Ice Red is very good science fiction, so-so romance, and an excellent revisionist fairy tale. It’s difficult to assign a grade to. I’d say as sci-fi it’s a B-, as romance it’s a C-, and as revisionist fairy tale writing it’s at least a B+. I’m going to call this one a wobbly “C” – which direction it wobbles depends largely on your taste as a reader.
Let me start with a small thing that I liked a lot. First of all, Cesare is of at least half Chinese descent, which – yay for a non-Caucasian hero! We don’t know much about his mother but his brother’s name is Angelo so I wondered if she might be of Italian ancestry. My point is that this is a story in which many ethnicities blend, and the hero is not Caucasian, and…BEHOLD THE COVER! I do not care for the way Bianca is draped over Ceseare as if she is a cashmere scarf, but doesn’t Cesare look as if he could be Chinese/Italian? Or just Chinese? I’m so happy that the cover isn’t whitewashed!
Which leads us to the world building and the storytelling. This is not an entirely original concept (space elevator between Earth and Mars, miners, corporate monopoly) but it is handled adroitly. By far the strongest aspect of the story was in the way it used “Snow White” as a loose template for its own story. All the Snow White elements are there, but they are woven in in a beautifully organic way. The dwarves are miners who are from Earth – they have shorter, more compact bodies than those of people like Bianca, whose families spent many generations in low-level gravity on space stations. The apple is a bit of technology – this was a little on the nose, but still pretty cute. Apparently Apple is not going out of business any time soon. Other than the cutesy Apple thing, the Snow White elements aren’t shoehorned in – they make sense in terms of the setting and the characters.
The story is weakened by a jarring dose of misogyny. First of all, the evil stepmother is a businesswoman who uses sex to manipulate men and women around her. She is frequently referred to as a “whore” and a “puta”. This characterization of her seems totally unnecessary. Are we really not beyond the point where a woman can be powerful without “sleeping her way to the top”? I don’t even think what she does would be effective – no one respects her. People fear her for her economic power and I’d like to think that a woman, evil or otherwise, could achieve that by being a really good businesswoman, not by having a magical vagina (OF EVIL!)
And of course the evil stepmother has an evil henchman. In the Snow White as told by The Brothers Grimm, the hunter who is suppose to kill Snow White lets her go instead. This is interesting. But in this story, the hunter figure is a rapey, sadistic psychopath who is so incompetent and so obviously drooling with rapeyness that I’m unclear as to why the stepmother didn’t get rid of him ages ago. He’s a stereotype, and not an interesting one. He does do a clever bit of business with a tape recorder that I respect. But that’s his one interesting moment. The rest of the time he’s just there to drool all over Bianca (literally, at one point) and all the many terrible things he wants to do to her.
As much as I was Team Bianca, I just kept wanting to yell, “Dude! Just shoot her! And don’t forget to check the pulse!” Incompetent serial killers are so annoying.
Look, the Evil Stepmother is…wait for it…evil. And the evil hired killer is also evil. But the hero is pretty sexist too. He considers sleeping with the stepmom to get what he wants but can’t bring himself to do it because she’s evil. He also, early on, considers sleeping with Bianca so he can manipulate her. There’s a persistent use of language that treats women’s bodies as objects to be used or discarded. “Drilling” is not a sexy way to describe sex. Neither is “jacking”. I get that maybe these euphemisms are supposed to come from the mining community, but they are just gross and offensive. I can’t think of a more aggressive, nasty way to describe making love to a woman than “drilling” unless it’s “jacking”. “I wanted to drill you since the first moment I saw you,” is not a sexy thing to say.
To cap things off, there’s a nasty scene in which Stepmom tries to rape Cesare. This is an ugly scene which reinforces the stereotype of the powerful woman as a sexual predator. But, I give it credit for not using a double standard in its portrayal of rape. What happens, and what almost happens, to Cesare is ugly and scary and humiliating. It’s good to see an acknowledgement that men can be raped and that it’s not an erotic experience but the overall context is unfortunate.
Basically, as a romance, I didn’t think this romance was very effective. But I loved the way the fairytale was integrated into the story. I also thought the science fiction was solid, if not wildly innovative. I liked those aspects enough that I’m planning to read the next book in the series just see what happens – if it can avoid sexist stereotypes, it could be an A.