Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cold Magic by Kate Elliott

Posted by Simcha 5:49 AM, under | 6 comments

It's magic versus science in Kate Elliot's newest fantasy novel, Cold Magic.

In an alternate 19th century Europe, the Industrial Revolution has begun and its development is encouraged by the local British Princes. But the Cold Mages, whose powerful magic keeps the populace under their control, are determined to put a halt to the scientific advances, claiming they are a danger to the country. A rebellious atmosphere has begun to stir the citizens who resent the rulership of both the Cold Mages and the Princes and begin to demand the right to govern themselves.

Nineteen-year old Catherine Hassi Barahal, or Cat, has been living in the home of her aunt and uncle ever since the tragic death of her parents, when she was a young child. Cat feels secure in the affection of her extended family, and is as close to her cousin Beatrice as if they were twins. Still, Cat longs to know more about her own parents whom, for some reason, her aunt and uncle refuse to speak about. All that Cat knows about them is what she has learned from the famous journals that her father had written during his travels.

One evening, as Cat and Beatrice prepare to attend the viewing of a recently landed airship, a Cold Mage arrives at the house unannounced and demands to be given the oldest Hassi Barahal daughter. To Cat's confusion and dismay, she is handed over to the arrogant man who, her aunt informs her, is now her husband. In exchange, the Cold Mage gives Cat's uncle a document, which he immediately burns, and Cat is rushed out of the house and into a waiting carriage.

As Cat travels alongside the stranger who is now her husband, to the palace of the Cold Mages, the truth about herself and her family is slowly revealed. And when Cat's eyes are open to the complete truth, she realizes the extent of the danger that she is now in, and she must find a way to save both herself and her cousin from the hands of the ruthless Cold Mages.

I've been reading Kate Elliot's fantasy books since I was teenager and I find it interesting that each of her series that I've read so far are written in a completely different style. While Crown of Stars is a very intense and heart-pounding series of books, the Crossroad series is told in a more distant manner with a wider view of events. Unlike those two series (and haven't yet read the Jaren one) Cold Magic is told in a first person narrative that felt very personal and had me easily connecting to the main character, Cat. And while certainly exciting, Cold Magic was far less intense than Crown of Stars which made it a lot easier for me to read. I really like the fact that Elliott is willing to try different story-telling styles and so each series feels completely different and unique, even to her regular readers.

I loved reading Cold Magic. Cat's voice quickly drew me into the story and I was easily kept captive by the story, the creative world building and, most particularly, by the wonderful characters. It was really the characters that made me wish the book would never end and for days after I finished Cold Magic I would eagerly reach for the book only to remember, with regret, that I had already finished it.

Cat is my favorite kind of heroine, strong, intelligent and brave. Her cousin, Beatrice,is similarly strong and intelligent though she often hides these traits behind superficial prattle and flirtatious behavior. The Cold Mage, Andevai, is a character whose true personality is slowly revealed throughout the course of the book. While he begins as a villain, he eventually does win readers over to his side. Elliott's method of making Andevai likable is not particularly original, though it works, and I kept rooting for some real romance between him and Cat. Another one of my favorite characters doesn't make an appearance until half-way through the book, so I won't say too much about him, but he was a wonderful addition to the story and I loved the way his relationship with Cat develops.

I was also interested to see that there were a number of Jewish elements incorporated into Cold Magic, such as the description of Cat's immersion in a pool of water, similar to what takes place at a Jewish mikve. And Cat's family, the Hassi Barahal, are Pheonicians who refer to themselves by the Hebrew term, Kena'ani. While I know that Kate Elliott is Jewish I've never noticed any of her other books making Jewish references and enjoyed seeing them here.

While I very much enjoyed Cold Magic I can't say that the book was without its faults. Some of the writing was not up to the standards that I have come to expect from a seasoned writer such as Elliott and left me a little disappointed. The dialogue between Cat and Andevai was not very impressive, especially when Cat keeps repeating the same complaints to Andevai about his treatment of her. I just wish the dialogue had sounded wittier and less nagging. Also, Cat's eyes were constantly filling up with tears, which started to annoy me after a while. While her circumstances would certainly permit Cat a good cry or two, I don't need to hear about her eyes filling up with tears because she is hungry, or because she is finally eating, or because she is cold, tired or scared. Cat's eyes were tearing-up so often that it was starting to distracting me from the story.

But what bothered me the most was the very last line of the book which I think is meant to sound mysterious and full of meaning but is really just a statement that doesn't reveal anything we don't already know. I actually read it a few times just to see if I had somehow missed something, but I don't think I had. While I really had no complaints about the ending itself, the last line was just very anti-climatic and I think Elliott could have come up with something a lot more impressive.

While I admit that Cold Magic did have some flaws they were all relatively minor ones and didn't effect my overall pleasure in the book.
In fact, while I don't usually reread books I'm now tempted to sneak into the pages of Cold Magic again because I had enjoyed it so much and don't want to wait for the next book before revisiting Cat, Bee, and the rest of the characters. I highly recommend Cold Magic to all fantasy readers, but especially to those who enjoy stories of alternate history and strong female characters.


Great review! I'm glad you enjoyed it! I'll definitely read it, but probably some time next year ;)

This sounds really promising, I am very much intrigued

"I would eagerly reach for the book only to remember, with regret, that I had already finished it." - Now that is a sign of a great read! I don't think I've ever had that happen to me before. The setting is intriguing. I love alternate histories with fantasy elements.

This one is on my list for later this month. I'll have to come back to read your thoughts once I finish. :)

Aleksandra: Well, at least if you wait until next yr to read it you won't have to wait as long for the sequel. I hate having to wait for sequels

Blodeuedd: I really think you would like this book. You should definitely give it a try.

StephanieD: Yes, it's been a while since I encountered a book that I just enjoyed reading so much, faults and all.

TJ: Well, I can tell you that I really enjoyed it. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the book once you do read it.

I have been wanting this book. But I have to find time to get all these other books done to get to it. :) Glad you enjoyed reading it, with the small faults it may have. :)

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