Cold Magic by Kate Elliott

Cold Magic book cover
Rating 9.0/10
Kate Elliott is now a contender for one of my favourite authors.

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.

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Cold Magic reader reviews

from United States


I struggled to finish this book because I hate to leave things undone, but was sorely tempted to make an exception for this painful read. The author uses too many thesaurus-worthy words and paragraph length sentences. The characters are clunky and unbelievable, the dialogue is awkward... It gets slightly better in the middle when all of the main characters are separated and there is only action, but as soon as the characters are reunited I went back to hating the awkward interpersonal relationships and dreadfully forced romance. I don't understand the positive reviews I've seen for this book. If you dislike it also, you are not alone.

from England


I couldn't bring myself to get past the second chapter. I found myself bleating at first to the map around which she bases her world: this seemingly fantastical "mash up" is merely a collation of tidbits from here and there that sound like a fantasy story one tries too hard to write - which is the impression I got when reading the very first pages. Kingdoms such as Dumnonia, the earliest Latin name for Great Britain, and Londun as the capital. The politics are also loosely based on true historic events. It's just fact mashed up with small changes such as Londun that begin to make this story unbearable. I do give her credit for her interesting choice of words but, again, I got the impression that she tried too hard at something she frankly isn't good at, and reverts to the outdated use of apostrophes splitting up words into different sounds. It's teeth-grinding. I did not find myself swept up into the sub fictional story that some claim this book to interest them for, just as with many fantasy writers, she took far too long with back story that it became perilous trying to work my way through it. I realise I may have a second print of the book but I find it rather pretentious having an interview with yourself appended to the back. If I wanted to read her nonsensical answers about where she gets her ideas I think I would rather read her blog or biography. I also find it pretentious how she adds "book club questions" to her books. She obviously spent some time thinking far too into the story but that itself ruined it for me. Maybe I'm wrong to argue with a book that has gotten very good reviews but that's how I feel about it.

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!

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!

5.8/10 from 5 reviews

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