It’s review catch-up time! I’ve been reading and reading but not posting any reviews. Since it’s one of my 2015 resolutions to keep up on the blog, I’m being a good bloggeress and posting reviews to all the books I’ve read this year. Kate Elliott was a completely new-to-me author and I’d heard nothing but good things about her. The Book Smugglers love her, Renay loves her, so picking up one of her books couln’t possibly be a mistake.
Published by: Orbit, 2010
Ebook: 544 pages
Series: The Spiritwalker Trilogy #1
My rating: 7/10
First sentence: The history of the world begins in ice, and it will end in ice.
The Wild Hunt is stirring – and the dragons are finally waking from their long sleep…
Cat Barahal was the only survivor of the flood that took her parents. Raised by her extended family, she and her cousin, Bee, are unaware of the dangers that threaten them both. Though they are in beginning of the Industrial Age, magic – and the power of the Cold Mages – still hold sway.
Now, betrayed by her family and forced to marry a powerful Cold Mage, Cat will be drawn into a labyrinth of politics. There she will learn the full ruthlessness of the rule of the Cold Mages. What do the Cold Mages want from her? And who will help Cat in her struggle against them?
Here’s a book that takes your expectations and turns them upside down right from the start. Catherine Barahal and her cousin Bee are best friends. They study at the academy, where genders are segregated and women are clearly not taken very seriously. So naturally I’ve come to expect a steampunk college novel that explores feminist issues – which would have been awesome! Instead, Cat’s story takes a turn when she is forced to marry a powerful Cold Mage and taken from her home and from Bee. (If, like me, you don’t always read the blurb, this comes as a surprise.)
That early twist could have gone quite wrong. Like I said, a college novel with two female protagonists would have been totally up my alley, but then again, the turn the story took instead was equally brilliant so I have no complaints. Cat’s life is somewhat shrouded in secrets. Having lost her parents at an early age, all she has left of her father are his journals, telling of his expedition to the Ice Sea, and a locked with his picture in it. It’s clear from very early on that there is more to Cat than we may think, that she is somehow special, and I am so very tired of prophecies and Chosen Ones that this, too, could have gone terribly wrong. But Kate Elliott manages to just scrape past these tropes and make the story entirely her own.
The world is essentially an alternate Europe but its population is refreshingly diverse. Not only do Cat and Bee have darker skin, the rest of the population isn’t all white either. You’ll find people with fair skin and red hair, people with very dark skin, and all shades in between. Add to that the lizard-like trolls and you’ve got a nice mixture of cultures that make this particular Europe much more interesting than the usual epic fantasy stuff. But characters aren’t defined by their skin color or where their ancestors came from. Cat is her own person and her friendship with Bee was just so wonderful to read about. Friendship between women is still underrepresented in most fantasy fiction (that I read) so I was a little disappointed that the two were ripped apart so soon in the novel.
But this separation leads us to another intriguing character. Andevai, the husband force upon Cat, is an arrogant prick with little care for her comfort or well-being. He’s a snobbish, ruthless, vain sort of guy that was easy to dislike. But in best Mr. Darcy fashion, there is more to him than meets the eye. Slowly, it is revealed that Andevai is not only arrogant and snobbish, but that he does have a heart buried deep down somewhere under all the fancy clothing. I can’t say I really liked him but that ending… oh gods, that ending kind of redeemed him and gave me all the feels. Well played, Kate Elliott!
Throughout the novel, I found myself frequently annoyed at one particular aspect of Cat’s character – one that has to do with that beautiful jerk Andevai. Cat is clever and quick, handy with a sword, and she can definitely take care of herself. She gets scared as much as the next person but her actions are intelligent and make sense. However, when it comes to Andevai, she seems blinded by his beauty, constantly thinking about his full lips and what it would feel like to kiss them. After he’s been treating her like dirt, denying her food, dragging her through the country and generally being an asshole! Look, I get it, Cat isn’t perfect and Andevai is super handsome, and wanting to kiss someone does not mean you have to like them… but please girl, have some sense. There must be other hot guys out there, ones that don’t try to kill you.
The plot is hard to summarise so I just won’t. Cat is on the run for most of the novel but instead of campfires and a misfit group of heroes, we meet almost exclusively interesting people and creatures that help us learn more about Cat and her past. Again, it was obvious that there is more to her than she knows, but the secrets that are revealed don’t feel cheap or trope-ish. Instead, they leave more questions to be answered in the rest of the trilogy. There are mysteries upon mysteries, politics, class differences, gender inequality – in short, there’s a lot of potential that wasn’t quite realised (yet!) and that I hope to read more about in the next book. Mostly, things were hinted at in an attempt to introduce the reader to all sorts of world building aspects. Personally, I prefer digging into one or two aspects in depth and learning about the others later (say, in the next book) but this is a small concern.
The story is well-written with a cast of memorable characters, but in the end, there was still something missing. It wasn’t so riveting that I couldn’t put it down, the aspects that interested me the most weren’t explored enough – air travel, steampunky-ness, cold magic, Cat and Bee’s relationship – but then again, it is the first part of a trilogy. It was good enough to leave me wanting more so I’ll definitely pick up the next book in the series and see where it leads me. I have the suspicion that there are very cool things in store. Plus, more Cat and Bee, which by itself makes it worthwile. And yes… more Andevai, too.
MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good