Workplace romance, enemies to lovers, locked in overnight … it seems that the romance novels that litter the pop fiction landscape these days are designed to hit certain keywords for maximum SEO. With Love, From Cold World is a refreshingly uncynical entry in the genre, with a warning at the beginning that it features “Christmas content”. It lines up its targets and knocks them down, but one wonders if one of the enemies has to be so unthinkingly cruel for so much of the lead up. Nothing inside can quite match up to the cover and title, both of which are inviting, but this is a fine enough example of a genre that grows ever more inclusive.
Lauren Fox and Asa Williamson are co-workers at the refrigerated Florida attraction, Cold World – essentially an air-conditioned warehouse with an ice rink in it – and they can’t stand each other. She thinks he’s too carefree, he thinks she’s too uptight. When Lauren and Asa are selected by their boss to come up with ideas to reinvigorate Cold World’s flagging profits, they’re forced into closer proximity than ever before and, somehow, they find their coolness to one another thawing.
Alicia Thompson, in her second novel, splits third person limited chapters between Lauren and Asa. It’s easier to feel sympathetic towards Lauren because her reasons for being the way that she is make perfect sense, and the way that Asa “teases” her seems needlessly cruel. By the time you understand why Asa is the way he is, he’s no longer cruel to her but you have to wonder why he spoke that way in the first place. Thompson tries to turn it around but even Asa knows that what he said could have been construed the wrong way.
For a fluffy romance set in an ill-defined tourist trap, With Love, From Cold World has many heavy themes. Both characters have trauma in their pasts without it ever feeling like Thompson is milking them; the weight doesn’t burden the novel, but elevates it. There’s a certain dimensionality here, and that they face their issues without overcoming them in a pat fashion makes them feel more real. While not everything is resolved over the month that this story encompasses, Thompson provides a real sense of catharsis at a key moment.
The only real pat element is Lauren’s doomed crush on a character who doesn’t make any sense: Daniel, the playboy son of the proprietor of Cold World. It’s unclear if he has any other stream of income, but given the straits that Cold World finds itself in, he definitely acts above his station, and Thompson has difficulty portraying him as anything other than a sleaze. If ever there was cannon fodder, Daniel is it.
Of course the inevitable final obstacle before a Happily Ever After is also arbitrary as Hell, but that’s even more part of the genre furniture so it seems almost petty to single it out. Regardless, it’s still kinda dumb.
This reader is someone who doesn’t read romance novels for the sex scenes but if you are, weigh up how wedded you are to the word “clit”. This book isn’t strewn with sex scenes, but those that it has are festooned with “clit”. They’re not embarrassing, so it’s difficult to say if they go far enough for connoisseurs.
With Love, From Cold World is a semi-steamy romance that rights its wonky bearings as it progresses. While the cold warehouse it is set in is often vaguely described at best, the people that work there are vibrant and it’s easy to care about their fate once they shed some of their defences. And, of course, the cover is great.