Books to the Sky

Recap: Arctic Enemy by Linda Harrel

Posted on: June 29, 2009

Oh, darling, you look so sexy in that parka!

Oh, darling, you look so sexy in that parka!

Line, Publication Date: Harlequin Romance, 1981
Cover Steaminess: 5. Classic clutch, but they’re both wearing parkas.
Back of Book Description: “For reporter Sarah Grey it was the assignment of a lifetime—accompany the supertanker Arctic Enterprise on her maiden voyage through the Northwest Passage. Despite the hazards involved she was determined to turn in the best story she’d ever written. But she hadn’t counted on opposition from the ruggedly stern Captain Guy Court. Sparks immediately flew between them. And Sarah soon realized the sparks were not all hostile ones…”
Flowery Language Quotient: Low, but that’s mostly because no one gets jiggy with it in this book. There’s a little bit of groping, but everyone’s wearing parkas when it happens. Least sexy romance novel ever!

Sarah Grey is a science reporter who has just finished an article on the cutting-edge topic of recycling. Oh, 1981. She goes to see her editor, who offers her the assignment accompanying the crew on the maiden voyage of the supertanker Arctic Enterprise, which is about the worst name for a ship ever. (I didn’t actually know what a supertanker was. I had to Google it. You’re welcome. I suspect this is only big news because this is pre-Exxon Valdez, you know?) Anyway, it seems the owner of the supertanker, Tony Freeland, has taken a liking to our young Sarah, because she is a romance heroine and so stunningly beautiful, so she’s a logical choice for the job, but her editor thinks it’s a dangerous assignment. Then there’s an infodump about the boat, zzz. The gist is that the purpose of the mission is to collect liquid natural gas from the arctic to fuel Canadian homes (Sarah seems to be stationed in Ottawa) and there’s been some debate in the press similar to the debate over ANWR a couple of years ago: it’s a valuable resource, but we might have to kill some cute animals to get at it.

bumble1You know, given the title of this novel, there really should be a yeti or something. Alas, we have only the Titanic Arctic Enterprise. It’s not even a pretty boat, as Sarah observes. Tony Freeland greets her when she comes aboard. He’s very charming, but she’s all business, and starts to interview him. Tony is all, “My big-ass boat is awesome!”

The boat gets underway. Sarah goes down to her quarters and is just! delighted! by everything! She then goes to dinner. During the meal, the ship’s captain gets a note from Freeland Shipping HQ telling him to expect a helicopter containing Captain Guy Court to conduct an inspection. (Tony’s uncle, the head of the company, sent the note.) There’s lots of murmuring, nobody seems happy about it, and Tony, in particular, is livid. Guy Court is not only the head of Freeland Shipping’s marine safety division, he’s also the engineer who built this monstrosity of a boat, and he’s ALSO Tony’s cousin. Dunh, dunh, dunh.

Except, whatever. The Big Deal is never really explained. Court shows up on the helicopter, and he’s kind of a Rochester type. He’s burly and uniform-clad, and his facial features are described as rugged and “brutal.” Sarah, by the way, is spying on him from the deck, so when he goes below, she of course slips and the “delicate spiked heel” from her shoe snaps right off and lands in front of Court. He looks up and sees her and, “His eyes held hers in a cold and strangely knowing gaze.” So, naturally, “Sarah felt her heart thud.” Court puts the heel in his pocket.

Oh my god, this book is boring.

Tony and Guy Court track Sarah down the next day. Court looks quite spiffy:

The old saying was quite true, she thought, astonished at the jolt of her own response: a uniform did amazing things for the male body. There was something unsettling about the breadth of navy shoulder, the snow white shirt, the precision and gleam of gold embellishment.

Look, I like a man in uniform as much as the next girl, but… what? “Unsettling”? Anyway, it becomes clear quickly that Court has no use for reporters. Tony does some bragging on his behalf, explaining that the Starship Arctic Enterprise was built based on Court’s designs, and goes on to say that the ship has passed Court’s inspection so far. Then he gets called away, leaving Court and Sarah alone together. (I keep calling him Court because I like that more than “Guy,” plus I read too much military suspense wherein the characters are always referring to each other by last name, so there you go. Sarah thinks of him as “Guy” at this point.)

Court belittles Sarah for a while, she gets indignant insisting she’s a science reporter, and he points out that if she were as smart as she thinks she is, she wouldn’t wear stilettos on a slippery ship deck. I side with Court on this one. He’s still willing to play along, though; he invites her to a meeting with the caveat that he won’t have time to explain things to her. He all but pets her on the head. At the meeting, Sarah “proves” that she’s “smart,” but the whole scene reads like the author is standing behind Sarah and feeding her lines. It comes to pass over the course of the meeting that Guy Court, Super Genius, is the only person on the whole damn boat who knows how the things really works. Or, it’s not so much that Court’s the only one who knows anything as he thinks he is; he’s one of those men who thinks all other people are stupid and useless. According to the other officers in the meeting, this is a problem, because all of the inspecting is making the men working the ship nervous. Tony agrees with his officers, and he and Court fight. They sort of agree to disagree, at which time there’s a fire in the engine room.

Hey, something happened! Where’s Geordi LaForge when you need him? Only, this is not an actual plot point, it’s just a drill. Sarah, being the “smart” person she is, runs to the allegedly on-fire engine room to get the story, but it’s a pretend fire, and Court chastises the crew a bit before going off to do whatever is next on his Big Bad Meanie Romance Hero agenda.

Which seems to be bugging Sarah after she showers later. He shows up at her room and goes through her notes without asking. Then he insults her, implying that she’s sleeping with Tony. She slaps him, and he just turns and leaves as if nothing happened. Sarah tries to sleep, but instead seeks out the captain’s wife, who gives us an exposition dump about how Tony and Court are So Very Different. The wife also implies that building the Enterprise almost destroyed the company.

The boat enters the Northwest Passage and crosses the Arctic Circle. Tony talks Sarah back to his quarters on the pretense of asking how things are going. They talk shop, Sarah implying she thinks she’s got a Pulitzer-worthy story (about a boat?) and Tony whining about how Court is steering the company in the wrong direction. Tony says that DOOM will befall the company if this voyage us anything but a complete success. Then he moves on and piles some compliments on Sarah, telling her how superlatively beautiful she is. He invites her to spend a few weeks with him in his country house after the voyage, and she thinks to herself that she doesn’t like him in That Way but agrees to consider it.

Court barges in and tells Tony that he’ll be doing blah blah engineering task blah the next morning. Sarah asks to go, too, and Court says it’s okay. In the next scene, Sarah reflects on how pissed off she is that Court is directing so much hostility towards her. Uh, what? Did he not just tell her she could do the engineering thing? Plus, he’s hostile to everyone, it’s not limited to Sarah. She thinks maybe it’s because she has girl parts. (Seriously, though, the outfits she wears on the boat are mostly tight skirts and stilettos, which doesn’t scream “practical” to me so much as “wants to slip and fall overboard.”)

The engineering task has something to do with inspecting the hull, which means going down to the equivalent of, like, your grandma’s scary basement. One of the workers falls on the stairs and hits his head, so Court parks Sarah on the stairwell while he goes off to do his Macho Engineering whatever, and she completely freaks out. When he finds her again, she’s paralyzed with fear because… it’s dark? He helps her up and doesn’t seem unkind about it.

Later, Sarah and Court stand on the deck. Sarah observes that Court smells like “his special male scent of leather and tobacco.” They talk about how much Court loves the sea, then they discuss how Tony and Court are different. Court says Tony loves The Chase, but he personally favors the more direct approach. Sarah thinks they’re still talking about business, but it’s actually business time, because Court kisses her. She kisses him back until she remembers that he hates her, and accuses him of being all the bad things that Tony says he is. Court accuses her of having slept with Tony again, which just gets her more agitated.

Sarah has breakfast with Court and Tony the next morning, and is so irritated with Court that she accepts Tony’s offer to go with him to his country house.

They do something dangerous, cutting through icebergs and zzz… I thought they were supposed to be collecting natural gas? Tony tells Sarah all about how expensive it is to run the boat and how much money they’re losing each day they’re voyaging, but Tony spends the bulk of his time flirting with Sarah, which is hardly cost-effective. He, in fact, flirts with her for three pages before some kind of technical glitch happens. Tony’s furious, but Court is unfazed, explaining that the only real consequence is that now they’ve got two days to kill in the middle of nowhere. Court offers to take Sarah to see a movie, but she’s all, “No, I want to explore!” so, after ascertaining that no one else on the crew is available to take her out, Court volunteers to do a snowmobile tour.

Chapter 6 opens with maybe my favorite paragraph in the whole book:

At first glance, the Arctic had a deserted appearance, but Sarah was soon aware of a rich profusion of life. The air held snow geese, ptarmigans, kittiwakes and murres. The land was home to the sleek white fox and the burly musk ox, and the sea sheltered walrus, harp seals, and the white Beluga whale.

Sounds kid of Suessian, no?

Sarah and Court also run into a polar bear and an igloo, as is required. They stop for food. Court notices a storm coming, and while Sarah’s off gathering souvenir stones from the beach, someone from the boat radios that it’s too dangerous for them to go back to the boat. Court is, of course, trained in Arctic survival, so he intends to camp out overnight. Sarah freaks right the fuck out. Once they’re ensconced in the igloo for the night, Sarah and Court have an argument about the value of the Enterprise; Sarah’s been drinking the Tony Kool-Aid and is convinced that a) the ship is an engineering miracle, and b) Court has been trying to undermine the mission with all his inspections. It becomes clear that Court, actually, is probably the only executive in the company who has realistic expectations, and that he does, in fact, know what he’s doing. He won’t really elaborate, though, because he doesn’t trust that Sarah won’t turn around and twist everything he says in her story.

It dawns on Sarah that Court thinks either that she’s an idiot who’s been fawning over Tony or that she’s an opportunistic journalist who will do anything (including fawning over Tony) to get a story. (I vote for idiot!) She’s duly insulted. She simultaneously looks him over and decides that he’s just as good-looking as Tony, but Tony works to keep himself polished and Court is more obliviously handsome. (Note: in case you missed it when the author hit you in the head with the baseball bat, Tony = artificial, Court = real.)

It’s really freakin’ cold in the igloo, so Court tells Sarah to zip their sleeping bags together, so that they can sleep spooned up and be kept warm via body heat. Sarah clutches her pearls, Court is all, “Get over yourself,” and Sarah thinks as they crawl into the sleeping bag together that he clearly hates her and thus she is safe sleeping in the same sleeping bag as him. I know, I know, just nod and smile. Court falls asleep almost right away and grabs her boob in his sleep, which has her so beside herself with pleasure and yearning that she can’t sleep. (She must be wearing about 10 layers of clothing, so can she even feel anything?) She sleeps eventually and has a nightmare that wakes up Court. He comforts her. Then they are suddenly making out and Court murmurs how he’s wanted her all along and she’s so beautiful and blah blah, but then it all grinds to a halt when he says, “I want this to be so good for you, better than it ever was with Tony.”

They survive the night and make it back to the boat with no more sexy times. By the time the boat gets moving again, they’ve collected many gallons of liquid gas. Court patrols things, Tony’s totally relaxed, and Sarah is uneasy about the fact that liquid gas is volatile and the ship has to cut through sheets of ice that are 5 feet thick. Tony tries to ply her with booze to calm her down, then he tries to make out with her, and she’s kind of a cold fish and feels absolutely nothing for Tony. Then the boat gets rocky, drinks get spilled, and Tony suggests that if she’s nervous, they should go up to the bridge and get a weather report.

They run into Court on the bridge, and Sarah thinks the best way to play this is to drape herself on Tony. Way to prove you’re not sleeping with him, Sarah. Meanwhile, the officers on the bridge discover that the steering is malfunctioning. Some officers argue and Tony interrupts to ask why there’s so much melodrama, given that the ship is indestructible. Tony’s really asking for the ship to sink, isn’t he? Court points out that the ship is not built to plow through icebergs. When the captain orders the ship to go to half speed, Tony angrily tells the crew to belay that order, saying they’re already 3 days behind and they need to move quickly. The captain refuses to comply, stating that it’s too dangerous to go fast. The captain wins, but only after Tony tells him he won’t ever captain a boat again. Court sidles over to Sarah and is all, “You see what an idiot Tony is, right?” She… defends Tony, even though she agrees in her head that Court and the captain are correct. *sigh*

The boat gets stuck in a storm and the turbulence in the sea starts jostling one of the protective shields that keeps the liquid natural gas from leaking. Worst case scenario, there’s a gas leak and the ship blows up. Awesome, right? By this time, Tony is back in his room and Court has gone to yell at him. Sarah suspects some kind of sabotage—she thinks Court is responsible. No, I don’t know why she thinks this, either. When the rest of the crew on the bridge agree that they need Court to come back because he’s the only one who knows the equipment, Sarah volunteers to go get him, because they let her do anything she wants. (I mean, why is she even on the bridge during a crisis?)

Sarah walks into Tony’s suite undetected and overhears an argument in which Court accuses Tony of using cheaper steel to build the part of the boat that’s threatening to fall apart. It’s pretty clear that this is the case and Court is livid that the structural integrity of the boat has been compromised so that Tony could save a few bucks. A fist fight erupts, so Sarah makes her presence known, yelling at Court that there’s an emergency on the bridge. After he leaves, Tony is all, “Bitch is crazy, amirite?” He says that the current crisis is due to design errors on Court’s part, and Sarah figures out that she was brought on board to write an article favorable to Tony so that no one would ever investigate Tony’s shady business practices. She also figures out that Court’s on to Tony and probably thinks Sarah’s Tony’s accomplice, which is why he’s been hostile towards her. Wow, Sarah, that’s pretty insightful! Tony calls her hysterical, because he’s a classy guy, then he further insults her by saying that she’s only acting out because a big powerful man put her in her place.

Suddenly, the call to lifeboats comes on, and Tony runs out of the room so fast he leaves a Tony-shaped hole in the door, leaving Sarah to fend for herself. She goes to her assigned lifeboat station and huddles there with the other women on the ship. If the situation should arise that they’d have to get on lifeboats, the assumption is that everyone will die, because the water is freezing and there’s no civilization for miles. As the other women mope about how they won’t get to say their final good byes to their husbands, Sarah thinks to herself that she respects, admires, and is drawn to Court, that she loves Court, and she’s sad that all they’ve ever done is fight. Respect and admiration, okay, but love? Really? But, whatever, it’s not like Sarah (or this whole book, for that matter) has an abundance of logic.

Court rapels down the side of the boat to make the repair. Sarah is touched that he’d sacrifice his life in order to save everyone on board the boat. (Baseball bat says: Court is a self-sacrificing mighty hero! Tony is a weenie.) He successfully makes the repair, but not before he goes under the icy water and loses consciousness. Sarah, feeling a little self-righteous in her new-found love for him, follows the crew to the infirmary, where they cut off his wet clothes (nudity!) and she thinks to herself that he has a beautiful body. Not seeing the big picture here, Sarah. A little while later, Court gets air-lifted off the boat, but he still hasn’t regained consciousness.

The ship gets back home in time for Tony to harass Sarah some more, but she just yells at him then goes to write the story. We do learn that Court survived with a mild concussion and flew back to London. Sarah’s editor is so stoked, he invites her out to a fancy dinner the day the story is published. She meets him at the restaurant, and is taken to a table where a certain handsome… oh, it’s Court. Ha, ha.

Court acts a little coldly toward her. He explains that the Enterprise is not on its second mission as planned but has been sent back for an overhaul. Sarah’s editor explains that her next assignment is to cover the overhaul process. Sarah’s mildly horrified that the editor would foist her on Court again, but it turns out it was Court’s idea. He was really impressed with how fair and balanced her article was. Sarah’s an idiot, though, so she finishes dinner then excuses herself before their after-dinner drinks are served. Court insists on driving her home.

He takes the scenic route (he somehow knows where she lives) and informs her that Tony sold his shares in the company and is no longer involved in any way. She’s surprised. She lets on that she knows about Tony using cheaper materials to build the boat. Court pulls the car over. He chastises himself for not figuring it out earlier, but apparently the company’s patriarch was totally onto Tony, he just couldn’t prove anything, so he sent Court to make sure the mission went well. Court defends Tony to a point by saying that Tony had blind faith in technology and he’d resigned because and couldn’t have handled it if he’d been responsible for the deaths of anyone on board. Which I find unlikely; Tony’s a Grade A douchebag, I don’t think he actually has a conscience.

Court goes on and on praising Sarah’s story, then says that he knows now that she wasn’t in Tony’s pocket and he asks for forgiveness for assuming she was sleeping with Tony. She forgives him. He tells her they have one last bit of unfinished business and points out that none of the business he had with her editor couldn’t have been done over the phone. They declare their love for each other. He tells her he’s been in love with her the whole time, he only acted like an ass because he was jealous of Tony. (He just lost some points with me. When he did act like an ass, Sarah kind of deserved it.) He asks her to marry him, and she says yes! What the hell? These people don’t even really know each other. Court tells her that he wants to get married right away so that he can bring her home with him to England. His only regret is that she’d have to leave her job, but a) her editor was about to send her on location to cover the overhaul anyway, and b) she says, “I’ll freelance!” I guess I should give the author points for not making Sarah give up her career. They talk about honeymooning somewhere warm so that Court can see Sarah in a bikini, since he’s only ever seen her in heavy winter clothes. I don’t think he understands how this marriage thing works. And that’s the end!

So there you have it. Court was actually pretty likable, but Sarah was totally too stupid to live. Also, dude, there was not one single sex scene. This is officially the most boring romance novel ever written.

This book would have been way better if we’d taken T-Pain.

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2 Responses to "Recap: Arctic Enemy by Linda Harrel"

1) What’s NOT better with a Lonely Island Boys digital short??

2) Woah, the marriage thing came out of nowhere! I’m glad they got all their stupid misunderstandings out of the way, but really?? Good heavens.

I liked the book, but then I don’t preen on being an airhead. ;| The book has substance and the plot moves along in predictable directions, with a little extra ambiguity in the characterization. Linda Harrel seemed to be slumming by writing Harlequin books. She didn’t write many, so presumably she found something that fits her mainstream style a bit better.

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