Book Review – Cold Magic

Cold-Magic

Cold Magic
Kate Elliott
The Spiritwalker Trilogy: Book 1

This book blew me away! It had exactly the right blend of action, character development and worldbuilding to keep me utterly enthralled.

If you’ve hung around me enough, you might have noticed that I don’t care for Europe as a setting (especially unrealistically white Europe). Kate Elliott averts this: her Europe is populated with Celts and West Africans fleeing a plague, and the culture that emerges—a culture where the Roman Empire was fought to a standstill by the Phoenicians, allowing the Celts to take back their land (I love this detail, everyone who knows me well knows I harbour a fairly irrational hatred of the Roman Empire)—is a fantastic tapestry of various cultural beliefs living in relative harmony. Most of the population is mixed race, with a variety of hair types and colours, skin colours, facial features and backgrounds. This refreshing, deeply researched world is an absolute pleasure to spend time in.

The minimal steampunk influence is excellent. There’s an airship, social agitating, the excitement of discovery, mention of a city across the ocean in ‘Amerike’ called Expedition—thrilling and integral, but not overwhelming. I imagine actual steampunk fans may want more, but, eh, this is perfect for me.

Right away, this world pulled me and didn’t let me go. When I realized the main character’s people, the Phoenicians or Kena’ani, were traditionally enemies of the ‘lying Romans’ I got so excited I actually had to stop reading. I needed to just process that delight before I could give the narrative my full attention. Look, everyone I know adores the hell out of the Roman Empire for some reason, and I just feel so validated, ok? VALIDATED.

Our main character is Catherine Hassi Barahal, of the Kena’ani, not yet the age of majority but a loyal daughter of a house that spies and keeps knowledge close. Her fealty to her house, and especially to her beloved cousin Bee with whom she’s very close, is a defining characteristic, as is her cat’s curiosity. She and Bee are thick as thieves, and not averse to breaking rules. They attend college together, learning about combustion and aerodynamics and history, the politics of princes, and the mysterious cold magic the Mage Houses wield.

This book starts with tension, and the tension never lets go. The stakes are only raised, first as Cat sneaks books around her uncle, then as she and Bee get into trouble at college, and beyond. The tension holds throughout. The book moves at a good clip, but doesn’t neglect description and necessary exposition, which are a delight to read.

At times I found Elliott’s prose a little clunky, until I realized that Cat’s voice (the book is written in first person) mirrors the stodginess of Victorian prose without becoming unnecessarily dense. It’s a good way to keep a sense of time in place without replicating the out-of-date style of a 19th century novel. In addition, there are poetic turns of phrase and a boldness in metaphor, which I absolutely delight in. So many modern books so tediously resemble movie scripts. I can picture what things look like in Elliott’s world, and it’s vivid and brought to life. But I don’t want to scare off anyone who likes streamlined prose: Elliott’s not dense, nor is language at the forefront in the same way, say, a Catherynne M. Valente book would be.

Seriously, do yourself a favour and read this book. It’s incredibly difficult to put down, it’s that good. It’s the best new-to-me book I’ve read this year.

Below the cut I’ll talk VERY spoilerifically about what I loved best, and what I wasn’t as keen on.

BEYOND THIS POINT THERE BE SPOILERS

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Heralds of Valdemar Reviews: Storm Breaking

Karal is cute

Storm Breaking
Mercedes Lackey
The Mage Storms: Book 3

Right. The torture ends. We come to Storm Breaking. I finally get to stop reading the Mage Storm books! This took a bit longer than I expected to read, because, well, the prose annoyed me. Frequent breaks were necessary. That being said, I found it marginally better than Storm Rising.

See, at the beginning, we actually have… conversations! And banter! And because this is the (not-so-)grand finale, there were more scenes and the speed picked up. From a crawl to a walk. Progress!

Plot is as follows: the Storms have returned again. From their analysis, our protagonists know that biggest Storm is yet to come, one which will bring a second Cataclysm and warp the face of the earth—unless they can stop it. Also we find out what the deal is with Iftel, the mysterious country with the impassable border.

BEYOND THIS POINT THERE BE SPOILERS
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Video Game Reviews: Morrowind vs. Skyrim Part 2

Part 1

My main problem with Skyrim is: why are we going here at all?

Bethesda bored the crap out of me with Oblivion’s setting: medieval Europe. It was a huge letdown after Morrowind’s alien, Eastern-inspired culture(s). Not only that, but Cyrodiil, the capital province where the Imperials live, was in earlier lore supposed to be rather jungley and Roman. Look, I don’t care about white medieval, or in this case, Norse Europe—I can find it anywhere. Bethesda, you have a whole bunch of more interesting provinces to go, go to them!

One thing I’ll say: they bypassed Tolkien, though the influence is there of course, and went back to Norse mythology: what with the whole Ragnarok/end of the world plot, the power of the spoken word, etc. That was almost refreshing.

But we don’t need to go there. Why, oh why, are we back in a place that glorifies violent white guys from north Europe? Why does this story need to be told?

Yes, Bethesda is trying to make a game with solid gameplay and make it flashy and interesting with dragon battles, but any creative work will have something of politics in it… and apparently white burly Gary Stus to appeal to the 18 year old guys are still ruling the genre for game developers, despite that increasingly the people playing games are not all male or white or 18. Look, I’m sure Bethesda, being a big name RPG developer, could still appeal to those 18 year old white gamers with a backdrop of more inventive lore. Goes without saying it would interest folks like me. What about Summurset Isle? The vibe I get from High Elves is a sort of Victorian England crossed with Asia, which is newer. Or Elsweyr? The modders keep setting stuff there. Seems like a lot of (white male?) gamers want to explore the world of anthro kitty cats in an Arabian Nights setting.

I’m still pleased that in Skyrim, I can be any race, and skin colour, and female, with no restriction. I’m pleased that Skyrim, for all the NPCs will tell you there’s sexism, still features a good lot of female badasses. (Although… maybe they are more the minority?)

I enjoy/ed Skyrim, but after the initial several-month rush, I realized that it lacks a lot of in-game depth. Quest lines are incredibly short, uninteresting, and full of plot holes. They are so short, but you advance so fast, that there is no sense of progression.

 

BEYOND THIS POINT THERE BE SPOILERS

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