fantasy. The romance and speculative fiction is twisted into a complex braid that works together. The book is set in a modern human world but with aliens bearing fantastical weapons engaged in a to-the-death battle for dominance over Earth. Humans are ignorant of the All War except for those drawn in by one of the combatants.
The blend of Nola’s “normal” life as a magazine columnist into Bane’s All War existence offers humor to balance out the graphic violence. The early open-door encounters are long and detailed. They include a little more rumination on the internal conflicts than I felt sustained the passionate tension, but I can’t argue how they added to the romantic development. Reflection changes their relationship, especially in how Bane and Nola see each other. Both had prejudice to overcome, though Nola would not have admitted it. She needs to see herself as he does, and he needs to separate the person from the labels he puts on her.
The issues around intimacy were enhanced by their cultural differences as well. The author explored the costs of desiring forbidden acts, for example, though what Bane’s culture shamed is standard in ours. She also looked at how a female-dominant culture could be just as tyrannical as a male depending on circumstances. While not an ideal portrayal, it helps illustrate the dangers of following the norms without question.
The writing drew me in most of the time, and while some seeds took a bit to grow, I enjoyed recognizing the moment odd mentions became critical. The mentions of the first book were also well done. They created interest without revealing too much for those of us that missed the start of Gods of War.
There is much to enjoy in this book. It takes on difficult topics from our world and clothes them in adventure, intrigue, and fantasy so we learn by exposure without feeling taught. The relationship development between Nola and Bane is complex and goes through many cycles where self-doubt or personal history undermines confidence. The loyalty and friendship between these and many other characters, even those considered enemies, was a delight to watch. There’s a bit of a Flash Gordon vibe, but with enough unique elements to make that a strength rather than a weakness.
It’s a romance, so you know Bane “gets the girl,” but Nola “gets the guy,” too, based on her own strengths and actions. Characters change, grow, fight, die, break free of physical and emotional prisons, and win new futures. There’s a little of something for most readers, and hints at explanations for history and myth we love to explore. I’m curious to see the next, and first, step on this journey.
P.S. I received this ARC title from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.