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Book cover for Cold Magic which shows a front facing image of Cat Barahal. She has dark hair curly hair. To the left side of her is a curlicue pattern and behind her is something that looks like machinery. The bottom of the cover shows a blue mountain range.

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.

“I was not a bard or a djeli or an historian or a scribe and I was certainly not a sage, but that didn't mean I wasn't curious…”

Young Cat Barahal thinks she understands the world she lives in and her place in it, but in fact she is merely poised, unaware, on the brink of shattering events. Drawn into a labyrinth of politics involving blood, betrayal and old feuds, she will be forced to make an unexpected and perilous journey in order to discover the truth, not just about her own family but about an ancient secret lying at the heart of her world.

Cat and her cousin 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?

Renay and Jodie present an epic co-review, with extreme spoilers, of some epic fantasy. How appropriate.

Renay: HELLO, JODIE! I am dying to know whether, like myself, your expectations of all the awesome things that have been pinging around fandom about this book were met. It was an investment of time and trust that people wouldn't steer me wrong, but I still struggled with the book up until 100 pages. Except immediately after I hit The First Big Scene, the book transformed into a literary facehugger and wouldn't let me go. I almost gave up right before this. CAN YOU IMAGINE? It's like The Cloud Roads all over again; I'm sabotaging myself. You also tweeted me with reservations during your read-through — do you still have them? This the book's resolution soothe all your worries? WILL ONLY THE SEQUEL ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS?

Jodie: I think I had seen a lot of people using "Cold Magic" and the later books as examples of awesome around book blogging fandom. It seemed like every time I saw a post about anything cool that people wanted to see more of in fantasy, or a rebuttal to another jackass post about female characters, someone would be around waiting to pounce and say 'Hell to the yes, like in Kate Elliott’s "Spirit Walker" trilogy!'. So my expectations were quite non-specific, but at the same time extremely high.

And they were surpassed, so, so easily by "Cold Magic" — like, it flew hundreds of miles above them. I don’t think I’ve read a novel so original, that at the same time wears itself originality so lightly in a long time; like it’s nothing to create, as Elliot calls this book, an 'Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk Regency novel with airships, Phoenician spies and the intelligent descendants of troodons'. I was amazed by how the world building just kept growing and growing, pulling new elements in to serve its needs, without ever falling over. And I loved how fun the book’s tone was at times because of the way the different elements in the 'mash-up' combination worked together to created geek heaven. It’s like "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" all over again, where someone just slams some of your favourite things together (a Regency flavour and ancient civilisations; industrial conditions and magic; shape shifting sabre-tooth cats and family relationships) and says offhandedly 'Here, I got you something':

Stiles from Teen Wolf pops up from behind a giant wrapped present including text that reads Happy Birthday

Like you, I struggled with the first 100 pages. I think, for me, that was partly because of the steep level of acclimatisation I had to do as a reader because of the way the world is set out early on — there's a lot to learn and a lot to remember. But once I was in this book I was an IN IT, for life, no going back, fan.

As for my reservations, which all centre around the romance between Cat and Andevai, I'm afraid they remain and must be smoothed out by the sequel. I think the book tries to be very sensible about Cat's growing romantic interest in Andevai after what he's put her through. And I was glad the ending didn’t bring them together right then because I would have exploded. I also like the idea that two people sometimes have to be apart even though there’s an attraction but that they can still acknowledge that attraction...but...but...

Look, Andevai is not all bad and some of his personality problems are due to the treatment he's received at the hands of the mage house. Still, despite the fact that all the extenuating circumstances and the nice words he says to Cat at the end of this novel should make me feel like he could be a good husband to Cat, even in the face of his previous bad treatment of her, I keep coming back to the way that he is quite often a smug cock in her company. I feel like there's a really twisted up version of the Elizabeth/Darcy relationship from "Pride and Prejudice" going on in their interactions and Andevai reminds me of the one thing I continue to hate about Darcy even after he becomes a viable love interest — his intolerable superiority. Again, the book tries to remain sensible when attempting to reconcile Andevai's cockyness with Cat's feelings, for example she calls out his ‘thrice-cursed pride’ (even if she qualifies that his pride is part of what draws every eye to him) but it just didn't quick click for me.

I would have liked to see Andevai humbler by the end of this book, in order to feel like he and Cat could become partners. He has done some bad, bad things to her and I need to see him really understand just what he's put her through. These things well outweigh any less than generous assumptions she makes about Andevai before she knows more about his background. And because of the "Pride and Prejudice" vibe I'm getting off their relationship and the fact that "Pride and Prejudice" is a novel where the resolution involves both romantic parties realising that they may have been asses, I need Andevai to strongly acknowledge how greatly he has mistreated an essentially innocent party. Dude throws you across the floor and out the door because he finds out he's been tricked then dude has to bring more than some flowery words about souls and a kind of weird apology. Dude will not let you eat because of his own issues when you are sad and afraid and starving, he had better bring rubies and a five day banquet along with any fine words. And yes, that moment in the banquet hall may be when he made my list.

At the same time, I think this excellent gif about villainous characters protecting their families is partially relevant when considering Andevai. But I wouldn't be totally horrified if he fell in a pit full of sharp stakes in the next book. Perhaps you can convince me to feel otherwise?

Renay: Probably not! All your criticisms are correct. However, I am one of the rare people who can't judge every romantic relationship by the cultural measuring stick of Elizabeth Bennet and William Darcy because I've never seen more than a random adaption of their story. I know that it's timeless, and I know that it has influenced popular romantic culture, but ultimately it feels a bit like a cheat. It means that this dynamic will always be under the microscope of "how is male character like Darcy?" with checkboxes, so he never gets to be just himself. If what I have picked up through trudging through popular culture references and adaptations and jokes and tumblr gifs about the various iterations of Darcy, I find Andevai a bit more callous and awful and cruel than William Darcy, which means then the comparison falls apart for me. Because I find their cruelty altogether of a different stripe, which changes the caustic, push-pull dynamic Elizabeth and Darcy have into something much darker and raw.

Because you're right that his relationship with Cat is filled with the type of alarming "ABORT ABORT" signs that make the end scene where Andevai goes all heart-crunchingly soft less effective is probably why I love it — because I know it simply can't last. There does need to be restitution between them, but the gorgeous thing about their ending is that as people, we rarely change so dramatically, especially in the thick of experience. We change in minutes and shifts; we change in reflection of events; we change in real time. These slight glimpses we get into the man Andevai might be if we weren't wedged so tightly under the Four Moons House are just that by necessity. I think if he had been humbler I wouldn't have bought it for one second.

Jodie: Oh, I don’t want to suggest using Elizabeth and Darcy as a standard for judging all similar romantic relationships. It’s more that, this particular relationship takes place in mash-up world which includes a Regency vibe and there were specific things about Andevai and Catherine’s relationship which made it feel to me like maybe "Pride and Prejudice", a famous Regency era romance, was being partly played with (although not directly re-written) in "Cold Magic".

Let me try to explain a little without badgering you into reading "Pride and Prejudice" (maybe we can talk about when you’re going to read "Persuasion" sometime though :P). My idea that Andevai and Catherine are in a relationship that comes out of Elizabeth and Darcy, even though their relationship develops in a very different way, is partly based on how Andevai and Catherine have sort of similar vices to the more famous couple. Andevai’s big problem (one of his problems at least — ugh that guy) is his desperate need to maintain his pride. Catherine is eventually shown to be, if not prejudiced, then not in possession of all the information which she needs to assess Andevai’s behaviour. The way these vices are written, how as you say Andevai is much crueller than Darcy, and how I feel that Catherine is given greater justification for her bad feeling towards a man who has in the past done nice things for his family, made me feel like maybe Elliott was taking that famous romance and playing with one of the base elements of it (woman develops dislike for prideful man but is eventually shown the prejudiced error of her own ways, even though text still allows that man is prideful). Maybe she was trying to bring about a different resolution than the one Austen offers where Lizzie has to acknowledge her 'prejudice' and wrongness and her prejudice provides a comparable, balancing flaw to Darcy’s pride. I could easily be way off though, I just really dislike that part of the ending of "Pride and Prejudice" so maybe I just want it to be messed with too desperately and am seeing things that aren’t there in this mash-up.

And I know what you mean about not being able to buy it if Andevai became humbler. You’re right, people don’t often convert instead they change slowly. I’m just afraid that means Cat and Andevai's romance is out for me, realistically, until Andevai is further down the path of change. I have liked a lot of very bad male characters and in the past I’ve supported their romances with heroines I loved but this year my feelings about bad guys changed. Before, bad male characters could get away with nearly anything; I’d wait for them to change, sure they’d somehow redeem themselves. This year I feel very strongly that if male characters try to kill the heroine, or her nearest and dearest, then that male character ceases to be a viable prospect for that heroine, for me, until they show a lot of proof that they've extensively changed. I don't extend good faith in that kind of situation anymore. So, when "Cold Magic" starts hinting that 'Hey Andevai is kinda dreamy, right?' towards the end of I got cut off from what it was trying to do because I hate that guy and he tried to kill Cat.

So, when I say Andevai needs to be humbler, I guess I’m not saying that would be realistic, I’m saying that I can’t go with "Cold Magic" if it’s going to keep Andevai the way he is and at the same time suggests he’s a viable romantic partner for Catherine. If the book had waited until after Andevai had changed more to start suggesting that their romance might be a goer perhaps I’d have got on board. As it is, my back is up because he tried to kill her and I don’t want dudes like that becoming attractive, possible partners for my favourite female characters until they make proper restitution for the murder attempt. And yes, it’s realistic that they will become attractive to those female characters; the heart wants what it wants, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it or stop calling for that pit of snakes :) Sorry, I know my tolerance level for terrible people is not at all consistent (see "God’s War" podcast, Regina love, etc).

Perhaps I should stop boring everyone with my personal hatred for one of the main characters in this book (I really liked "Cold Magic" I swear). Instead, we could talk about some of the people I think we both like — shall we talk about Cat and Bee?

Renay: Well, I think that may be where our opinion is diverging; I don't think the book is suggesting that Andevai is at that moment in time a viable romantic partner. Instead, it's offering you yet another different perspective to consider all of his actions through — we've seen him through Cat's perspective, and his family to a point, but so rarely through his. I actually don't think it made him "dreamy" to me at all. It made him sort of monstrous as only humans can be, contributed to my belief that he was determined but pretty green in the ways of cold mage horribleness (if he's bad at it, and I believe he is, imagine how awful the others are), but also showed him to be human, and capable of horrendous mistakes, and ratcheted up the tension between them because in matter of fact, he's terrible for Cat regardless of her attraction to him. For me the book was saying this the whole time by even letting him tell her what he does, but it sounded like we read it really differently. That's fascinating!

We should definitely talk about Cat and Bee, because Cat and Bee (am I the only one who wants hilarious fanart where they are in fancy dresses with headbands featuring cat ears/antenna? Bueller? Bueller?) How lovely it was to have the main relationship (I will not be convinced otherwise) in this book be a friendship between young women which isn't about competition or jealousy. How awesome it was to see them love and help each other, and watch Cat fight to get back to Bee once she's realized what's happened. I found it wonderful that they're both talented in their own ways, but that none of these things erode their steadfast confidence in each other. They tease and taunt but in the end they're true companions and family, even when revelations challenge everything they've known. My only complaint is that I wanted more of them on ADVENTURES! and for so much of the book they were separated. Like I needed an excuse to read the next one. :)

Jodie: The headbands is definitely your own personal thing ;P Although I’m sure you’ll pick up some supporters after this post.

Otherwise I see and agree with everything you said. Theirs is absolutely the main relationship in this novel and it was fantastic to see two women being such steadfast (and long time) friends. We see quite a few stories where women develop friendships after initially disliking each other and I thought it was a nice change to see a couple of women who had been great friends for so long. The pre-existing relationship, how well they knew each other, came across really well I thought.

I ship them pretty hard as well. I suspect Rory is being set up as Bee’s canon love interest, and obviously Andevai is for Cat, but I think there’s enough subtext in this book to make these girls easily shippable out of canon. I’ve got to go explore the fanfic for this series when I’m done.

And yes, I really liked that they both had things they were good at and they both kind of understand that just because the other was good at something different it doesn’t diminish their own talent. I wanted to mention how wonderful that was in relation to the way Elliott builds this story. She takes Cat, who could easily have been a secondary character — adopted by family, set up as the second Hassi Barahal girl, charged to make sure Bee is safe — and gives the whole novel over to her, but still makes Bee that super-special fantasy character who can walk the dreams of dragons. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a writer so elegantly elevate a character who could have been made into a side kick and keep the magical, searched for character, who would in many other novelists hands have been the main protagonist, important. I thought that was so well done.

I was so worried about how the resolution would play out — if they would be able to stay friends or if Bee’s family’s shenanigans would end up ripping them apart. I just desperately wanted them to stay important parts of each others lives and when they did I was so happy. Like you, I wanted more adventures and so I’m looking forward to "Cold Fire" when they will hopefully get to spend more time together.

Renay: I can't control my love for silly fanart, Jodie. One day I will convert you. ;)

I can't remember reading anything that does with this novel does with the two main female characters as well as it's done here. But I wish there were more of them: stories that place friendship between women at the heart of the book, stories where women are motivated by other women, stories where previous relationships aren't eclipsed by wider events of the world, stories where people around the women also see and understand the value of the relationship itself as well, stories that use the connection to further the plot but don't undermine it. I am really intrigued to see how Cat and Bee fair when they're thrown into the political situation outlined at the end of the book, and whether their friendship is strong enough (my guess is yes, and that the strength of their connection will draw up anyone who tries to break it hard and fast). We don't just have Cat's marriage to Andevai to worry about when it comes to choices Cat may or may not make; what does it mean for Bee that she walks the dreams of dragons based on what we know about dragons from Cat's travels? I suspect that the real challenge to their relationship is going to come from the part of Cat — her mystery, fantastical father — that they've never had to deal with before, and that's where the tension is going to sit for the next book.

Jodie: Yes, that all seems to be contained in Helene's last words 'Where the hand of fortune branches, Tara Bell's child must choose, and the road of war will be washed by the tide.' I wonder whether that choice can be as simply divined as Camjiata suggests. Knowing how fantasy often works, I would guess that even if his interpretation is correct choosing a path to change the course of the war is going to involve a great personal choice which will be difficult for Cat to make. I'm intrigued and eager to see what happens next.

Before we wrap up shall we talk about the world building? I was totally in awe of how Elliott sewed together so many different elements of history and culture. And I know you talked to someone about how this book changes up traditional European based epic fantasy. I've also heard quite a few people say they struggled with the early parts of this book (as we said above, we both took a while to get acclimatised to it ourselves) possibly because there's so much world building to take in quite quickly. I think we (and the people I talked to) spend a lot of time reading SF/F books which introduce new things quickly so I wondered what made "Cold Magic" a little tougher to grapple with. Basically, can I have all your thoughts about the world building please?

Renay: Yes! It's awesome and also reminds me of how as a child I was terrified of the deep part of the swimming pool and would never swim there because sure, it said 9 feet but what if it was lying (child logic; indisputable and rock hard)?. The worldbuilding in this book is the literary version of that swimming pool, because for all we see, we really have no idea how deep it really goes and I'm a little terrified to go down that rabbit hole because I'm afraid it will destroy my ability to read magical lands of faeries or alternate histories from anyone but Kate Elliott forever and ever.

Our perspective is locked to Cat's view of events, and although she provides a lot of context, everything feels so much richer and more complicated than even she sees, and considering we are locked to her perspective, that is amazeballs. This isn't worldbuilding held in the palm of the main character's hand. Worldbuilding like this means you can read the books multiple and always find something new or interesting! Worldbuilding like this means you can stay up until three in the morning writing awesome fanfic (and PS, have you been encouraging people to write things by requesting it? IF SO, I APPROVE. Please continue.)

I struggle with original stories about the spirit world. This is why this book surprised me so much, because I expected to live with parts of the book where we deal with unseen worlds full of magic and dragons and shapeshifters and whatever other related bits and love Cat and Bee, and in the end I loved both. Maybe because so often I run into spirit worlds presented as if you're supposed to grok what's going on from the outset, and I never feel that way — I feel lost. Here, you're meant to feel lost, and the scope of the world is supposed to be beyond you, because you're traveling with Cat, and she's lost and out of her element and learning things she has limited context for outside of stories.

The historical world building was also a little hard to grasp, but that's because I skipped out on all the European history electives when I got my minor in favor of following a professor who emphasized in American history around in a haze of idolatry. I can't speak to the tweaks made to the history, but I love that said tweaks created a hugely different world populated by a wide variety of people and races, instead of Alternate History: So I Heard You Like White Dudes!. I feel like we haven't even seen the tip of the changes she made, and look, I was sold when she introduced talking dinosaurs who practice law. I'm never quitting Kate Elliott. I may follow her to the end of literature (which certain critics suggest we're always on the cusp of), or the heat death of the universe, whichever comes first.

So yeah. I liked the worldbuilding. You know, a little. I guess.

Jodie: I loved that the changes she made to history (the ones I caught anyway — tries to remember long ago Classics lessons about the shape of the Roman Empire) didn't narrow the cultures included in her world. Europe has always included a mix of races; it was great to see an author recognise that and make sure that her novel's alternate fantasy Europe was full of different races too.

So glad you brought up the spirit world! Cat's time there was one of my favourite parts of the book. It was so easy to immerse myself in her experiences there without feeling lost and without feeling like I needed to puzzle out exactly what was happening right away. Like you say, I think that has a lot to do with being beside Cat while she tries to work it out. You're not running to catch up, you're following a trail with her. Plus, the spirit world gives us her sabre-toothed cat family who I would love to hear more about.

So, I think that brings us to the end. I know you've already read on to "Cold Fire" and have plans to read "Cold Steel". I'm really looking forward to your review of "Cold Fire" so I'd better get on with catching up!

On a side note, I'm really excited that Elliott' has recently made so many announcements about her upcoming work. YA, new epic fantasy and a collaboration with Julie Dillon :D I know she's got a big back list to explore but it's always nice to have the security of knowing there'll be more books to read when you finish up what's already written.

Renay: Thanks for reading and chatting with me; I'm sure I will be sharing intense emotions with you about the next two books as soon as possible, so be prepared for tweets and emails full of keymashing as soon as you tell me you've finished Cold Fire. There's an 100% chance of capslock, and I may end up eating cheap ramen noodles for a month after raiding Elliott's back list. :D

Final Reactions

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Supplemental Material

Other Reviews: The Book Smugglers, Fantasy Cafe, Dear Author, Lurvalamode, It's a magical world, SF Signal, The Lightning Tree, Fangs for the Fantasy, Fantasy Review Barn, Civilian Reader, The Ranting Dragon, RT Book Reviews, Bookworm Blues, Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Reviews, yours?

Date: 2013-07-14 09:25 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)

I think I made a HUGE mistake. I quit before the 100 page mark for the same reasons you said you almost did.

I suspected this already because Thea loves these books so much but now I know: I should have carried on.

Ana (The Book Smugglers)

Date: 2013-07-14 09:37 am (UTC)
renay: artist rendition of the center of a nebula (Default)
From: [personal profile] renay
You still can! Although I'm not sure, maybe it's not for everyone? (I have a friend who was completely bored and didn't care at all, and she made it halfway.)

I know you have a ton of reading, but I would totally suggest at least halfway. I think then you'll know for sure. It gets SO GOOD all at once. A+, will read again.

Date: 2013-07-14 05:59 pm (UTC)
morwen_peredhil: (lok jinora face in book)
From: [personal profile] morwen_peredhil
Cold Magic seems to be a novel that either really works for you, or really doesn't. I'm in the latter group, having gritted my teeth through the first 10% before abandoning it.

It was recent free discounted Kindle download, which I snapped up with glee because I loved the author's Jaran SF novels (although I bailed on her Crown of Stars fantasy series halfway through when I realized I didn't give a damn about what happened to any of its characters).

All I knew about Cold Magic before I began reading it was that it was an alternate history by Kate Elliott and people seemed to love it. However, I discovered the hard way that it is a perfect storm of things I hate in a novel: YA, steampunk, and first-person narration — especially YA first-person narration — whatever tolerance I ever had for that was permanently depleted by enduring three books' worth of Katniss Everdeen.

I disliked almost all of the characters and didn't care for the worldbuilding. As I was reading, I kept thinking of Mary Gentle's completely awesome Ash: A Secret History series, which was also Carthage-related alternate history, and wishing I were rereading that instead.

Not sure I could be convinced to pick it up again.

Edited Date: 2013-07-14 06:08 pm (UTC)

Date: 2013-07-14 06:51 pm (UTC)
renay: artist rendition of the center of a nebula (Default)
From: [personal profile] renay
I'm curious about the YA distinction because I didn't see it as YA at all (which is not to say it isn't! It could be!). I know it's bildungsroman to the max, but there are plenty of epic fantasy series with young men as protagonists of a similar stripe that don't get criticized using that marketing category, if that makes sense? I'm pretty sensitive to the fact that people often use YA as a way to denigrate a title, which worries me because of the amount of women using YA to tell stories about girls is, really, incredibly important.

Also, I unfortunately don't know if I subscribe to dichotomy of liking and disliking a character. I read lots of stories where I really don't like a character, but I love their story? So the like/dislike breakdown works less for me. With Cold Magic, I really disliked Bee's attitude and I probably wouldn't ever be BFF with her, but that doesn't preclude me from liking her story or her relationship with Cat. I might also argue, if I had time, that the point is to dislike the characters a little. They're all young and a little too arrogant because it hasn't been stripped out of them by the full range of Adulthood Sucks; Then You Die experiences. The story is inherently about them losing that arrogance and growing into people who consider the world around them with more thoughtfulness, because they've found that the world can pretty much stomp them whenever it wants.

It's cool to not like the book, though! I don't think it's for everyone (no book can be!) but I'm afraid we're going to have to agree to disagree over comparisons with Cold Magic and The Hunger Games. ;)

Date: 2013-09-05 04:59 am (UTC)
owlmoose: stack of books (book - pile)
From: [personal profile] owlmoose
Thanks to Renay's strong recommendation, I finished this book today and liked it quite a lot. I had the same issues with the romance as you both did, although at least we see the very very beginnings of Andevai recognizing that he was terrible to Cat. If the book had ended with them really truly reconciling, I would likely have thrown it across the room. Also a few points off for the cliffhanger.

Have either of you read Un Lun Dun by China Mieville? There's some interesting compare and contrast there to Cat and Bee (which I agree was one of the best things about the book).


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