Following a bad breakup, climate researcher Col Steele is oh so ready to spend the next several months in Antarctica studying the Ross Ice Shelf with acclaimed scientist, Javier Fernadez. What Col doesn’t count on is the chilly reception and being assigned the grunt work, like organizing their supplies. Still, he’s determined to make the best of the situation for the sake of his future career. If that means he has to swallow his attraction for Javier, then so be it.
When Javier lost his husband in a tragic accident five years ago, he promised to never love again. Landing a semi permanent gig on Antarctica where Javier only had to suffer one assistant for a few months at a time seemed like the perfect way to seal away his feelings. Yet when Col arrives on the ice, Javier is suddenly confronted by emotions he thought long since buried. Not only is Col attractive, but he proves to be a scientist worthy of the task documenting the destruction of the environment.
Their tight living quarters get even tighter when Javier and Col leave the confines of their research trailer to study the camp on the ice. Sharing a single tent brings the two men ever closer together…a closeness that grows deeper as the two face a series of life-threatening challenges on the ice. Only time will tell if they can survive the wild ride nature throws at them.
Slow Thaw provides some interesting trans representation. Personally, I really enjoyed the introduction to Col who, upon first seeing Antarctica, recalls how it does and does not compare with his previous research in the Arctic. Col makes a comment about “girls gone wild” and how he used to be one of them. Upon first reading, I just assumed Col meant he’d gone “wild” himself. We find out in the next chapter or so that Col is a trans man. I liked Coatsworth’s subtleness about identifying Col this way. It was interesting to see how Cols’ gender identity crops up several times throughout the story, as well. Part of me didn’t think such consistent reminders of Col being trans were necessary; on the other hand, it may be nothing less than simply illustrating how little things remind people of their own or of someone else’s gender identity.
As far as the storytelling goes, I thought the romance aspect was pretty heavy handed. From almost the first day, Col feels stirrings towards Javier. Conveniently, Javier is also gay and single, but takes a lot longer to warm up to Col as a person, let alone a love interest. In that regard, there is a bit of melodramatic angst; this is captured when Col decides to make a move and, perhaps out of habit, Javier rejects his advances out of hand. Still, with first person narrative flip-flopping between Col and Javier, it’s clear that they (perhaps too) quickly develop feelings towards one another. While they contend with their wayward hearts, the pair is also working on researching the ice shelf. Coatsworth manipulates the research aspect of the plot to provide maximum Col/Javier interaction and romantic angst. For one thing, Col is concerned about falling for Javier, his boss and a very established/famous scientist. Javier, on the other hand, is reluctant to fall in love with someone after losing his husband. With all this going on, Coatsworth adds an extra element of interest by fleshing out Col’s and Javier’s backstories—their respective broken hearts. On the one hand, I can’t think of any reason why these backstories needed to be included since the main action is between Col and Javier getting together. On the other hand, the flashbacks to the two men’s pasts provided a nice break from what otherwise ran the risk of being a rather cut and dried romance.
The setting of Antarctica was interesting. Some of the descriptive language was evocative in just the right way…the myriad shades of blue you might find in Antarctica and the vastness of the space helped me visualize the locale well. Other details felt overdone, such as the constant reference to caloric needs for working/surviving in subzero temperatures. The big action sequence where Javier and Col are literally riding for their lives felt a little underdone to me, the pivotal scene lacked “oomph.” The aftermath of this scene left me wondering when/why/how basic safety protocol doesn’t apply (i.e. if someone is injured, you do not move them because moving someone could cause further damage). Every time one character moved the other (and it happened often), I wondered about why he was doing it—it was the one area where I felt more explanation was needed to help me suspend my disbelief.
On the whole, however, this is a sweet little get together between a sweet but shy man and a bitter widower. At times, there are strong themes of environmentalism, but are mostly represented by frequent-but-short comments from the characters (e.g. “I’m glad I got to see Antarctica while it’s still here” and so on). The rather run-of-the-mill romance gets punched up a bit with some detailed flashbacks to Col’s and Javier’s previous lovers and go a long way towards helping the reader understand the characters better.