Review: Cold Magic By Kate Elliott

Kiara’s note: Whoops! I’ve had this review sitting for awhile and forgot to publish it! Sorry about that.

Cold Magic

Spiritwalker #1

Written: Kate Elliott

Published: September 2nd, 2010

Publisher: Orbit

ISBN: 1841498815

Obtained via: Publisher (ARC)


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.

“I was not a bard or a djeli or an historian or a scribe and I was certainly not a sage, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t curious…”

Young Cat Barahal thinks she understands the world she lives in and her place in it, but in fact she is merely poised, unaware, on the brink of shattering events. Drawn into a labyrinth of politics involving blood, betrayal and old feuds, she will be forced to make an unexpected and perilous journey in order to discover the truth, not just about her own family but about an ancient secret lying at the heart of her world.

Cat and her cousin 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?

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.

My Review:

The basic elements of Cold Magic are all extraordinarily intriguing: ice magic, steampunk dirigibles, fairies, and an alternate-history London with more diversity than nearly any fantasy novel out there today. Unfortunately, I don’t think the elements come together all that well. I WANT to like this book; I really LIKE Kate Elliott’s previous work, and steampunk fascinates me.

Part of the problem, I think, is that Cat is a very reactionary character. She manages to get things done, but it seems like things are always happening TO her, rather than her DOING things. She flails from one plot point to another without much of a clear goal, and she has no idea what she wants out of life. She’s young, I know, but rather than making her endearing, these things make her sort of annoying.

A despised ice mage shows up at her family’s estate and demands Cat as his wife, to fulfill an unbeknownst-to-her contract that was made by her aunt and uncle years ago. Suddenly torn from everything she knows, she meekly follows this mage halfway across the country – being half-starved, confused, and ignored most of the way. Worse, her brand-new husband is a young, arrogant nobleman with problems and enemies of his own. But he doesn’t take the opportunity to make his new wife an ally…. And Cat doesn’t make the attempt, either. Then, of course, she’s not accepted into her husband’s mage household (for reasons I won’t ruin for you here) and is forced to run away. She bounces from England to Fairy and back again, and ends up … Right back where she started. And not much more wiser than she was when she left.

The problem with this novel, I think, is that I don’t love the main characters. I don’t even LIKE Cat or her mage-husband. I have big problems with a love story that so obviously leans toward “We don’t know anything about each other but somehow we just know our relationship is the beginning of TRUE LOVE, even if we won’t ADMIT IT.” This plot element is EXACTLY why I don’t read romance novels. I don’t find it believable or cute and I don’t like to sigh into my handkerchief and weep a gentle tear for the magic of love at first sight. Because, frankly, I think that kind of thinking is the worst kind of adolescent, wish-fulfillment bullshit.

The secondary characters, however, are stunning and awesome. Cat’s best friend and cousin telling the future through her drawings? AWESOME. The non-human races we’re introduced to? AWESOME. Ice magic and steampunk TOGETHER? In the same world? ALL KINDS OF AWESOME.

Which is why I’m so frustrated with the fact that, shortly after finishing the story… I’ve forgotten the details. It’s forgettable, and I’m disappointed by that. I still want to read the next in the series eventually, but it’s going to be pretty far down my to-do list.

[xrr rating=2.5/5 imageset=default]

One Reply to “Review: Cold Magic By Kate Elliott”

  1. Thanks for the review! I’ve had this on my to-read list, so now it’s bumped farther down in favor of novels I might enjoy more.

    The world she’s built sounds like an interesting place, so I’m still curious, despite your annoyance at the main characters. 🙂

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