This review was originally posted on The Geeky Waffle and has been reposted here with permission.
As quickly as it began, Ali Hazelwood’s delightful STEMinist novella series has come to an end. The final installment, Below Zero is every bit as sweet and funny as its predecessors, infused with that signature Ali Hazelwood style we’ve all come to love.
Below Zero follows the third PhD-holding friend in the little group of small-but-mighty women in STEM, Hannah, who lands a dream job at NASA working on Mars exploration missions. The story jumps back and forth quite a bit. Some is set during present day, where Hannah finds herself trapped on a glacier in Svalbard, Norway with a sprained ankle, a storm incoming and no help on the way. The rest of the story goes between her first year of graduate school and her first year at NASA when she encounters – and then reencounters her friend Mara’s cousin Ian.
What was meant to be an informational interview with Ian as part of a class requirement turns into much more when he and Hannah catch feelings for one another – only for things to come to an immediate stop when the dating-averse Hannah pumps the brakes before they can even really get on a roll.
Where Under One Roof and Stuck With You were more strictly about the romance at the core of the story, and more focused on how the characters would overcome their differences to finally get together, Below Zero is centred more squarely on Hannah. Yes, her romance with Ian is still an important component – the man comes to rescue her from a glacier when she was left for dead after all. It’s still very much a romance novel. But the bulk of the story is more about her overcoming personal and professional insecurities, and in so doing opening herself up to the possibility of finding something real with the kind, brilliant NASA engineer who might just be the man of her dreams.
This is a trend I really enjoy in romance especially, when a lot of time is given to the main characters are given time to grow and spend time on themselves. This need for growth doesn’t make them unlovable or unworthy of romance, but it helps them become more emotionally honest with themselves and their partner and its an aspect I wish we saw more of. After all, the best partners don’t demand perfection or force change but instead help us grow.
Oddly, though you would think a book set partially in an isolated research station in Svalbard would leave plenty of time for one-on-one time with the central characters, I believe this one had the largest supporting cast of them all. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, however, as there are some scenes near the end checking in with our heroines from the first two novellas that I wouldn’t trade for anything. That said, if I could change one thing it would be to get more one-on-one time with Hannah and Ian in the present day. Hazelwood did such a good job of setting up the pining. I would have liked to see just a little more of the two of them together in “present” day.
Shoutout once again and as alway to the narrator. This time around it was Savannah Peachwood, and I am again reminded how lucky we were to get such wonderful narrations for this series. The kind that feel casual and intimate without ever feeling awkward. Having tried a different romance novel on audio recently, I now fully appreciate how rare this is and Peachwood does a fantastic job.
It’s sad to get to the last of these novellas as they’ve been a delightful treat every month. I have a feeling I’ll be relistening a lot while waiting for Hazelwood’s next full length novel Love on the Brain this August.
Below Zero is available in audiobook format April 5, 2022 and in ebook format July 5, 2022.
Special thanks to Penguin Audio for the advance copy for review purposes.
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