Elizabeth Bonesteel shows considerable promise in her debut. The Cold Between is an exhilarating mélange of Space Opera, Military SF, Mystery, and Romance.
The Cold Between has a killer setup.
The Cold Between opens with medical chief Kate rushing to clear the infirmary in anticipation of a controlled, limited self-destruct of her military starship. Something goes wrong. The story reopens 25 years later. The destruction of the Phoenix remains a mystery, still producing conspiracy theories and covering the nearby wormhole in lethal doses of radiation. Kate’s son Greg is now captain of the Volhynia, still haunted by the enigma of his mother’s death but with problems of his own.
The segue from the prologue to the present day isn’t from Kate to Greg, but from Kate to Elena, chief engineer on the Volhynia. The crew of the Volhynia are on colony shore leave. Jessica is the life of the party, but a crowded bar full of drunks trying to hook up (do they not have Tinder in the far future?) isn’t her scene. Luckily she meets a tall, dark, and handsome stranger to take her away from all that.
A torrid overnight romance and we’re on to the main mystery. One of Elena’s fellow soldiers in the Corps shows up dead, her new lover Trey is implicated, the political situation heats up, and soon ties with the Phoenix incident begin to surface.
I’ve seen the romance angle of The Cold Between played up, but I’m not sure that’s quite right. There is a romance in there, to be sure, and Bonesteel does a number of romance tropes well, but others are ignored or subverted. More importantly, the romance takes a backseat to the central mystery.
I’m not sure how interesting The Cold Between is as science fiction (which I’m finding to be a basic problem with space opera). The romance and the mystery carry the story. Considerable time is devoted to Elena, Trey, and Greg unpacking their considerable issues. It’s characterization that makes us care more about the action to come, but Bonesteel’s inexperience shows and the pace falters. The ending is a bit too pat too.
It’s the characters that carry the book. Elena, Trey, Greg—each is fully realized, with their own interests and issues. Elena in particular makes for a great main character. Jessica looks like a bit player in chapter 2, but she gets her star turn in the second half of the book.
All in all, it’s an auspicious debut and series opener.
Disclosure: I received an (unsolicited) advance copy of The Cold Between from Harper Voyager.