Reviewed by: Ulysses Dietz
Member of The Paranormal Guild Review Team
There’s nothing better than a romance where you learn something new! This Christmas package has at least two things going for it that I always love: a cute redhead, and a big strong silent Viking type. The former is Sam Wilson, petit Vermont farm boy, and the latter is Arnar Thorsteinsson, an Icelandic computer programmer with a great mane of blond hair and a beard.
The particular charm of this story is the setting, which, if you hadn’t guessed, is Iceland the week before Christmas. Sam, who’s spent all of his life caring for his grandfather on their struggling New England farm, is on the final leg of a many-month journey around the world with family friend Jackie. She is a free spirit who wanted Sam to expand his horizons. Their final stop is in Iceland, where her longtime friend Inga lives with her silent, Viking-like son Arnar.
We can all see the plot coming a mile away—this is the way of romances—but Fessenden handles his formula with great skill and gives his readers maximum pleasure in the way he unrolls the tale to its inevitable conclusion. For a really good m/m romance, getting there is most of the fun. The real core of the book’s charm is the fact that we learn about these two young men, and we see their initial reluctant attraction grow into genuine affection and beyond. The setting is important, because it uses the geological and meteorological contrasts of this ice-encrusted island nation as metaphors that shed light on both Sam and Arnar. There’s even a teeny bit of maybe-paranormal something here, shivering between mythology and fairy tale.
I’ve groaned before over Fessenden’s love of novellas, and how unsatisfying that format can be for me. Here is a full-length novel that does exactly what it’s supposed to do, and takes the time to let both plot and characters unspool in a completely sufficient way. Iceland itself—a place I’ve been told I need to visit time and time again—has never truly drawn me; but after reading this book, I think I really would like to visit and see its bleak wonders for myself. There’s a bonus you don’t usually get in a romance novel.
Fessenden’s measured use of sex is also admirable. This is an expected part of any m/m novel, but Fessenden uses this part of the narrative carefully and pointedly. Physical attraction is superficial, but (in the best of all possible worlds) it leads to more—psychological and emotional connection. Sam has experienced all sorts of physical fun in his world travels with his faux-aunt Jackie; but in Iceland, with his Viking, he finds something new and unexpected. Arnar, too, jaded by stupid tourists who don’t respect the harshness of his country’s beauty, realizes a new potential in this little redhead from America, whose wonder and fear at Iceland’s power reveals depths that make Arnar re-think his own prejudices.
This is the season for Christmas-themed romances. Jamie Fessenden has written a particularly nice seasonal gift for those of us who yearn for warmth in a time of ice and snow.