I thought I’d start a new feature here on the blog and post periodically about five favorite novels from some of my must-read authors, although it’s hard to pick just a few from each author’s backlist. Who better to begin with than Ruby Dixon and the Ice Planet Barbarians and Icehome series? Recently the world of TikTok readers discovered these amazing stories and now they’re burning up all the sales charts. Yay for Ms. Dixon and for scifi romance!
(Allow me to note that over the years I’ve written often about this series, and so have pulled some material that was previously published by me on platforms like the old Heroes & Heartbreakers.)
There might be spoilers ahead!
I have to begin with the first book, Ice Planet Barbarians, because it set the foundation for everything that was to follow. I vividly remember being about five pages into reading this in 2015 and thinking wow, I’ve never read anything like this before! And I kept reading of course. From the barbarians being blue (little green men was pretty much the extent of variety in aliens before, other than in the 2009 movie ‘Avatar’) to their ahem endowments to the whole idea of the ‘cootie’ parasite that matches couples up and makes the planet survivable for the human women – great worldbuilding. I thought at the time the author had set things up well for a long running series but I had no idea how successful it was going to be.
I think a good portion of this success is how well Ms. Dixon does at keeping things fresh and providing a heroine in every book who has a different personality and challenges unique to her. And of course there’s an Ice Planet Barbarian just right for her, which is reassuring in this world or any other.
Barbarian’s Lady, the fourteenth is on the lighter side of life on the frozen world. The heroine, Kate, is tall for a human woman, and muscular, and feels awkward and unsure of herself. Add in the fact that she was the object of teasing and bullying on Earth, and the usual cruel stunts in high school where a hunky athlete would pretend interest in her only so he could laugh at her later with his buddies, and the reader can see why she’s suspicious and touchy when anyone shows interest in her. Herrec, the blue barbarian in question, delights in teasing her and sparring with her and unfortunately in the early going makes remarks he thinks are funny but which hit Kate in the most sensitive parts of her wounded self. Comparing her to a mountain may not have been his smoothest opening line, you know?
Well-meaning friends try to explain to Herrec that he’s pushing too hard. “People two galaxies over can tell you’re interested,” as Mah-dee says. She attempts to suggest he back off a bit and give Kate room to breathe. He takes it that he needs to provide Kate with a challenge, instead of trying to make her laugh and appreciate him. Uh oh, anyone else see disaster looming ahead? Herrec is also endearingly clumsy, which isn’t good when you’re a seven foot tall warrior out for a walk on a glacier with the object of your affections.
Fortunately it’s time for the “Singles Cruise” as Kate refers to it – a long trip to the Cave of the Elders, which is a thinly disguised chance for the unmated women and barbarians to spend more time together and hopefully work up to resonating. Herrec sets things up for Kate and himself to spend time alone together, away from the others, which of course never turns out exactly the way the hero hopes. But the trope works really well in this book, resulting in Kate and Herrec being forced by circumstances to rely on each other, to talk to each, to learn more about each other’s personal history. There’s also a long interlude in a cozy ice cave, where mere conversation is not all that goes on. Yup, I’m grinning here. I liked this couple and I enjoyed their story. Will it be too much of a spoiler to say resonance is achieved?
Barbarian’s Rescue (book 15) –while telling the story of the individual couple Summer and Warrek, the author also threw serious new curves at life on Not-Hoth, the Ice Planet. Summer can’t stop talking. When she’s nervous, which is often, she babbles her entire stream of consciousness and since she’s very smart, she always has a lot to say. The book would undoubtedly be one long monologue by her, in fact, excerpt that people are fairly ruthless about cutting her off in mid word. Warrek is probably the most silent member of the tribe (Ms. Dixon excels at matching up couples who appear at first to be totally unsuited but opposites attract like super magnets on this planet). Summer assumes his near silence means she annoys him, which of course makes her talk all the more because she’s nervous.
Warrek enjoys the sound of her voice though. He says “It’s as if her mind cannot stop on one subject, so she must discuss all of them.” He likes to see where her mind is going. He’s a trained hunter, who of course has learned to be quiet in order to effectively stalk prey, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t thinking deep thoughts.
“My habit is not to talk about myself,” he says.
To which Summer replies, “And I have the opposite problem. But we can meet somewhere in the middle…”
Oh boy, can they!
When a ship of rogue slavers arrives close to where a small party is gathering fruit from a cave with its own heat source, only Summer and Warrek remain free. The two of them work together effectively to outwit the slavers, with Summer drawing on her expertise at the game of chess to strategize how to rescue their friends, and Warrek using his skills as a hunter to put her plan into motion. Summer’s impressed and has to tell herself she can’t indulge in a crush while they’re in mortal danger.
Again, not to give spoilers, dealing with the rogue slavers is only the beginning of the plot in this book. The storyline was a bit episodic but highly enjoyable. I loved Summer and Warrek, and their romance was satisfactory, with the tension over when they’d get some privacy and whether they’d resonate or not drawn out just long enough to keep the reader happily turning those pages.
The entire tribe becomes a bit distracted over the “she spot” as Warrek refers to an intimate secret Summer shares with him from her vast store of academic knowledge. (Warrek apparently hears the letter ‘g’ as ‘she’.) That got a bit amusing at certain moments, as previously mated warriors in the tribe want to either know the secret or be reassured by their mates that they already um hit the spot, in addition to everything else the well-endowed blue barbarians accomplish while curled up with a mate in those furs by the fire.
My very favorite in the entire series including IceHome is the story of Ariana and Zolaya in Barbarian’s Beloved, which is book 18. Most of the book is a flashback to the human woman’s early days on the planet and focuses on the tremendous difficulties Ariana had in adapting to life there. She has an extra challenge because she suffers from anxiety. Not the garden variety worries anyone might have after arriving in such a strange place, but genuine anxiety disorder, which can be crippling. And there’s no prescription medication available on the ice world.
Anxiety runs in my family so I understood this character and admired Author Dixon’s handling of the symptoms and the situation. She did an amazing job of depicting how Ariana would “catastrophize” about the slightest thing, without being able to stop her racing mind. Actually, about the point where Ariana’s anxiety was making me so anxious I was about to put the book down in self-defense, Ms. Dixon made a skillful pivot and the book began to show how our heroine was able to develop coping mechanisms and pull through. It helps that Ariana now has the implanted parasite, the khui (or ‘cootie’ as the human women refer to them) which will help her survive the harsh planet and find a mate to ‘resonate’ with. But it’s her mate, Zolaya, who helps the most. No, there’s no magic cure, but he has infinite patience and genuinely cares for her. He also has an incident in his past and a phobia that gives him something of an understanding of how she feels. “Unburden your heart to me if it hurts,” he says.
He’s also gorgeous. I’m fanning myself, can you tell?
Zolaya doesn’t let Airee, as he calls her, sink into despair or give up. He tells her she has ‘mind avalanches’ (one thought can set off a cascade of anxiety, much the way a pebble can set off a mountain avalanche) and they team up to talk and breathe while he comforts her through her attacks. This guy is one heckuva of wonderful mate, let me tell you.
Ariana is anthropology major so she finds much to fascinate her on the planet. She has other skills as well and I appreciated that she was not defined solely by her anxiety. She’s also somewhat more experienced than Zolaya is when it comes to what goes on between the furs in those cozy caves and as always Ms. Dixon builds the sexual tension and attraction through the book – lots of steam – until the mating is fully consummated. The bookend opening and closing passages for the story are set eight years or so after the women arrive and Ariana is about to have her second child.
And last, not to slight the IceHome series…
When I sat down to read Angie’s Gladiator (IceHome Book 5) it was time to forget housework or anything else less compelling than Angie’s story. Ms. Dixon has a way of drawing the reader into the lives of the characters and not letting go. There were several unique things about this book – for one Angie, who has been kidnapped from Earth by alien slavers like other women in the series, and saved by a crash landing on the ice planet, wakes up from cryo sleep very pregnant. She has no idea when or how she got into that condition and of course has much anxiety in the early portions of the novel over what she might give birth to. (Angie is also an avid fan of the ‘Aliens’ movie franchise, which doesn’t help her worries now.)
Angie’s condition precludes any of the steamy encounters Ms. Dixon usually writes for us until quite late in the book, although there is some heavy petting at certain points and much thought about romantic encounters.
Vardis and Thrand, two cloned gladiators, freed in the same spaceship crash, are unaccountably devoted to watching over Angie. They’re also not-so-friendly-at-times rivals for her affections. Angie is drawn to Vardis and I have to say he’s quite an excellent guy in so many ways. Vardis is definitely a keeper! Angie and Vardis work their way through various cultural misunderstandings and problems of living on an ice planet, basically in a barbarian status. Spin the bottle and knock-knock jokes are just two of the situations which arise to cause difficulties for the pair. Formerly as close as actual brothers, Vardis and Thrand both have issues from being clones which Ms. Dixon developed in an interesting fashion, good worldbuilding.
And then Angie’s baby is born…
Trust the author to deliver the happily ever after ending is all I can say without doing spoilers here. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. My only very minor nit is that while I enjoy seeing characters from the earlier novels, Ms. Dixon throws a lot of them into this book and a few scenes made me dizzy, trying to remember who was who from stories way earlier in the Ice Planet Barbarians series. But the action stays focused on Angie for the most part. And she and Vardis do get their scorching moments together by the end of the book.
Which are your favorite Ice Planet stories?