Fire and Frost is a collection of three novellas that place a lot of emphasis on sex and the rest on action. If sex and action appeal to you, and you like paranormal and steampunk themes, then you will like this collection. If detailed world building and the slow development of characters and relationships is your thing, then this collection will disappoint.
First off is Speed Mating, by Jessica Sims. This is the story of Estrella, a liger (were-tiger-lion) who goes into heat and has to choose a mate on short notice. Her quest for a mate is complicated by the fact that she has a crush on Vic, the were-tiger alpha. That’s it – that’s the entire story. She needs to find someone who will a) have sex with her and b) be present for her child if she conceives, which she is almost certain to do, and she REALLY wants to have sex RIGHT NOW.
I rather liked this economical story. It took the novella structure and made it work by setting itself a simple goal (write an erotic story involving a relationship and a paranormal element). We don’t know tons about Vic, but he seems to be a great guy, and Estrella is a relatable character who refuses to let anyone dictate to her about reproduction. The chemistry is intense, and so is the sex. I don’t read much erotica so I don’t have much of a frame of reference here, but I thought it was a solid, simple, highly erotic story. Grade: B
The next story is Conjuring Max, by Carolyn Crane. I didn’t finish this one, not because it was horrible, but because I simply could not get a grasp on what was going on. My to be read/reviewed pile is huge, people. HUGE. So an author has to get my attention fast, and as of halfway through Chapter Two the only thing I understand about the characters is that they have a lot of irritating verbal ticks and the main character likes Miami Vice (ick). The book starts with the main couple being attacked, and instead of being intrigued by what’s happening I just felt confused. I think there are some good concepts and good writing in there; I’m just not patient enough to go looking for them. Grade: DNF
At last, the story I actually wanted to read: Wrecked, by Meljean Brook. I LOVE Meljean Brook, but I’m usually slightly disappointed by her novellas because I think she tries to fit too much into them (and, sometimes her relationships have some power dynamics that gross me the hell out). I enjoyed Wrecked because I’m already familiar with the Iron Seas universe and how it works, but it was rather dizzyingly paced (I hate you! I hate you too! I love you! I love you too! Let’s have sex while hiding from zombies! OK!).
I am pre-disposed to like Meljean Brook, but I wonder if a new reader would be able to understand anything that’s going on in Wrecked. The setting is wildly inventive, the characters are intriguing, the interactions between the characters are touching, the romance is passionate, and there’s tons of steampunk yumminess. If you haven’t read any Iron Seas, I wouldn’t start with this, but if you have, then you’ll enjoy Wrecked. But it really does not fit into a novella. If ever a novella were begging to be expanded into a full-length book, it would be this one. Remember how Speed Mating had this really simple premise? Well, the premise of Wrecked is way too long and complex for me to even try to sum up here – so you can imagine that, even though it involves much more creativity and depth and originality than Speed Dating, it falls short as a novella where the simpler Speed Dating satisfies.
On her worst day, Brook is a steampunk genius. It’s possibly unfortunate for her that she has set herself this insanely high standard by writing great books. I’m not fond of the hero in Iron Duke, but I think the book overall is amazing, and Riveted is one of my favorite books of all time. Wrecked is not Brook’s best work because it’s too ambitious for the novella format. But it’s still pretty awesome. This borders heavily on being a ‘C’ grade book but it has so many great ingredients that I’m giving it a B- even though the overall execution falls short. Grade: B-