I got a copy of Elizabeth Bonesteel‘s debut novel THE COLD BETWEEN via instaFreebie earlier this year (or perhaps late last year?). I’m always on the lookout for new-to-me military SF authors and well, the Chris McGrath cover didn’t hurt…
And then the book languished on my TBR pile for a while – until I was in the mood for SFF and decided to give it a go.
From my Goodreads review:
Let’s get the not-so-good stuff out of the way first: this is pseudo-MilSF at best (liberties are taken with the fraternisation and chain of command elements and I’m not entirely sure the science here would hold up to close scrutiny).
But the setting and characters were enough to convince me to go with the flow and pretend that military science fantasy was the genre, and once I did, then THE COLD BETWEEN turns out to be an entertaining and fast-paced murder mystery in space. I’m not fully invested yet, but I suspect I could grow to care about these characters in future books, and the romance fan in me liked the (unresolved) romance threads in this one.
You could tell I wasn’t 100% convinced, right? But I did finish the book in a couple of days… and you know how sometimes characters stick around in your head? It was like that with Elena, Greg & co – I had to know what they did next.
So I pre-ordered the sequel, REMNANTS OF TRUST, and fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long as it came out this week (and proved to be a really good distraction from RL events, I have to say).
[Slight spoilers for previous book removed!] […Commander Elena Shaw and Captain Greg Foster have] been assigned to patrol the nearly empty space of the Third Sector.
But their mundane mission quickly turns treacherous when the Galileo picks up a distress call: Exeter, a sister ship, is under attack from raiders. A PSI generation ship—the same one that recently broke off negotiations with Foster—is also in the sector and joins in the desperate battle that leaves ninety-seven of Exeter’s crew dead.
An investigation of the disaster points to sabotage. And Exeter is only the beginning. When the PSI ship and Galileo suffer their own “accidents,” it becomes clear that someone is willing to set off a war in the Third Sector to keep their secrets, and the clues point to the highest echelons of power . . . and deep into Shaw’s past.
REMNANTS OF TRUST was great.
Still not perfect, mind (I suspect this is going to be one of the YMMV books, similar to Seanan McGuire’s Toby Daye books, which I adore and others just… don’t), but something about Bonesteel’s writing just hits the spot for me.
The story held my attention throughout. There’s some excellent and breath-taking action sequences, interspersed with quiet (and not-so-quiet) conversations. And then there’s the immediate whodunnit (and why), overlaid with bigger-picture political manoeuvring, all in a space opera setting (which is basically my catnip).
Bonesteel has a knack of writing protagonists that you grow to care about, with several new faces being introduced here. She uses the trick of multiple POVs to create reader empathy with her characters, and it worked for me here.
I also appreciated how she wove diversity into her SF world, without it being in your face. One thing that I want to mention specifically: one of the central characters in REMNANTS is of (implied) Chinese descent, and with the recent discussions of othering being at the forefront of my mind, I did wince at how she was presented initially. In the end though, I felt that Guanyin turned out to be as human and vulnerable as the other characters, and it ended up being the right balance for me.
My criticisms about pseudo-MilSF from the first book still hold true, but I’ve decided to think of Central Corps as an alt-MilSF world where people can freely fraternise with anyone regardless of rank (yes, I can rationalise with the best of them). I’m also on the fence on the unresolved relationship arc – part of me wants to bang heads together and say enough already, while the other part of me just wants to sit back and see what happens next.
Regardless of these niggles, safe to say Elizabeth Bonesteel is now firmly on my list on autobuy authors, and I can only hope she writes many more stories.