ARC REVIEW: Cold Magic

Kate Elliott
Cold Magic (Spiritwalker #1)
ACE
ISBN-10: 0316080853
ISBN-13: 978-0316080859
Fantasy/steampunk
September 9, 2010

Blurb via publisher’s website:

From one of the genre’s finest writers comes a bold new epic fantasy in which science and magic are locked in a deadly struggle.

It is the dawn of a new age… The Industrial Revolution has begun, factories are springing up across the country, and new technologies are transforming in the cities. But the old ways do not die easy.

Cat and Bee are part of this revolution. Young women at college, learning of the science that will shape their future and ignorant of the magics that rule their families. But all of that will change when the Cold Mages come for Cat. New dangers lurk around every corner and hidden threats menace her every move. If blood can’t be trusted, who can you trust?

Oh man, I’ve been waiting to tell yall how much I loved this book for, oh, about a month. I’ve been sitting on my newly allotted Kate Elliott fangirl squee, trying to keep it busy, gave it some crayons and Barney coloring sheets — anything to keep from talking about this one hundred percent awesome book too soon. I can contain it no longer. Let the squee fly!

Know that feeling you get when you settle into a book? Like you’ve managed to find the best coat and it fits you perfectly? I felt, finally in a while, at home in a book, and it’s a feeling that, as a reader, I wouldn’t trade for the world. Though I don’t have unlimited time to read (Who does?), I didn’t want to put Cold Magic down. I wanted to read and read and read and know nothing but this book for however long it took to finish. As surely as magic infuses this story, so too did it infuse me. I couldn’t believe how literally taken away I was by it all.

To say the least – I loved it.

Catherine Hassi Barahal’s world is encased in ice, the landscape unforgiving and cold. Though life is a bit of a struggle for her and her family, they get by well enough. Even if their home is as cold as it is outside, Cat knows she’s loved by her cousin, aunt and uncle. Then one day a cold mage arrives, and Cat’s world will literally never be the same.

Catherine, aka Cat, is exactly the kind of female character modern fantasy needs. After growing weary of more than one instance of ineffectual women in fantasy books this year, I was ecstatic to see one who doesn’t just accept the male status quo in her world. She doesn’t sit quietly aside and wait to be useful to others. Though this is what her fate dictates, precipitated by the arrival of a cold mage from the Four Moons House by the name of Andevai Diarisso Haranwy, it’s not long before Cat’s grabbing life by the reins and running for it, quite literally. Suddenly there’s no one she can trust, and it comes down to survival of the fittest as she uncovers shocking truths long hidden from her. Cat, I was ecstatic to see, takes it all in, in a manner that made her an increasingly strong female lead, but not in such a way that trumped the possibility of her being fallible. But she learns from mistakes and she’s better for them. She’s also capable of making smart decisions, without the need to take her low so as to prove that this is a woman’s place. Finally – a female character not relegated to the tired misogynistic logic of our own reality! Because this is fiction, and it’s possible for a female character to be more than that!

Still, her story wouldn’t have been nearly so compelling had it not been for Andevai. He makes her struggle to break from the oppressive traditions of the cold mages that much more exciting and liberating. Because he’s different from that status quo. At first he doesn’t seem so, and it’s as if he earns the title of cold mage through not only his impressively powerful magic, but his aloof and sterile attitude as well. He doesn’t even tell her his name right away, forcing Cat the think of him only as “my husband” and address him as Maestra, the book’s standard issue “my Lord”. Andevai struggles to uphold the duties forced on him by the cold mages of his adoptive House (of which there are five or six competing ones), while also staying true to his slave origins. There comes a point where he has to choose, but will it be in Catherine’s favor? Andevai isn’t as developed as Cat, but you’ll see why later, plus we are only getting his perspective through Cat’s first person narration. Still, I know we’ll be seeing more of him in the series.

The book does contain a slight romance between the two, but it’s not this book’s main agenda. And I was glad. There arises some genuinely good conflicts between them, besides the unwanted marriage they share. I was glad to see that the author didn’t force the romance, and try to resolve it by the end of this book. We’re still left wondering, and I wish I could say more, as the only thing that tweaked my irritation in the entire book had to do with Cat’s cousin Bee, and Bee’s ridiculous opinion regarding Andevai towards the end of this installment. Because too often the kind of conflict that arises between Andevai and Cat is simplistically solved with a convenient romance. And I say this as a reader who loves romance in her fantasy. Cold Magic manages to keep every nuance and element in line, giving us only what we need to entice and enjoy and wait feverishly for the next book.

Other important characters figure in, such as Cat’s cousin Bee, who is a little younger than Cat. The two are practically sisters, and Bee possesses some interesting traits of her own. There were some supernatural creatures that come into play, and the author makes use of trolls, while morphing them into something entirely different from traditionally written ones. Finally, there came one of my favorite characters of the whole book, a fella named Rory, but you’ll just have to meet him entirely on your own. Spoiler territory again, but I just loved him.

Cold Magic struck me as steampunk when I saw the cover months ago, but the book itself isn’t so much steampunk as it is pre-Steampunk. Cat’s world, which is descended directly from the great Roman Empire, is on the cusp of an industrial revolution. It threatens to usurp the control cold mages have long held over the world from a time when their magic actually rescued many from a possibly worse set of masters. There’s a a steampunk element or two, like a dirigible that Cat and her cousin hope to see at the beginning of the book. There’s also that air of revolution and change thanks to that approaching, conquering industry. In some ways, it is responsible for a lot of the strife in this book, but it’s not necessarily the driving force in the book. Perhaps the series will evolve into more of a certain steampunk atmosphere? As it is, though, it is a truly fantastic fantasy setting. I love alternate histories, and the way Elliott has morphed our history into one all her own is truly a pleasure to read. There’s Celtic mythology morphed into a fantasy myth, and the author draws from some of our own pasts and cultures to create something so fresh, for me, that I was as geektastically aflutter over the worldbuilding as I was over the character development. From the class structures to the very ice-hardened land itself, I steeped in this book’s wonderful world. Splashed in its very fun, after-the-rain puddles. Just loved it to pieces.

There is also a captivating fae element to the story called the Spirit World, where people, hunters, from Cat’s world can cross over to and kill supernatural prey to bring back to their villages. It’s really all a very well executed, delightfully strange fantasy setting. I can’t say too much about that fae world without it being a major spoiler. Suffice to say that the book has a few twists that I didn’t see coming, and I love it when a book literally sweeps the rug from beneath my feet in this way. It’s all explained very well, even why people have the kinds of names they do.

Cold Magic really surprised me. This is not a typical fantasy tale at all. It’s the kind that makes me want to stand up and shout in triumph for the fresh elements and story it brings. In a total of 502 pages, not once was I bored, or exasperated at silly scenes or people, or cringing at a nefarious cheese factor. OK, there was the one time mentioned above, but that’s it, and Cat manages to ignore her cousin Bee quite nicely. This book was one hundred percent awesome. I can’t recommend it enough! Not since my number one series , the Rachel Morgan books by Kim Harrison, have I enjoyed a fantasy read this much. And I wish I could say SO much more about Cold Magic, but it is a literal gem readers will be glad to discover for themselves. This is book one in a trilogy. The next book will be called Cold Steel (and you’ll find out why in this book). I. Cannot. Wait.

Rating: The Biggest Five Scoops Ever

Visit the author’s site and blog.

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20 comments

  1. Oh wow, looks like you really loved this one. I’ve been meaning to give Kate Elliott a try since I’ve heard good things about her books. This seems like a good one to start with since it’s the first in a series. I’m going to keep an eye out for this. :)

    • I’d never heard of Elliott before. I mean, where have I been? Discovering her via this totally awesome book makes me feel like I’ve been under a rock lol! I’ll definitely be trying more of her work. Hope you enjoy Cold Magic should you pick it up. Another thing in its favor, it’s just a trilogy, not stretched out into several, seemingly never ending books. ;)

  2. I have SO been waiting on this.

    Because SOME of us have to WAIT to read it. *is pathetically jealous*

    Looking forward to reading your review after I’ve read it – I skimmed enough at the beginning to see you liked it.

    • I feel blessed beyond words – trust me. ;)

      I hope you LOVES IT! Please come back and tell me if you do, or I’ll check out your web digs for your reaction, too. I want to squee about this *with* others. :D

  3. I really hope I like this as much as you do. I’ve already got it here waiting to be read, but wasn’t sure how to prioritize it. I think I’ll read it next. I’m actually a long-time fan of Elliott (her Jaran is one of my all time fav reads) but I felt like she’d lost her way recently. I’d love to be a fan again. I do know that she writes women strong, smart and wise.

  4. I preordered this book because of all of the good buzz it was getting and now its finally out, I haz it in my ereader :D
    Sounds great!

  5. I’ve long heard tell of Kate’s awesome work but haven’t felt compelled to read any of her books before – you know how it is, you want to read something but with such a large TBR stack you find books being pushed down if they aren’t immediately what you want to read at the moment? So I’ve wanted to check her out for a while and haven’t. I saw the cover and blurb for this one and thought, well I think it’s high time I got around to it!

    …and your review has totally just cemented that first impression. I’ll DEFINITELY be looking for this b ook.

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