Review: Cold Magic

Title: Cold Magic
Series: The Spiritwalker Trilogy (1)
Author: Kate Elliott
Publisher: Orbit, an imprint of Hachette Book Group (2010)
Genre: young adult (ish), adult, fantasy
Pages: 502

In Their Words: (jacket copy)
The history of the world begins in ice, and it will end in ice.

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?

In Mine:
I don’t read fantasy that often, so it took me awhile to get into this book. I tried to read it a few months earlier, but coming directly off of a contemporary-lit binge, I was thrown off my the detailed language and the foreign setting. However, when I picked it up this time, I didn’t stumble over the writing at all. Many of the passages are very lovely, and they set the scene well.

It takes Cold Magic about 80 pages to get going, and most of those pages or establishing the world and introducing the main character and her family. It was important and helpful for later on, but it went on a bit too long for me. I doubt this would bother someone who was more accustomed to the genre, though.

Once the plot kicks in, though, it flows wonderfully. There is  a good mix of stressful action where we’re moving forward, and calm moments where we’re learning information. After the slow beginning, the book is never dull again.

There are a lot of characters to keep track of, but they’re all fairly memorable. The author was really good about reminding us who everyone was, when it was needed. And even the minor characters were unique enough that we didn’t need much prompting.

Since this is going to be a trilogy, there were a lot of unanswered questions at the end of this book, and that’s good. The world was really complex, and I wish I’d had my laptop open while I read it, because I was often lost or distracted wondering what details were part of our history, and what were unique to the fantasy world. However, I’m especially bad at history, geography, and science–all important parts of the this book. It didn’t harm my enjoyment though; I was sucked in.

I like the cover, but the mountains along the bottom bug me. They look like a jagged edge, as if the book is torn or something. I wish they’d eliminated the mountains, and shifted the whole image lower. Also, the girl on the cover doesn’t look at all how I imagine Cat. She’s clearly described as having straight black hair that doesn’t curl, and I imagined her with a darker skin tone, more olive. I don’t think she’s supposed to look so white.

Cold Magic is one of those books that dances between the Young Adult and Adult audiences, and will make a great crossover book. The characters are all in or near their 20s (or older), and the writing itself has a more adult feel to in, just in the length of sentences and the level of detail, and the slow pacing of the beginning. It’s technically an adult fantasy novel, but I happen to know there was some debate about whether or not to make it a YA novel, so I want to offer my two cents.

There’s a lot here that fits into the YA market: growing up, questioning your family and the life you’ve know, falling in love despite yourself. Cat’s voice is strong, and I think many teenagers, especially fans of fantasy, will love her. Her struggle with herself, her identity among her family and her society, is very fitting for the age group. The main thing that keeps it from being YA, in my opinion, is the long beginning. If I hadn’t been sure it was going to pick up, I would have been turned off by the beginning. It wasn’t bad, and there was a lot of necessarily world-building and context set up, but it kind of dragged. YA books are usually quicker than that.

Extra Points
I love the diversity of ethnicities in this book. Most characters are a Celtic/African mix, and the entire story is structured around Celtic holidays (Hallows Eve, and Winter’s Solstice, are both prominent). It was nice to read a historical fantasy that didn’t have a Christian angle to it.

Also, the romance in the book, though very low-key, is adorable. I’m hoping for more of that in the few books, since I think there’s so much the author can do with Cat’s tangled emotions.

Final Rating:
4/5 the world is fascinating, and I’m looking forward to the next two.

About Lucy

If you want to get fancy, Lucy lives in Portland, OR, and has a MA in Writing/Book Publishing, with a focus on Young Adult Literature, and a heaping disregard for literary snobbishness (she was an English Major–she’s seen and spouted her fair share). She works as a social media marketer, and has dabbled in developmental editing as a freelancer.
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