After returning from military duty in Afghanistan, Captain Jack Turner is feeling adrift. He hasn’t settled into life at home after the war, and so his supervisor sends him to the remote town of Arctic Bay in far northern Canada to learn more about the area and potential military uses for an abandoned town. Jack is to be guided by Sergeant Kin Carsen, a reservist who works as a ranger in the North. The two get off on the wrong foot almost immediately as Jack makes it clear he thinks the mission is a waste of time and is constantly saying the wrong thing to Kin.
As the two take off on their mission, however, Jack begins to appreciate the beauty of the area and to enjoy his time with Kin. The region is remote and unforgiving, and when the snow hits, the two are forced to hunker down together to wait out the storm. As they spend more time together, an attraction grows between them. But Jack has a life back at home and is only here for a few days. And Kin has never been able to come out, as being gay isn’t even a recognized thing in his culture and there is no way he would be accepted if he was out. But the bond that has grown between them is strong, and now they must figure out if there is a way they can make their future together.
I really enjoyed this story, particularly for its fascinating representing of life in the Arctic. Andrews does an amazing job with his aspect of the book. We learn more about Inuit culture, about the frozen landscape of far northern Canada, and about how people survive when there are so few people and virtually no roads to connect the small towns. I was so drawn in by these details as I found it all incredibly interesting. I knew next to nothing about the province of Nunavut, and definitely not about the small remote towns of Arctic Bay and Nanivisik. This is a fictional story set in these real places, and they just come alive here in the book.
So with this fabulous backdrop, we have the love story of Jack and Kin. Things start off with a bit of enemies to lovers vibe, as they definitely get off on the wrong foot. But despite being totally out of his element, Jack is eager to learn and so interested in his surroundings that they soon move past that awkwardness and into a friendship and then more. The real conflict here is the guys battling the elements, and we see the real risks that people face in such extremely cold climates (though as Kin points out, it is still -7 Celsius so pretty much balmy for that area). The connection between them is sweet, sexy, and intense. We get a good sense of both men in this novella and I think the characters are nicely developed and don’t get lost in the wider focus on the setting. I do think the ending is a little easy and pat given the hurdles these guys face, but I was able to have it work for me since I was so invested in these guys together.
So overall I really enjoyed this one. I really liked both Jack and Kin and thought they were great together. But the real star of the show for me was the remote landscape and the great way Andrews makes it such a key part of the story.
Note: Arctic Fire was first published in the Unconditional Surrender anthology, but has now been released as a stand alone.