Rating: 4.5 stars
Buy Links: Amazon | All Romance
August Ice opens with former Navy SEAL Max Conway waking up with a hangover in a strange hotel room, having no idea where he is or how he got there. He thinks he might have had a good night with the hot guy in the room with him, but it turns out that the guy just gave Max a place to crash and Max passed out before anything happened between them. Which is a real shame, because Max is headed for his annual six month trip to work as a diver in Antarctica. He is firmly in the closet when in the close quarters of McMurdo Station making this is last chance to be with another man for half a year.
When Max arrives at the departure point for the trip to McMurdo, he is shocked to see his not quite hookup standing among the travelers. It turns out Andre Dubois is a researcher headed to Antarctica as well. Andre is clearly annoyed at Max for his drunken behavior, but Max knows he must talk to him, if only to make clear that he is in the closet and to ask Andre not to mention anything about it. Andre is even less pleased to find out that Max is a drunk, and pretty much wants nothing to do with Max. But life in Antarctica puts everyone in quite close quarters and privacy is hard to find, especially when Max is assigned to help work with Andre’s research team on their dives.
As the Antarctic summer continues, the men slowly become friends, but Andre still keeps his distance. After cleaning himself up years before from his own substance abuse, he is wary about getting involved with Max when he is so clearly immersed in alcohol addiction. Andre encourages Max to try for sobriety and even offers to help him through it, but Max stubbornly refuses to admit he has a problem, even as his drinking affects his job performance and his relationship with his best friend Annie. But Antarctica is a dangerous place, and as Max spirals further out of control he must figure out how to get his life together before he causes permanent damage to himself or someone else.
I was first drawn to this book by the Antarctic setting. I find the place fascinating, such an interesting mix of expansive beauty and isolation combined with a sense of claustrophobia and ever present danger. The idea of being trapped on the bottom of the earth for months at a time seems terrifying to me, but for those that love the region it is a wonderland. It is clear how much research and time Bentham must have spent learning about life in Antarctica as the book is full of rich and satisfying detail on life at the McMurdo Station and the people who reside there. I felt like I was traveling right along with Max, from the details of his flight down to the station, to the realities of day to day life at the station, to the amazing and inspiring beauty of the landscape and the oceans. The descriptions of life there were the highlight of the story for me and kept me engrossed throughout the book.
I also thought Max was a really interesting character. It is clear he has a lot of baggage from his years in the military and over time we learn some of what haunts him. He loves life in Antarctica and his annual trips there are the highlight of his year. Although he can’t imagine losing his chance to be a diver there, he also can’t resist the lure of alcohol to soothe his mind and keep the nightmares at bay. I found him a sympathetic character, but I do wish we had more of a sense of what is going on in his head. It takes a while for his secrets to come out, but even then, I felt a little bit of a lack of clarity as to what was haunting him and why things seem to have suddenly escalated to push him toward so much drinking. I really liked Andre as well, and he is the sweetness to balance out Max’s intensity. After getting past the initial anger at Max, he is patient and kind in dealing with Max and his addiction. Again, I’d have liked to understand him a bit more. Although we learn some about his past, it comes very late in the story. Perhaps he suffered from being a bit TOO good, if that is possible? I think I wanted to see a little more dimension out of Andre. But both guys were quite likeable (even Max with all his flaws) and I found them quite sweet when they ultimately get together.
My only other issue is that I felt some confusion at the start of the book about Andre’s reaction to Max. When the story opens, he is clearly annoyed about Max passing out the night before and tells him he doesn’t get involved with drunks. But they had been making out before Max’s passed out. Clearly Andre had to realize he was drunk then, right? And Andre is cold to him from then on, wanting his distance because he thinks Max is a drunk. But I am not sure how one night with the guy makes Andre assume Max is a habitual drunk. I mean, he is. But how does Andre know that before they have spent any time together? This is such a small piece of the story that it isn’t something to worry over too much, but I guess coming so early on it kept raising questions in my mind through the beginning of the story.
The focus of this book to me was less on the romance between them than a story of Max’s growth, combined with a love letter to Antarctica. I appreciated that the story recognizes that between Max being in the closet and the constant lack of privacy, the guys aren’t jumping into bed together right away. And it felt right that Max needs to get himself back on track before a relationship can really develop between them. I actually enjoyed this as I found the details about life in Antarctica so rich and fascinating, but the developing relationship is definitely not the primary focus of the book.
Overall I really liked this one. I will admit, I was won over by the marvelous setting and the incredibly rich and rewarding detail Bentham provides about life in Antarctica. And I loved the way the story ends as Max gets his life together and the relationship blooms between them. I had some issues with the characterizations, but overall I really enjoyed this story and tore right through it. I’d definitely recommend it.