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Cold Magic by Kate Elliott

September 27, 2010

Kate Elliott’s name has long been familiar to me. I’ve heard about her Crown of Stars series, but never read it. When I saw Cold Magic in the store, it called to me. It has a pretty cover and I am as susceptible to a pretty cover as the next person. What drew me to it? The girl on the cover and the suggestive cogs in the background, coupled with a title that included the word magic. Can you say “Steampunk”? When I saw that the author of this book was Kate Elliott and that Romantic Times liked Crown of Stars, I thought this must be the book for me. Steampunk, Fantasy, Historical, Romance. I don’t think I could find a book better suited to my tastes. Or some of them, at least.

Before I get started on the review, here’s the back cover blurb:

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?

Um, I’ve just realized that you’ve probably read that description about a zillion times. Sorry!

Okay (rubs hands), now to get down to the meat of things: Kate Elliott is clearly a talented writer. She knows how to craft a tight story and create a complex world. My main problem with this book was that Elliott went over the top with her world-building. There’s complex and there’s “do I seriously have to read these paragraphs about more of the history of the Kena’ani people?” I confess that there were passages where my eyes glazed over. I’m sure the argument could be made that I missed a great deal but skimming over these sections of the book, but I really don’t care. Cold Magic could’ve lost about fifty pages of extraneous world-building and I would’ve liked it a lot better.

That said, this was a solid book. The characters all have depth, except perhaps, Rory, who appears to be mostly comic relief. But this is only the first book in a trilogy, so he has room to grow. I’d add that I liked Rory a lot. Rascals are such fun. The narrator of the book is Cat, a young woman who lives with her aunt, uncle, and cousins. Cat was nearly a cliche: the outspoken, impulsive, big-hearted, self-sacrificing heroine. Luckily, though Cat danced the precarious line between cliche and character, she never officially fell off the edge. Cat’s funny and self-effacing, often comparing herself to her namesake (which turns out to be prophetic). I liked the strength of her character and that she never wavered in her determination to live, or to help Bee. Which brings me to the other important character. Bee is Cat’s eldest cousin. The two share a close, special friendship that is the heart of the novel. Cat’s love for Bee and Bee’s for Cat is probably the best thing about the whole book, and they didn’t even spend most of it together.

The story has a slow start, and really begins when a cold mage comes to Cat’s uncle’s house in search of the eldest Hassi Barahal daughter. I knew something was up with this right away because several times Cat’s internal thoughts turn to the few months she has on her cousin. Cat, as the eldest Hassi Barahal daughter, is forced to marry the cold mage, whose name is not at first known to her. When the binding ceremony is completed, the cold mage whisks Cat away in order to return to his mage house, Four Moons. The cold mage, who eventually reveals his name to be Andevai, treats Cat to a royally miserable adventure. He is alternately cruel and demeaning and does not offer to enlighten Cat about her circumstances. Andevai’s reasons are twofold–you’ll have to learn them for yourself. But the truth is, no matter Andevai’s reasons for treating Cat the way he did, I found his behavior inexcusable. If he is to be Cat’s hero, he needs to do a LOT of growing up. In this book, he comes off as a spoiled brat.

The plot revolves around Cat’s identity and a deception that threatens Cat’s life. Cat learns fairly early on that she isn’t who she thought she was. She also experiences a betrayal that will be hard for her to recover from. Mainly, though, the plot serves to set up the rest of the trilogy. There’s a great deal of political conflict in Elliott’s icy world–and Cat and Bee get caught up in it. It appears that both girls will have a role to play in major upcoming events.

My feelings about this book are a bit muddled. There were times when I couldn’t wait to get back to it, and parts where I couldn’t wait for it to be over. I’m also a little sketchy on how the magical world works in this book. What kind of magical powers to regular people have? Does everyone have them? There’s mention of saber-tooth tigers and woolly rhinoceros, and the world seems to have never left the ice age behind. I wanted to know more about that. Plus, I was disappointed in the love story. I’m hoping that two more books will give it a chance to grow.

This is book is perfect for those who like complex fantastic worlds and don’t mind a lot of detailed world-building. I liked it and there were definitely times when I Elliott’s writing greatly appealed to me. I’ll be checking out the sequel, Cold Fire, when it comes out.

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