Title: Slow Thaw
Series: Escape From the Holidays Collection
Author: J. Scott Coatsworth
Genre: Romance, Near Future
LGBTQ+ Category: MM, gay, trans
Publisher: Mischief Corner Books
Pages/Word Count: 88 pages
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Javier Fernandez is a climate scientist living in a research station near the South Pole. Since his husband was killed in a car crash, he’s preferred to be alone, and is less than thrilled to have a junior scientist thrust upon him by his rich patron.
Col Steele is a trans man fleeing a bad break-up. He is ready for the next step in his career, and eager to spend Christmas anywhere but at home.
When a crack in the ice separates the two men from safety, they are forced to come to terms with their own losses and each other.
About the Escape From the Holidays series:
For the second year in a row, Mischief Corner Books is putting out a winter holiday collection – ten stories revolving around various December holidays.
Two men, one tiny Antarctic science lab. Javier Fernandez just wants to be left alone to pursue his research on climate change. Col Steele is hoping to make a good impression as his new colleague.
Unfortunately for both of them, they’re in a holiday romance story…
Okay, sort of. Javier is a Grinch about the holidays, and people in general, so he starts out by bossing Col around and making it clear that he’s not interested in any kind of emotional connection, even friendship. Col is there to take advantage of an amazing career opportunity, so he puts up with Javier’s rudeness. That works right up until they’re stranded out on the ice and have to pull together to survive.
Their romance is slow to build, as implied by the title. Javier extends small kindnesses to Col, then pushes him away again. It’s made clear that both men are attracted to each other, but they go from tentative politeness to first kiss rather abruptly. Beyond that, I really enjoyed the gradual unfolding of their relationship throughout.
I’m a sucker for characters who have to find their way back to hope, and Coatsworth delivers that beautifully. There’s a good reason for Javier’s grumpiness, which we learn about bit by bit. Col’s persistent kindness coaxes him out of his shell, and when he finally warms up, it’s so rewarding.
Be warned that there’s not a lot of Christmas in “Slow Thaw”, just a little for flavor. However, it’s short and sweet with a wintry setting and a warm-fuzzy ending—still a good holiday read. If you’re looking for a story that doesn’t have Christmas splashed all over the pages, it might just be perfect.
Coatsworth has done his research on Antarctica, and it shows—occasionally to the detriment of the story, as an infodump shows up now and then. On the flip side, it was unclear how much working in Antarctica differs from working in other cold conditions—Javier treats Col like a complete beginner, but we know that Col does have experience, so how much of that is Javier being Javier and how much is the Antarctic being a whole different ball-game than anywhere else on Earth?
As a side note, Col is trans. I say “as a side note” because it’s treated matter-of-factly in the story—Javier knows he’s trans, Col views it as an important part of his history, and that’s that. As a cis reader, I can’t speak to the representation, but it seemed just fine to me, and I appreciate Coatsworth’s effort towards inclusion.
“Slow Thaw” is just long enough for a “stuck alone together” tale that turns into a survival adventure, with some twists and turns as our intrepid duo face unexpected obstacles. It’s exactly the right length for the story it’s telling. I’d file it under near-future SF, but it’s 90% a survival romance story, and a most satisfactory one.
About Siri: Siri Paulson loves nothing more than mixing up genres to see what will happen. She also wears the hats of non-fiction editor by day and chief editor of micro-publisher Turtleduck Press by night. Her other passion is contra (folk) dancing. Thankfully, her long-suffering spouse is good at keeping himself occupied. After growing up in Alberta, Canada, she moved to Toronto and achieved her lifelong dream of buying an old house, dubbed the TARDIS because it’s bigger on the inside. Other lifelong dreams include publishing novels (one and counting), travelling the world (so far, so good), and becoming an astronaut (still waiting on that one). She can be found at QueeRomance Ink, on her blog, and on Instagram. Her most recent publications are a short story in the anthology Timeshift, edited by Eric S. Fomley, and an m/m steampunk serial at Turtleduck Press.