REVIEW: Cold Steel

Kate Elliott
Cold Steel (Spiritwalker #3)
Orbit
Fantasy/steampunk/icepunk
june 25, 2013

Blurb via Goodreads:

Trouble, treachery, and magic just won’t stop plaguing Cat Barahal. The Master of the Wild Hunt has stolen her husband Andevai. The ruler of the Taino kingdom blames her for his mother’s murder. The infamous General Camjiata insists she join his army to help defeat the cold mages who rule Europa. An enraged fire mage wants to kill her. And Cat, her cousin Bee, and her half-brother Rory, aren’t even back in Europa yet, where revolution is burning up the streets.

Revolutions to plot. Enemies to crush. Handsome men to rescue.

Cat and Bee have their work cut out for them.

Being the third in a series, there are slight spoilers for past books, but nothing major for this book is revealed.

Alas, one of my most favorite series has come to an end. But…what an end it was. At first I was a bit dismayed to not be enjoying the third and final book in the Spiritwalker Trilogy. And when I say at first I mean for about the first third or so of the book – which is a lot to be dismayed at! It was slow to really get going, and really, it didn’t get going till a certain vain and utterly handsome and infuriating character comes back on the scene. I’m afraid that Cat just wasn’t doing it for me in this one, at the beginning at least, and it seemed like she and her cousin Bee were getting nowhere fast. Don’t get me wrong, things were happening, but it was feeling like they couldn’t make any progress.

Elliott does come through with the goods in this book eventually, and normally not being particularly interested in the first third of a book would put a big damper on my opinion of it overall, but there’s a point in Cold Steel where it all pulls back through so strongly that it cannot be denied a place on the awesome shelf.

In Cold Steel, Cat and her cousin Bee are still trying to find their way back to Europa from the Taino island kingdom, and it’s a long, arduous journey even when they eventually get there. Cat is, per usual, the proverbial walking trouble, unable to stay out of danger or intrigue at any time. She still has her sire, the master of the Wild hunt to worry about and there’s the not-so-small matter of rescuing her obnoxious yet adoring husband from her sire as well. Add to that the machinations of General Camjiata, the clutching reach of the Four Moons mage house and a continent on the brink of war, and Cat and her cousin Bee have their hands beyond full. There’s a lot going on in this series, and when you’re moving throughout the third book, seeing even more problems crop up for Cat and her friends, I did begin to wonder if the series was going to be extended. On the one hand – YAY! – but on the other, three book series are almost a relief in this day and age, and the author really does pull everything together marvelously by the end.

That being said, time to discuss the elements I really enjoyed and the ones…not so much. The prevailant theme that stuck out most to me in the book was the issue of male/female equality, of which there’s a decided and obvious lack for women in Europa. Pitted almost laughingly against the Taino kingdom, Europa is clearly meant to be a culture in the dark ages when it comes to views on women. They are subservient, sometimes to the point of literal town whore whom any man is entitled to use at his leisure, to, while powerful magic users in their own rights, still no more important than being pretty wives whose main skill is pouring wine for the masters at the table. There’s a strong call these days to have good, strong female characters that stand apart from men in some ways, ways that show women are not merely sex objects, inferior and weak. Cat manages to be the center of every one of these and more at some point in this book, and we get to see many gross examples of the supression of women throughout the book’s worldbuilding. There’s a strong, glowing and growing sense of female empowerment in the book that is, for the most part, organic-feeling in the story. However, at times, I did start to feel that the theme was a little overused – and believe me, I’m surprised to feel that way as a reader that wants strong female characters. It’s just that it’s, at times, like I wanted to tell the book, “I get it, this sucks, those men doing these things suck, change is needed…but I GET IT.” After a while, these examples sometimes felt too obvious and neatly put in, but thankfully the book wraps up in a much more coherent way with the theme without feeling forced.

The book starts early on this issue, too, as if it wants to assure readers that there’s some serious stuff coming, but Cat and her cousin Bee are going to remain true to themselves and their goals. In the last book , there was a definite pall hanging over them, with so many powerful men wanting to control them in some way or another. As a reader, you really could begin to feel that the two young women had no way out. Cat really comes into her own in this book, though, and most of the main characters do as well, giving each a really nice, satisfying development. Cat, for example, has issues to confront with her cold mage husband, Andevai and it’s not an easy road when he’s offered an irresistible proposition by his mage house, Four Moons. She battles the need to be free of her fae sire constantly, and who could forget the powerful general marching on Europa who would use her and her cousin to his own ends. It gets to be very daunting, but I was so happy eventually with how the author portrays these themes while still allowing her female characters to have strengths outside of them. This is such a glaring issue that needs to be addressed more in fantasy and science fiction.

Other characters of exceptional character growth note were Andevai, Cat’s cold mage husband, who I was quite unsure of along with Cat at various times in the book. What a profound change we see in him, from the haughty and perpetually disdainful-of-everything man to…well, the kind of man a strong female character could truly love. I love them as a couple and I have to say that as much as I have wanted to figuratively smack Andevai in this series, I have grown to love his cahracter just as much.

Then there’s Bee, who, while her growth is a little more peripheral than Cat’s, becomes this rising voice for rebellion in Europa that is quite interesting and cheer-worthy. Her relationship with Cat is ever interesting as well; she’s like the parent/sister/counselor for Cat all in one. Not to mention Bee’s amorous activities, which could be downright amusing at times (she’s apparently an incredible Helen of Troy type beauty), but also a little too redundant. It was as if everywhere they turned there was a suitor or jealous man after her. Not to say there’s anything wrong with having suitors or even taking up with any of them, it’s just that, kind of like the obviousness of the equality issue for women, it could be a little too much at times. I get it, Bee is beautiful, (just about) every man wants her, etc. Still, she is a thoroughly enjoyable character aside from this and how she harps on Cat to stay focused while in Andevai’s presence became quite comical.

After the characters, I have to praise once more the epic feel and quality of the worldbuilding. Based somewhat on history and cultures we know (of which I am nowhere near qualified to comment directly on),  some will sound familiar to readers while becoming this vast delight for a fantasy reader to get absorbed in. The series, an offshoot of that whole “punk” genre, is a subgenre called icepunk. Elliott continues the richness of it all with an even deeper look into the diversities and intricacies of her carefully crafted world. (For great insight into the worldbuilding, check out an interview with her on author John Scalzi’s blog – no worries, there are no spoilers.) There’s cold mages, fire mages, a skull Cat travels with who can talk to her in the spirit world, the WHOLE spirit world, an explanation for the Salt Plague, more dragons!!!, lots of trolls (though nothing at all like the trolls we know from traditional fantasy), an airship or two!, and it’s all rounded out quite nicely by a kick-ass lead heroine. Happy happy happy is what this reader was!

I could go on and on with how awesome this book round out the series for me. Yeah, I had a few niggles, but by the end of the book and for most of it, it truly brings everything together in a very satisfying ending. The journey this series has taken me on as a reader has been beyond fun. I have laughed, I have cried (especially for Cat) and I have enjoyed how everything plays out. Thank you, Ms. Elliott, for a breathtaking series of books. It was absolutely incredible.

Rating: 5 Scoops

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2 comments

  1. I’m reading it now -2/3rds of the way- and loving it! One (peripheral) character you don’t comment on in your review is Rory and I am curious what you think of him. He seems pretty original as a “shapeshifter” character in that he really is a cat, with no conflicting identities or issues. He definitely adds a little comic relief too! He’s the equivalent of Jenks for Rachel in my head… And I guess Bee is Cat’s Ivy in a way! Dang now I’m thinking about RM again and next book butterflies!!

    • Well drat, it’s a shame I failed to mention Rory this time. He’s definitely a good character, but I think this time he was more in the periphery maybe. Or in mine at the very least. It felt to me as though this was Cat’s ultimate time to shine, and honestly, she’s the only character I felt emotionally attached to by the end. Rory really is a great character, though. The series would be missing some great fun moments without him.

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