I have a love-hate relationship with Kate Elliott’s work. I have never thought Elliott was a bad author; I usually have problems instead with the overall story she is telling. That being said, I was incredibly skeptical when I picked up Cold Magic. It took me about five or six chapters to get into the book, as the first few chapters are set up to agonizingly prove to the reader that the protagonist is a painfully normal girl in a changing world who has some ultra-mysterious family history. After a plot twist around page 80, I felt sucked in and really started enjoying what I was reading.
Cold Magic is set in an alternative Earth in the nineteenth century. Elliott creates the history of this alternative earth by drawing on our own past and infusing it with interesting creatures like trolls and fey. Elliott’s setting is incredibly captivating, with just enough real history to make the world pop and enough fantastic elements (like some steampunk and magic) to keep the fantasy reader interested.
The overall writing style is reminiscent of that of Jacqueline Carey, who is well known for the flowery descriptions in her Kushiel’s Legacy and Naamah books. Elliott purposefully makes the dialogue Victorian-esque. This gives a sense of the time period and helps add a layer of reality to the world Elliott has created. Occasionally it can get rather tiresome when (for example) an insult takes about a paragraph to properly say, but overall it’s an essential aspect of the book. It’s the small details that can make world-building sink or swim, and perhaps this is one of those small details.
Cold Magic follows Cat, the protagonist, through her adventures. It isnarrated in the first person, and there is a lot of internal dialogue peppered throughout the pages. While I won’t give much away here, I will say that there is a lot of traveling, running and discovering in Cold Magic. Normally constant travel in a book bothers me, but this one would have ultimately failed if the whole story had been told in one city. The traveling keeps the plot moving at a fast clip, and will keep readers interested in the world at large and the discoveries made during Cat’s journey.
Some elements of the plot are clichéd. An example of this would be the romantic interest, which follows almost verbatim the stereotypical romantic-interest plotline that so many other books follow, though not to an overbearing extent. While many may find it heartwarming, to me it lacked creativity and its predictability was a disappointment. Another predictable aspect of the plot is one of the major personal discoveries Cat makes about herself and her own familial history.
I found the world to be the most interesting aspect of Cold Magic. Elliott uses the Industrial Revolution as a counterpoint to the subtle magic system. She doesn’t shy away from touching on the political or ideological ramifications the Industrial Revolution brings to her world, which added to the interest and believability. While I felt the steampunk elements were not necessary to the plot, they added a nice flourish.
This isn’t a book you read to be wowed by its epic or dark qualities. Cold Magic is a book about personal struggle, growth and identity. The writing can be needlessly heavy at times, but the world is very interesting, kind of an ice-age steampunk with some relatable history thrown in. If points of the plot are predictable, the overall story is heartwarming and potentially thought-provoking. Cold Magic is a light, entertaining read that will suit both young adults and adults alike. It’s a strong first entry to a new trilogy. I look forward to seeing what else Elliott will add to this solid start.
FanLit thanks Sarah Chorn from Bookworm Blues for contributing this guest review.