Book Review – Cold Fire


Cold Fire
Kate Elliott
The Spiritwalker Trilogy: Book 2

I enjoyed Cold Fire as much—if not more—than Cold Magic. Most of the things I said were wonderful about Cold Magic hold true in the sequel: light but not heavy-handed steampunk influence, intriguing magic, incredibly well-drawn characters, page-turning tension, an awesome culture to spend time in.

This time, the bulk of the action takes place in Expedition. Which is on an island near Cuba. It’s such a drastically different setting, and it has an effect on the kind of magic used, too: in warmer climes, fire mages are more powerful than cold mages.

It took me longer to get used to the prose style this time around. I gave it a pass in my last review, but right now I’m not sure of it. It might have a clumsiness to it? I don’t know. It confuses me. Still, Elliott’s a much more interesting writer at the prose level than many other fantasy writers I’ve read.

Beyond This Point There Be Spoilers

At this point, I just want to make everyone go out and read these. (Cold Steel better be worth it too!) Cat and Bee are delightful together. It’s so upsetting that they are split up for most of the book again, but maybe too much Cat and Bee together would be so much awesome that the book explodes.

I like how James Drake is treated. Turns out he’s a temperamental, misogynist scumbag. He has sex with Cat under false pretences while she’s terrified of salt plague and drunk. But she manages to get the upper hand in nearly all of their interactions: she enjoys sex with him well enough and doesn’t give up any of her self-respect (even if she is rightfully vexed with him). She irritates him beyond belief with her answering-questions-with-questions. Then, towards the end, when we find out he’s been working with Camjiata, it’s sheer wish-fulfillment delight to see Camjiata backhand Drake and snarl at him everytime Drake says something misogynistic. There’s something about the way Drake keeps going on how he wanted to punish Andevai through Cat that seems really forced. I get the impression he wants Cat more than he’ll admit. It’s a blow to his pride that Cat doesn’t care for him at all. She sees him for what she is, and then she leaves. And the book shrugs off slut-shaming: some characters try to do it, because that’s the culture, but Cat won’t have it. I really appreciate that.

(Bee totally owning the misogynist head of Bran Cof the poet was similarly delightful. Bee, you are my queen. Queen Bee? Ack!)

Wouldn’t you know, I really enjoyed Andevai this time around. His character was so much more fleshed out. Maybe it’s because Cat is far more attracted to him this time around, and they’re on the same side. I really enjoyed their courtship, because it was a hard thing to watch. Cat wasn’t kind to him, but then, in the previous book, he acted like an asshole. There are believable reasons for each to act as they do. I love Andevai’s devotion. I love that he has become a radical. I love that he has brought Kayleigh with him and he cares so much about her.
Vai’s so much more interesting in Cold Fire, as Cat’s ally. I feel like a lot of writers use the cliche of having lovers on either side of a conflict as a substitute for interpersonal tension. Elliott is a good enough character writer that she keeps her romantic leads together for the whole bulk of a book, and they have believable, interpersonal tension that keeps you turning pages. I’m a little wary of Cold Steel, because it’s clear that the plot is Cat rescues Vai from her sire. I’m getting really tired of separated lovers, because, like I said, it’s a poor substitute for actual character interaction and development.

(Off the top of my head, Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel books are a particularly egregious example of forced conflict by unnecessary separation.)

I enjoyed Cat’s and Kayleigh’s interaction. They snipe and bridle a bit, but they make peace. Cat admits she’s being unfair. I love it when female characters are friends. I love it so much. Cat makes lots of friends too, throughout the book. Abby, Luce and others, the trolls. Despite being flawed. Cat love forever.

I have so many things I want to express about the characterization of Expedition, its precarious position with the Taino Kingdom, trolls and Trolltown… ahhh, it’s like a big ball of happy tense feelings near my heart. I love that Expedition, which sounded like such a free city in Cold Magic, is actually full of corruption, and on the streets radicals are agitating. The university is full of experiments and political unrest. It’s such a fully realized city. The ball games, the people, the heaviness of heat and the wild storms, the politics, the politics.

Ok, enough gushing. You must be wondering, what don’t I like?

I’m not really a fan of Cat’s sire. While I liked some of the effects of his coercion, like the always-amusing answering-questions-with-questions (it’s like Cat has payback: she can dole out what frustrated her in the events of Cold Magic), I don’t know, it felt like it was removing Cat’s agency in a way that could have been very damaging to the story. It wasn’t, ultimately, and the control is eased off of Cat at the end, but it still felt… too overpowered? I don’t know. I want to see how it plays out in Cold Steel.

I thought hiding Bee in Trolltown was a bit… pat? I think I would have accepted it better if we had more scenes with Cat and the trolls.

You know, I’m having trouble thinking of things I didn’t like. Also, there are so many loose ends that will likely be wrapped up in Cold Steel that I don’t feel like I have enough information to go on. These books are really good at pushing my buttons, and I really hope Cold Steel doesn’t let me down.


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