Cold Magic, by Kate Elliott

>> Friday, August 29, 2014

TITLE: Cold Magic
AUTHOR: Kate Elliott

PAGES: 528

SETTING: 19th century alternate version of England
TYPE: Fantasy
SERIES: 1st in the Spiritwalker trilogy

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?

I was really excited to read Cold Magic. I've heard great things about Kate Elliott's books, and this sounded fantastic. I've seen the setting described as "icepunk". It's basically an alternate version of the 19th century in which the ice age has continued and the history is different. From the bits I read, the Roman empire seems to have continued on for a longer time, there was a significant migration North from Africa, and there are all sorts of creatures like trolls. Also, there is magic. Technology is evolving, and this is being resisted by a group of people called the Cold Mages.

Our heroine, Catherine Hassi Barahal, from an old Phoenician family, was taken in by her uncle's family after her parents' death. She's been raised with her cousin Bee, who's only slightly younger. Until suddenly, one day, a cold mage comes to the house and states that he's there to enforce a contract with Cat's uncle. We're not told what's in the contract, just that this means that Cat must marry this man and go away with him. The marriage takes place immediately, and he takes her away with him then and there, with no time for goodbyes or explanations.

I really struggled with this. I listened to some 4 hours of it, and it was only in the last hour or so that something actually happened, the marriage. For a long, long time, it was all world-building, and it was very clumsily done. Lots of people telling each other (in great detail) things they knew very well they both knew already. Loads of "As you know, Bob"s, only more archaically expressed. It might be an interesting world, but there needs to be something going on for me to care about it.

Plus, the characters' reactions felt fake. I didn't understand these people, it didn't feel like they were reacting like people at all. I kept asking myself why on earth they were doing things which didn't make sense.

I felt a bit more hopeful when the cold mage appeared and it seemed things were finally going to get going. They sort of did, but he and Cat still were behaving like no human beings would, and he seemed unnecessarily mean and cruel and thoughtless. I was struggling to force myself to keep listening, so I finally gave up.

Enough people whose opinions I often share love Elliott's books that I think I might still give another one of hers a try (probably Jaran, which sounds good), but this one really wasn't for me.



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