Tag Archives: Kate Elliott

Review of Cold Magic – Book 1 of The Spiritwalker Trilogy by Kate Elliott


This offering is the first of Kate Elliott’s latest world – and if you’re a fantasy fan you’ll know that she is one of the leading talents in the field. She is excellent at providing interesting, multi-layered worlds and is also adept at producing satisfying complex characters – a combination that doesn’t always go together. However, there is a major shift in this series – Elliott tells the story in Cold Magic in first person POV throughout. Up to now, she has shown herself very capable of fielding a large cast of characters without overwhelming her readers or losing any momentum. Can she manage to convey the full richness of her world through this single character’s viewpoint?

As they approach adulthood, Cat Barahal and her cousin Bee think they understand the society they live in and their place within it. coldmagicAt a select academy they study new airship technologies and the dawning Industrial Revolution, but magical forces still rule. And the cousins are about to discover the full ruthlessness of this rule.

Drawn into a labyrinth of politics involving blood and old feuds, Cat is forced to marry a Cold Mage. As she is carried away to live a new life, fresh dangers threaten her every move and secrets form a language she cannot read. At least, not yet.  But both cousins carry their own hidden gifts and these will shape great changes to come. For in the depths of this treacherous world, the Wild Hunt stirs in darkness and dragons are waking from their sleep.

And, make no mistake, this is a rich and interesting world. Elliott herself describes it as “An Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk Regency fantasy adventure with airships, Phoenician spies, the intelligent descendents of troodons, and a dash of steampunk whose gas lamps can be easily doused by the touch of a powerful cold mage.”  So do we gain a sense of the full layered intricacy of this world through Cat’s eyes? The answer has to be – no, we don’t. Not even after reading the second book in the series, Cold Fire, do I get a sense that I’ve done more than graze the surface of this fascinating world. Am I bothered? Not, particularly, no. This might be a world that Elliott may well revisit with another series – the trolls, actually descended from dinosaurs, only play a walk-on part in this Cat-centred adventure and I’d love to read more about them. But even if Elliott doesn’t decide to use this world again, I’m still not going to lose much sleep over it. If she chooses to roll out a world of this richness and then only play in a corner of it, that’s hardly going to impact on my reading pleasure – unless she doesn’t produce a sufficiently interesting storyline with a convincingly complex cast of characters. And she does.

For starters, Cat is completely believable as a twenty year old. I get more than a tad fed up with ‘young’ characters who when confronted with difficult situations suddenly produce the wisdom and finesse of a fifty-something. Cat is impetuous, a bit of an airhead who loves teasing her cousin, and is very interested in clothes. Always. The driving relationship within this book is her attachment with Bee, her cousin and best friend. The romantic storyline is a lot stronger in Cold Fire, where Cat’s relationship with Andevai, her husband, is examined in more detail – along with the unfolding plotline about exactly who is her father.

Like Elliott’s world, this tale is something of a mash-up. There are elements easily recognisable from epic Fantasy – a power struggle involving scary magic users and super-talented individuals with a Destiny; but there is also a fairly strong romantic element and some of Cat’s character traits wouldn’t be out of place in an urban fantasy. However, one of the main engines driving the book is the political unrest coming from the bottom up – the fact that the population are increasingly unhappy at the way the Mages have stepped into the power vacuum left once the Romans retreated, which has echoes of Julia E. McKenna’s Lescari Revolution series. This is a sign that the Fantasy genre is all grown up and fully mature, when its most capable authors are able to play these sorts of games with the sub-genres. I’m really hoping the fans will prove to be as flexible.

A thoroughly enjoyable read by an accomplished writer at the height of her powers, I’m very much looking forward to reading the last book in the series and recommend you track down this gem.

Review of the Crown of Stars series by Kate Elliott featuring:


Volume One – King’s Dragon
Volume Two – Prince of Dogs
Volume Three – The Burning Stone
Volume Four – Child of Flame
Volume Five – Gathering Storm
Volume Six – In the Ruins
Volume Seven – Crown of Stars

crownofdragonsThe word ‘epic’ is slung around far too freely, in my opinion. Any fantasy or science fiction story that overflows to more than one volume seems to attract the word. Which is a shame when you finally trip over a work that really does deserve the appendage ‘epic’. And surely a seven-book marathon that successfully manages to keep hold of a large cast of characters; produce sufficient twists in the long-running plot without overwhelming the reader and manufacture a sophisticated world should be right up there as an epic. This series has been seriously overlooked as a shining example of classic high fantasy.

The action largely revolves around the kingdom of Wendar, although as rebellions and betrayals multiply, princeofdogsneighbouring countries move to take advantage of King Henry’s troubles. As the fighting intensifies, we have a detailed insight into the machinations of the plotters as they jostle for power. Elliott has written that she took medieval Europe as a template for the political situation – and I think it shows. Amongst the shifting alliances and set-piece battles, the world, along with its customs, history and religious practices, is clearly portrayed without any appreciable check in the narrative pace – a cool trick to pull off as those of us who write speculative fiction know only too well.

burningstoneSome of the main themes addressed in the series include the nature of love – when does legitimate affection tip into obsession? What happens when duty and love conflict? The price of power, both natural and supernatural, is also explored – and the conclusion seems to be that those with the greatest mastery also suffer the most lethal consequences. A rule which takes the plot in some interesting and unexpected directions… Varying attitudes to religious dogma are also examined, along with the different motivations for fanaticism – an uncomfortably pertinent theme these days.

A wealth of engrossing sub-plots wriggle throughout the series involving an impressive number of memorable childofflamecharacters, without any resultant annoyance or confusion. And this is from someone with such a low tolerance of multi-view adventures, I hurled George R.R. Martin’s Storm of Swords across the room in fury…

Any particular favourites among the seven volumes? As it happens, I found the second volume, Prince of Dogs, particularly engrossing. The encounter between a couple of the main protagonists and the resulting riveting outcome had me reading till the wee small hours. All the books make compulsive reading – but that particular one will lodge in my memory for a long, long time.

gatheringstormThroughout the series we follow the fortunes and disasters of Sanglant, King Henry’s bastard, half-human son who becomes a target when the King clearly shows his preference for him over his three legitimate half-siblings; Sister Rosvita, court advisor and chronicler who finds herself unwillingly swept up in the thick of the fighting; the beautiful and mysterious Liath, who spent her childhood fleeing an unknown, terrible enemy; Hugh, whose thirst for forbidden knowledge is nearly as fierce as his passion for Liath; and Alain, a foundling raised in humble circumstances, whose fortunes become completely entangled in Wendar’s woes. All these characters – and a host of others, are depicted with pleasing complexity. Each one has strengths and weaknesses that impact on the overall story. If I have a niggle – and it is a small one, given the overall strength of the series – I would have liked to have seen more of Anne and her motivations. She is the only character vital to the storyline that I feel could have been more developed.

In addition to the human world, other races include the exiled Ashioi and my personal favourite – the amazing Rock Children and intheruinstheir war leader, Stronghand. The system of magic in the Crown of Stars is pleasingly original and detailed – especially with the steadily increasing tension as the lead characters struggle to make sense of the growing threat to the world.

crownofstarsOf course, you also have to feel the investment in time, emotional energy and the sheer labour of reading seven hefty volumes pays off in a suitably satisfying ending. This was, I confess, a growing concern of mine as I got to the seventh and last book – it happens to be a real personal bugbear. However, Elliott manages to tick that box, too. The characters and storyline reach a variety of conclusions that succeed in tying up the multitude of loose ends. All in all, if you enjoy becoming totally immersed in a complex, well written world, peopled with a wide-ranging set of characters that moves along at a fair clip, then the whole series represents a solidly rewarding five star read.