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Monday, November 27, 2006

***** Prince of Ice by Emma Holly. Paranormal romance.

I admit it--I'm an Emma Holly fangirl. Though in general, I prefer her non-mainstream stories, she's outdone herself here. This is the 3rd story in this series about the Yama--that the humans in this alternative-Victorian-earth call demons.

Emma Holly's great at breaking rules, and she does so again here--starting a romance with the conception of the protagonists. It works, because that's where the story starts.

Heroine Xishi is conceived in a revenge plot--her mother is half-human, and her father is the emperor who exiled her mother's family for their impure blood.

Hero Corum has a genetic defect, discovered before birth, that will render him incapable of the strict emotional control common--and essential--to the Yama nobility. But his mother had been unable to conceive until now, and she refuses to abort the fetus, reasoning that she'll teach him control.

The two are raised together--both because of Xishi's mother's plot and because being around Xishi seems to be the only thing that calms young Corum. Then the time comes when Xishi is sent away, because she's too much of an influence on the young prince.

Xishi lives in an orphanage until she comes of age. Then, with no other alternatives, she enters training to become a pillow-girl, a courtesan.

Corum, meanwhile, learns control--such control that he's known as the Prince of Ice. Such control, in fact, that he's not at all interested in the young women the matchmakers are eager to pair him with, and his eyes have never turned black in the presence of any of them--this being a sign that the two would be genetically compatible. (It's like soul mates, but not quite, as it's not always a love match, nor is there necessarily only one match per person.)

So his father takes him to a brothel to get him a pillow girl, thinking that this will jump-start his libido. And Corum goes home with Xishi.

There's a wealth of world-building in this story. We learn much more about what makes the Yama tick, the structure of their society, and the political intrigues. The previous stories in this series were written from an outside perspective, but this is from the inside. I enjoy the way this world has been developed, maybe moreso because it's unusual to view the world first from the outside, then the inside.

There's also a wealth of sex and sensuality--a given in an Emma Holly book, but what's also a given is that it will be not only explicit, it'll be well-written and purposeful. There are no wasted scenes here, and nothing that makes me skim.

Best, though, is the story of Xishi and Corum: Corum's struggles with emotion; Xishi's loneliness when she's ostracized at the orphanage; the different paths their lives take them until those paths again intersect; and then the difficulties they go through, including life-and-death danger, to be together in the end. It's an epic romantic adventure.


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