Elizabeth Bonesteel’s debut novel, The Cold Between, is blurbed by a RITA award winner and begins, after a prologue, with the main character, Elena, being picked up in a bar by the mysterious Trey Zajec (the picture to the left is from the excellent cover depiction of them). They’re soon having sex, in a lengthy scene that nonetheless reveals little about their characters. Is this sci-fi, romance, or both?
I can think of some excellent crossovers– Lois McMaster Bujold’s Shards of Honor being an example– but I was worried this book might prove “too much romance, not enough roller derby,” to borrow a phrase. I needn’t have worried. While Bonesteel doesn’t have Bujold’s flair for characterization, relying too much on telling about each character from the point of view of the others rather than showing, she’s a much smoother prose stylist. And the plot soon picks up, with murders, wormholes, and mysterious explosions. I also enjoyed the heroine being an army mechanic, an unusual occupation which comes in handy at various points.
The setting is a Russian-influenced future space colony, and I was amused to see some characters’ last names taken directly from Russian politics, like Putin and Limonov. While the villains of the story were too obvious for my liking, both in terms of their identities and their motivations, they did have a few redeeming qualities and interesting povs. For example, one villain refuses to be part of the heroes’ plans to thwart a technology that could be world-ending…or life-saving. I really liked that the hypotenuse of the love triangle, Elena’s captain Greg, gets to be a strong and likable character despite Elena not being attracted to him.
Ultimately, the weakness of this story is in the tell-don’t-show characterization. Rather than letting us see their attraction in their actions, Bonesteel has Trey and Elena mentally praise each other– a tactic that didn’t work for me in Graveyard Sparrow, either. Nor is the character development subtle. One particularly obvious quote: “His heart warmed, and all of his insecurity washed away as if it had never been.”
However, there’s plenty of action and tension, all in a very readable style, and Bonesteel ties up the plot while leaving plenty for the sequel to explore. I’ll probably be reading the sequel, Remnants of Trust, when it comes out later this year.
And as to the genre question? I’m waiting for later books to resolve that. The Cold Between doesn’t have the Happily Ever After or Happy For Now ending required of genre romance, but we’ll see what happens as the series goes on.