Cold Magic by Kate Elliot

Cold Magic
Kate Elliot

Ever since KMont posted a glowing review of Cold Magic on her blog, I’ve been really interested in reading it. So despite my teetering TBR, when I saw it in my local library I made an impulsive decision to grab it.

The Premise: (taken from the blurb) “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 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?”

Read an excerpt of Cold Magic here

My Thoughts: This is one of those books that just throws you into the world and you glean information as the characters make their way. The story begins on a relatively typical day in Catherine and Beatrice’s (Cat and Bee’s)  life in Adurnam.  Cat lives with Bee, who is her cousin, and with her aunt and uncle. Along with her cousin, she’s a student at the local university. There is a feeling of excitement about industry and human innovation, and about the airship for the “Great Expedition”. The two girls, who are very close, have a great chemistry and I loved reading scenes with them together. All seems as usual, even Cat and Bee’s mischief, but when they go home, and their day turns dark.  A cold mage, Andevai Diarisso Haranwy, from Four Moons house, arrives at the family’s home, asking for the eldest Hassi-Barahal girl as per some agreement. By the end of the night, Cat is married to this arrogant mage, and taken away.

This seems like a set up for a captive-bride romance, but the story doesn’t really go there. There’s a twist which brings down a whole world of trouble, but Cat reacts and survives. She refuses to be used, nor will she let her beloved cousin be used. Luckily for her, her true lineage gives her an edge that no one realizes.

This is a fantastic story in terms of world building. There are steampunky elements in this book, but it also throws in an alternate history and hints at a well-built magical world. It’s clear that the two forces of magic and science are at odds, not only among cold mages, the ruling aristocrats and the common man, but among men and other creatures. The part of me that loves that stuff was very happy.  At times I worried that things were going over my head, but I’m not sure if it was my fault for reading the book when I was tired or if this was to be expected, as things made more sense as the story progressed. Anyway, the book is chock-full of details about a world that is like ours, except not. The icy climate, the spirit world, the history of the cold mages and how Cat’s people adapted after Roman rule are all mixed in with Cat’s adventures. As is Cat’s personal history which she realizes isn’t what she thought.

Cat is a great heroine. As the narrator she has a strong grasp on recent history and a pride in her people, the Kena’ani (called Phoenicians by the Romans). I liked that she was interested in technology and in science, but although magic is an accepted part of the world, it’s not something she’s very knowledgeable in. As a result, when he fate intersects with that of cold mages and spirit worlds, Cat has to rely on her wits and instinct to survive. The world seems to be reaching an impasse, and it’s not certain which way things will go, but Cat is in the center of big changes.

My favorite secondary characters were Cat’s husband Andevai and her cousin Bee. Bee is someone Cat loves and wants to be safe, and who shares similar feelings for Cat. I really enjoyed the relationship between the two girls and I liked how they had their own distinct personalities – Bee being more the winsome and artistic one, but who is just as quick as Cat. I loved their close relationship, as I loved how well that immediate recognition of family that was elsewhere in this story (saying more would spoil the fun). Their antics and banter had me grinning. I also ultimately liked Andevai although he starts off as someone who I couldn’t pin down as someone I should like. Cat isn’t sure if he’s ally or an enemy.  It’s not obvious how he feels because he blindly follows the instructions given him, and his arrogance and vanity makes him rather unlikable. I felt somewhat irritated that Cat would note how handsome he was at the same time she was complaining about his faults, but as the book went along he showed more depth. There’s an obvious set up for romance between the two but it’s definitely something for that’s not going to be simple and will likely develop over multiple books.

Overall: This was a solid fantasy story with a really imaginative world (alternative history, hints of steampunk, cold magic). My favorite things were the world building and the relationships between characters, two important things in my checklist for liking a book. My only criticisms would be that the pacing felt uneven and things went over my head, problems that not everyone may share. In the end, I really want to know what happens next, and do look forward to the second book, Cold Fire, so I can experience all these characters again. I recommend it for fans of straight fantasy who like independent female heroines.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Lurv a la Mode (ARC review) – The Biggest 5 Scoops ever (out of 5)
Charlotte’s Library – mixed review, “here’s much to admire […] didn’t quite come together”
Dreams and Speculation/Dirty, Sexy Books Dueling Review – 4 stars (DSB) / 6 out of 10 (D&S). I tend to have similar opinions DSB, and I agree with this one
Chachic’s Book Nook – positive review (I share her opinion on this one too!)
Smexy Books – B-
SFF Chat – some problems but ultimately positive
Got Schephs – 8 out of 10
The Book Smugglers – 8 (Excellent)
Dear Author – A-
Starmetal oak book blog – A