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Cold Magic by Kate Elliott

Cold Magic by Kate Elliott
3.5
Book Name: Cold Magic
Author: Kate Elliott
Publisher(s): Orbit
Formatt: Paperback / eBook
Genre(s): Fantasy / Steampunk
Release Date: September 9, 2010

Orbit Books have the most spectacular, eye-catching book-cover designs available – which honestly, is one of the main reasons I decided to pick up Cold Magic, book one of Kate Elliott’s The Spiritwalker Trilogy. As for the soul of the volume, the setting: we find ourselves in an altered Europe with strong hints of an upcoming steampunk revolution. Here you’ll find cruel magisters skilled at magic, tyrannical princes, and a variety of interesting cultures. The inhabitants of this world are called Romans, Celts and Phoenicians, as well as Mande, Kushites and Greeks – all of them in the grasp of generalizations. For example, our Phoenician heroine, Catherine Hassi Barahal is meant to be a friend of seas and rivers, which seems somewhat ambiguous, as her parents died in their wombs, leaving her an orphan.

As a result of her parents’ death, Catherine (or Cat) has been raised by her uncle’s impoverished family and now shares a close, sisterly relationship with her cousin, Bee. As a family, they grow up in peace, despite the tragedy of our parentless POV character, who has matured presuming she’ll lead a fairly normal life. Yet, evidently, there is something dark going on with the Barahals, and a contract soon forces Cat to marry an arrogant cold mage who was previously unknown to her. Even worse – this marriage threatens to separate Cat from her from her cousin. Not being able to escape this fate, Cat is sent off to a powerful mage house, still unaware of the reasons behind this action. Soon she discovers that her life is a mash-up of lies and betrayals: her heritage is more complex than she could have ever imagined and everything she’s been told since her adoption was to cover up the secrets behind it. Now she knows the truth, she realises that she needs to warn her innocent cousin of the dangers that threaten their existence. The question is, can she fulfil her wish before someone manages to kill her?

To give you a broader vision of what Cold Magic’s world looks like, there are two universes parallel to each other: the “real one” and the spirit world, which only spirits and their special kin can dwell. Just as potentially deadly as the human realm with its saber-toothed cats and other lethal creatures, it is important to consider whether it would be worth the risk to attempt a journey here, if one possessed the unlikely skill to cross borders. In this place, time flows according to different rules, and a dragon’s roll in its wakeless sleep changes the very essence of everything it catches in its tide. Still, both worlds are connected by threads of magic, and occasionally the ghostly Wild Hunt rises to chase down and punish those in the real world, who seek more knowledge than they ought to acquire.

The book depicts a maelstrom of uprising battle between the lower circles (with its slaves, trolls and town workers) and the higher-ups, who exert their power by either powerful armies and royal banners, or deadly spells, coercing anyone to follow their bidding. In these times revolutionary proletarians (radicals) spread the word of freedom they claim to deserve, hoping to rid themselves of their aristocratic or magic-wielding rulers and supporting new technology. This is the main underlying theme of the story: a war of classes, and the clash of steampunk with enchantment.

History is explained in detail, slowly unfolding through the chain of events, which led up to Cat’s current situation. As a daughter of a History teacher, I appreciated this more than anything (talk about coincidence, Elliott’s father had the same profession, which she shares in an author interview at the ‘extras’ section of the book.) More than once I stopped to analyse important generals, rebels and tribes, associating them with whoever they could be in our fantasy-ridden world. In a post-Napoleonic wars era and a mix of sometimes imaginative, sometimes relatable European past, the human population is not the only one out there – trolls, ghouls and other entities exist, as well. It is also hard to ignore the strong African influence and admiration displayed along the lines. So, to summarise the world presented: it’s vivid, colourful and creative – alike to folk music with its roots either deep or unsure, with a flair for different tones tingling together for the chorus.

The characters are not quite as charming, though they do have their moments. The problem being that they just aren’t memorable: they just don’t stand out. This is probably due to the number of them being introduced – when, honestly, half would have sufficed – leaving the others for the next volume and giving the smaller cast more show time. Another reason why I might have a bitter taste in my mouth about this could be that the character development seemed rather rushed, sometimes even quite unrealistic. I couldn’t connect with most of them, excluding Cat, because obviously she gets this extra time, is more fleshed-out and boasts a rounder personality. Not to mention the fact that she has some unique abilities: like being able to conceal herself, see in the dark, and hear better than average humans do. These little additions made her an exciting individuality in the cast.

In summary: my journey started off quite slowly with this book, despite some hasty happenings, and there was a point near the middle where I found myself rather confused. Obviously the author tried to create a quite elaborate and very complex background, but I felt as if I was in a maze, wondering where I took the wrong turn. There are many threads, and at times they connect a bit awkwardly, but I did find that by the end the picture had become clear. Without a doubt, the unexpected twists serve the book well, however their execution consistently appears flawed and there is just too much going on to truly appreciate them. All this being said though, I can’t claim it’s not worth the read. It wouldn’t be fair to accuse Kate Elliott of not having done her homework, because that she completed more than well. I’m hoping to see the uncomplimentary creases flattened by the next volume, meaning a tied-together story, with more convincing, plausible characters. If she can succeed in that, I’m sold.

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Rating: 8.7/10 (6 votes cast)
Cold Magic by Kate Elliott, 8.7 out of 10 based on 6 ratings
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8 Comments

  1. Overlord says:

    Great debut review, Dori! I have to admit that I’ve seen the covers and also been grabbed by them 🙂

    I will actually give these a go!

  2. SzG says:

    I like your review so much, excellent job 🙂

  3. ediFanoB says:

    Excellent review!
    COLD MAGIC is part of my summer reading list. And now I look even more forward to read it.

    • Dori says:

      Thank you! Have fun reading the book – I don’t know about you, but I welcome anything that has to do with “cold” during these hot summer days!

  4. Tom Loock says:

    Is it just me?

    Though the novel does sound interesting, I think the cover is well below average. It’s a pretty generic piece for a start – a composite of two photos, artistically no more than okay, and it could have been used for a YA novel or even a romance novel (with the machine background substituted) .
    Luckily I don’t judge a book by its cover.

    • Dori says:

      I see what you mean, yet I believe that pictures don’t do the cover design justice. You have to hold it in your hand to see the small details. Well, maybe I’m just too biased, but I think that even generic pieces have their innocent charm. 😉

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