Flowers Under Ice
by Jean Ross Ewing, historical (1999)
Berkley, $6.99, ISBN 0-425-17036-5

Spoilers are present in this review

I love the title. Flowers Under Ice - has a beautiful poetic ring to it, no? Indeed this book reads like a beautiful work of poetry. The images are lyrical and haunting, and the deep undercurrents of obsession, sexual tension, and dark passions rage in a torrential downpour like the River Styx. It is because of the heroine and some minor but irritating choices of words that make this book missing this close from being a keeper. But for Dominic Wyndham, one of the best darkly tortured heroes I've ever read ever, I'm taking the trouble of uploading this nice background for the review instead of the generic one. The things I do for a borderline psychotically obsessive man. Sometimes I scare myself.

Dominic Wyndham appears like a total whiner in Miss Ewing's last book Illusions which I found totally unreadable due to the annoying heroine and Dominic getting together to whine me to death. It is with hesitation that I picked this book up from the bookstore (mind you, $6.99 is a bit steep for a book), but oh, while this book could be better, Dominic is a wonderful hero. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Conventionality demands a summary of the story so here it is.

Dominic Wyndham is a man haunted by so many demons he indulges in drunken debauchery to mask his inner torment. Known as one of the most dissolute rake in London, he is up to his usual naughtiness when he is brought news that his estranged wife has died in Scotland. Harriet who was more suited to a life in the nunnery than in matrimony, has fled her husband years ago, repelled by the acts of the bedroom. Dom has harbored hopes of winning her back, but as the years go by and after the war has taken its toll on him, he increasingly tries to forget his pain in drunken orgies of illicitness. Catriona Sinclair, bearer of the bad tidings, beseeches him to return to Scotland with her, claiming that Harriet has given birth to his son and he should claim him before the poor boy is thrown to the wolves. Of course, both of them know it is impossible that Harriet has a child of his. Catriona has her own agenda in getting Dom to Scotland. Dom agrees, but with one condition: they will play a game on the trip to Scotland, a gamble of her heart and virtue. He will tempt her with the seven deadly sins, one for each day, and she will try her best not to succumb. She agrees.

All thoughts of sin are forgotten in the second half of the book, as they both are swept up in local political conflicts, and it is in this second half that the book begins to lose me.

But oh my oh, the first half of this book is extremely erotic. Every word pulsates with sexual undercurrents, and every touch, every glance... it is fortunate that people don't go around self-combusting, or there would be an untimely Guy Fawkes bonfire originating from my place. The author has written a haunting lyric of seduction as Dom weaves a web of sin around them both, and Cat finds it harder and harder to hold on to her senses. It starts with pride, where each seduces the other with glimpses of their inner demons, then there is covetousness, and when it comes to lust, I'm fanning myself with a hand fan and wishing I have two of those fanning boys I always see monarchs on TV have at their side. The eroticism arises not from the act of coitus... much, but from the tantalizingly brief touches, the glances, the conversations. All cloaked in beautifully worded sentences and quotes from poetry and music. If Dom is the devil incarnate out to seduce, he is succeeding beautifully.

Even more compelling is the fact that Dom find himself falling more into the trap he is making for Cat. In the game of Pride, he reveals more of himself to Cat than the other way around as he attempts to draw out Cat's real self. The revelation only adds to his allure as Cat - and I - feel his pain even as he tries to bury it under wry sarcasm and glib disregard. Oh you poor poor man. When Dom finally falls, he falls hard, obsessively, utterly. This is a man who will willingly risk everything, even his life, for the woman he loves. How can any woman resist such breathtakingly precious devotion? A man like Dom will make one feel as if she is the only and the most precious woman in his eyes. How can any woman resist?

Cat can. Silly woman. She irritates me so much that if Dom isn't in the book, I'd have put down the book long ago. The first half of the book is fine. She is a wonderfully unique heroine who can actually say No and means it. Intelligent, clear-headed, she recognizes that Dom is a rake through and through, and she is not so foolish as to weave romantic illusions about this man. She knows what happens to women who succumb to rakes, and she knows the danger of Dom to her heart and soul. Then upon arriving in Scotland, I get really irritated at her continual No no no. Damn it, Cat, that man is in love with you! For some really irritatingly headstrong reason, she refuses to accept Dom even as she willingly sleeps with him. She keeps grasping at the flimsiest of reasons to keep them apart; after a while I begin to suspect if all this is just a means of the author to extend the story by another few chapters or so. To sleep with Dom, making him feel and dream, even as she keeps telling the besotted man that yes, she is willing to be his mistress for that night (and believe me, the next night, and the next, and the next), but they will never be together ever... that's emotional abuse. It is painful to read of Dom's anguish and feel of unworthiness. The man is made to feel even more degraded, dirty, and corrupted because the woman he loves refuses to accept him even as she willingly lets him service her. The man is obsessively in love, and he will do anything, say anything, so that she wouldn't drive him away. In Scotland, he finds the meaning of peace and beauty and purity, and he rediscovers his innocence long buried. He tells Cat he would learn to love Scotland, and what does Cat do? Nay, you are English! Go back where you belong (after giving me multiple ooh-la-las first of course). Pass me the rolling pin. I especially see red because Dom has confessed that to Cat that he feels degraded by his womanizing lifestyle because to him, it is just a way of him letting uncaring women take advantage of him. Here is Cat doing the same thing, hiding her emotions from him even as she gladly partakes her pleasure. She knows how he feels about senseless pleasure, and she lets him believe the worst of her. This is callous and unforgivable! Forget the rolling pin, pass the remote for the SCUD missiles.

The author also overused some words to the point of overkill. In the first half it's A Dhia. A Dhia! Cat will say when Dom looks at her. A Dhia! she will say when Dom touches her. A Dhia! She's at it again. A Dhia! Make her stop! A Dhia! Oops, I just knocked her unconscious with my rolling pin.

In the second half of the book, wee Thomas, wee Hannah, wee women of Scotland, and their wee little kids band together to keep themselves being evicted by evil English scums. Wee folks get beaten up bad, wee kids get hurt, wee women get injured, and wee Thomas, the boy wee Cat is looking for, is missing. Poor wee Cat is terrified for that beautiful wee boy. Guess which word is tad overused?

Flowers Under Ice isn't a pretty, easy read. Dom's burdens and mental anguish can be overwhelming at times, and can be cathartic in nature. Yet I find myself drawn to his darkness, as I keep turning the pages all the way to 4 in the morning. It is Cat and the A dhia! Wee wee weeeeeeeeeeee! of the whole thing that make me ultimately irritated. But not enough to cast aside this book completely.

Rating: 85

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