Cold Magic by Kate Elliott
Review by Joshua S Hill
I have not been as surprised and thrilled to find myself loving a book in a long as when I started reading ‘Cold Magic’ by Kate Elliott. The book had been placed on a pile of books sent to me that I would leave for a rainy day; nothing special, I thought. How wrong I was.
As they approach adulthood, Cat Barahal and her cousin Bee think they understand the society they live in and their place within it. At a select academy they study new airship technologies and the dawning Industrial Revolution, but magical forces still rule. And the cousins are about to discover the full ruthlessness of this rule.
Drawn into a labyrinth of politics involving blood and old feuds, Cat is betrayed by her family and forced to marry a powerful Cold Mage. As she is carried away to live a new life, fresh dangers threaten her every move and secrets form a language she cannot read. At least, not yet.
But both cousins carry their own hidden gifts and these will shape great changes to come. For in the depths of this treacherous world, the Wild Hunt stirs in darkness and dragons are waking from their sleep.
Set on Earth in a world that I wish had formed instead of our own, about 200 years ago, Cold Magic is a great story that I’m never going to be able to do justice to. The blurb and quotes make this book sound a little more ‘fantasy’ than it really is. Yes, there are apparently dragons, though I don’t remember ever seeing one, and the world we travel through is so believable you’ll start to wonder if maybe Elliott has the inside source on what actually took place 200 years ago.
The technologies mixed in with the magic of this world make for a fantastic world, which is made all the more incredible and credible thanks to Elliott’s use of place-names found in our own histories. Phoenician’s who prefer to be called by their true name, Kana’ani, travel across Europa and, along with the Celtics and other nationalities of the region, rejoice the loss of the Roman Empire in the year 1000.
Taking Earth as a setting for a fantasy book is one thing, as most authors will simply place their fantasy world over the top of our own. Not many authors take the time to rewrite our history at the same time as understanding our history to bring both into peace with one another. Every time I saw mention of Qart Hadast – “called Carthage by the cursed Romans” – I felt a part of a world that seemed all the more real for being dissimilar to ours.
The cousins – Catherine and Beatrice – really do find themselves caught up in a world they simply have not been prepared for. Cold Mage’s rule with an iron and cold fist, threatening power over others – high and mighty – with the threat of their magic. But they are not invulnerable, and that makes this story once again quite brilliant for its nuances.
This book had me hooked from the first page, and the fact that this is a world where the ice-sheets never receded as much as they had in ours really played to the science-nerd in me. Add in the warped history and languages, characters I wish I knew personally, and a way with words I haven’t had the pleasure of reading since Steven Erikson, and Kate Elliott is now a contender for one of my favourite authors.
Alessan from Carcosa
The one negative about this book is the way the heavy worldbuilding sometimes invades everything else, gifting with overly long, unrealistic walls of text in the middle of dialogue. But other than that, this novel was beautifully written, with an excellent characterization! I did not expect to like it as much as I did!
Jamie from Cardiff
I found Elliott's rewritten world to be both in depth and fascinating. Her strength is adding a rich culture that is embedded into the world she's created. Whenever I talk about culture in fantasy, I always use Cold Magic as an example. Her magic system is also solid and interesting to read. A superb start to the series, and I can't wait to get my hands on Cold Fire!
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