Cold Steel by Kate Elliott

cold steel by kate elliottThis is the 3rd novel in Elliott’s Spiritwalker trilogy.

Summary (from Amazon): Trouble, treachery, and magic just won’t stop plaguing Cat Barahal. The Master of the Wild Hunt has stolen her husband Andevai. The ruler of the Taino kingdom blames her for his mother’s murder. The infamous General Camjiata insists she join his army to help defeat the cold mages who rule Europa. An enraged fire mage wants to kill her. And Cat, her cousin Bee, and her half-brother Rory, aren’t even back in Europa yet, where revolution is burning up the streets.

Revolutions to plot. Enemies to crush. Handsome men to rescue.

Cat and Bee have their work cut out for them.

My Thoughts: Cold Steel is the last novel in Elliott’s Spiritwalker trilogy (#1: Cold Magic, #2: Cold Fire). If you are looking for an epic series with adventure, travel, terrific world-building, a bit of romance, an intriguing and utterly unique heroine, a deep friendship, and liberal amounts of humor, this is it.

Cold Steel was a great wrap-up, and it left me aching for more in the way that the best books do. However, I suspect that I did myself an extreme disfavor by waiting so long between the 2nd novel and this one–part of that was, of course, Life, and the general obnoxiousness that comes along with it, and it rendered me fairly confused and sometimes disinterested near the beginning of Cold Steel. I had forgotten some of the “rules” that fantasy / alternate-universe novels like this come with, and for a decent amount of time I was left wondering about many characters’ motives and decisions, which took away some of the enjoyment for me. I should have re-read Cold Fire again before embarking on this 3rd novel, and maybe I’ll attempt that scenario sometime in the future. I think that would change a lot of the way I ended up feeling about the book.

I’d like to reiterate a point I made in my review of Cold Magic, and that is that I really enjoy the portrayal of friendship between Cat, our protagonist, and her cousin/BFF, Bee. I do think it’s a shame that so many of the books specifically marketed towards (young) women feature so few female relationships, and if there are multiple women featured in the novel, they are usually enemies or fighting over a man. Especially with all the recent attention about The Bechdel Test, this is a problem that goes beyond literature. There is a romance in this trilogy, the one between Cat and her husband, Andevai, and it is certainly romantic, swoon-worthy, and heartbreaking at times (as all good romances are), but it is not the only meaningful relationship in our female protagonist’s life–it’s one of many, and that, to me, is a much more realistic and honest portrayal of romance.

Another strong point of Elliott’s is her ability to make her characters fully 3-dimensional. The characters in Cold Fire have weaknesses, and not stupid, shallow “weaknesses” thrown in to make sure that the character isn’t a flawless Mary Sue. Andevai, Cat’s husband and romantic interest, is flawed and these flaws can be both humorous (his pride and vanity lead him to accumulate an impressive number of clothes that have to be lugged across half the continent by Cat and Bee) and serious: Andevai’s loyalty to his past, and an overwhelming desire for respect and recognition cause him and Cat to struggle greatly with their relationship and their dual involvement in the revolution they are fighting for. There are doubts, realistic doubts that caused me as a reader to waver as well.

I was first drawn into this series because I so enjoyed viewing it through Cat’s eyes. She is a unique heroine in that she isn’t really a heroine–in any typical fantasy story, her personality, actions, and motivations would have cast her as the sidekick, and her cousin Bee as the heroine. This is really a story about a side-player in a greater drama with her own reasons for doing what she does, and which might not line up with the traditional, heroic notion of right-and-wrong, save-the-world, goody-goody. I really enjoyed this in the first and second novels, but (and this might be a side effect of the aforementioned delay between my reading the 2nd and 3rd books) she really lost me a few times in Cold Steel. Certain pivotal moments had me going “whaaaat?” at her actions and thoughts, and I didn’t connect with her as well. I ended up not being as invested or impressed emotionally because I didn’t understand her motivations and reactions.

Overall, this is a very good trilogy with a world that I hope Elliott will return to sometime in the future. It’s so fleshed-out and well-developed I feel like she must have more stories and characters off-stage that deserve their chance to be told. Cold Steel was not my favorite of the series, but it’s still good. Also funny. It’s an interesting kind of humor–lots of different kinds of humor, actually. So enjoyable!

Author Websitehttp://www.kateelliott.com/

Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel

Summary: Love conquers all, so they say. But can Cupid’s arrow pierce the hearts of the living and the dead—or rather, the undead? Can a proper young Victorian lady find true love in the arms of a dashing zombie?

The year is 2195. The place is New Victoria—a high-tech nation modeled on the manners, mores, and fashions of an antique era. A teenager in high society, Nora Dearly is far more interested in military history and her country’s political unrest than in tea parties and debutante balls. But after her beloved parents die, Nora is left at the mercy of her domineering aunt, a social-climbing spendthrift who has squandered the family fortune, and now plans to marry her niece off for money. For Nora, no fate could be more horrible—until she’s nearly kidnapped by an army of walking corpses.

But fate is just getting started with Nora. Catapulted from her world of drawing-room civility, she’s suddenly gunning down ravenous zombies alongside mysterious black-clad commandos and confronting “The Laz,” a fatal disease that raises the dead—and hell along with them. Hardly ideal circumstances. Then Nora meets Bram Griswold, a young soldier who is brave, handsome, noble . . . and dead. But as is the case with the rest of his special undead unit, luck and modern science have enabled Bram to hold on to his mind, his manners, and his body parts. And when his bond of trust with Nora turns to tenderness, there’s no turning back. Eventually, they know, the disease will win, separating the star-crossed lovers forever. But until then, beating or not, their hearts will have what they desire.

In Dearly, Departed, steampunk meets romance meets walking-dead thriller, spawning a madly imaginative novel of rip-roaring adventure, spine-tingling suspense, and macabre comedy that forever redefines the concept of undying love.

My Thoughts: I was immediately drawn into Habel’s debut novel. Generally I have not read many zombie novels, and I’ve only a little experience in the steampunk genre. I was skeptical of steampunk + zombie + romance.

I loved Nora as a narrator. Like I said, I was interested in what she had to say from the first page. I also liked the way Habel described and invented the history of how exactly New Victoria came to be after an apocalyptic-type era that did away with all the old countries like the U.S., Mexico, etc. Her version of “zombie-sm” was also new and intriguing.

I loved the romance–it developed nicely and was very cute 🙂 Hope to read the sequel soon!

Author Website, where you can read a sample chapter! http://liahabel.com/

Cold Magic by Kate Elliott

Once in awhile, you finish reading a book, you set it down, you contemplate how you’re going to write a review for it, and you know that it will be pretty much near impossible to be coherent at all, because all you want to say is stuff like “Wow–that was awesome, I can’t really explain why–forget that, I can’t even talk or think clearly right now because I haven’t come back to reality yet–you, over there, read this book, now.” The last time this happened to me was 6 months ago after I finished reading Fire by Kristin Cashore. And now, it’s just happened to me again with Cold Magic by Kate Elliott.

Catherine has been raised by her Uncle Jonatan and Aunt Tilly ever since she was orphaned as a small child. Her life is familiar, normal, and easy to understand. She is best friends with her cousin Beatrice, who is only two months younger than her; the two young women attend school at a select academy, where they learn about science and the new technology that is revolutionizing their world. Brand new machines like airships, printing presses, and factories run by combustion are just now emerging in a world previously dominated by feudal-type Princes and Mage Houses where magic, specifically cold magic, has held sway over Europa ever since the Roman Empire was defeated and shunted from the icy northern continent.

Catherine’s world thus consists of lessons at school and teasing Beatrice about her latest crush on the young men at the academy, until one day everything changes. Forced in to a magical contract contrived many years ago by her family and the cold mages of Four Moon House, Catherine, as the eldest daughter in her family, is married essentially against her will to a cold mage so vain, so egotistical and full of his own superiority that he barely seems to acknowledge her presence in the carriage that takes them both away from the only home and family Catherine has ever known. What follows is nothing Catherine ever could have imagined happening to her. Abandoned by everyone she has ever loved, Catherine must set out on her own and discover the truth about her heritage and the rapidly changing forces surrounding her world.

Okay. I thought that was a sufficiently epic and interesting summary. Even so, I haven’t even mentioned half of the well-written characters and twisty plotty adventures that are included in Cold Magic. In an interview with Elliott, the author describes her novel as “an Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk Regency novel with airships, Phoenician spies, and the intelligent descendants of troodons (which were a small, intelligent, and agile species of dinosaur)”. An incredibly disparate disarray of ideas and genres you say; however, it works so well and is very much held together by a strongly written heroine in Catherine.

I was definitely pulled into this novel by our protagonist. As well, her sisterly/best-friend relationship with her cousin Bee was a very realistic, believable, and enjoyable dynamic that I actually haven’t seen all that much of in young adult novels that aim towards a mostly female demographic. I think a lot of people assume that girls don’t want to read about friendships with girls, which is “booorring”; they want to read about infatuating romances with cute boys. Untrue, I think. Or at least for this girl. So Elliott’s take was very refreshing. Catherine was put into a lot of new situations and I enjoyed how, even though she pretty much had no idea what was going on half the time, she was intelligent and able to use what skills and knowledge she had to pull it together and stand up for herself. Also refreshing; too much of the time I think we get heroines that are annoyingly deer-in-the-headlights at the beginnings of adventures. Even after all the horrible things that happen to her, Catherine is rarely whiny and I very much liked her voice in the narration.

The plotting and total changes in scenery and surroundings that Elliott put Catherine through was also very impressive. Catherine basically begins in a lower-middle-class home in the city and travels through countryside and is even pulled into an alternate world (the spirit world, as they call it) at one point and meets a very diverse cast of characters. The universe that Catherine lives in is essentially an alternate history version of our own with a bit of fantasy tossed in; after the Roman Empire sank into itself, the majority of the European continent (or Europa, as they call it) came under the power of petty, feudal-era-type Princes and Lords, who were balanced by the respected power of the magical Houses. A lot of the geography is the same (there is a map included at the beginning of the book) but countries like England, France, and Spain don’t exist, and people of different ethnicities and different cultures have mixed together in new ways, creating a brand-new history.

With the introduction of combustion technology and steam-driven mechanics, Cold Magic is a new addition to the growing genre of “steampunk fantasy,” which I, before this novel, didn’t find particularly enticing. I’ve read Leviathan (Scott Westerfeld), Clockwork Heart (Dru Pagliassotti) and The Gaslight Dogs (Karin Lowachee) but I only had lukewarm experiences with books in the genre. Ah, Mortal Engines (Philip Reeve) was good. But Cold Magic is definitely the best example of the genre I’ve read so far.

Along with the personal journey of our heroine, the reader is basically immersed in a very fluidly changing culture that includes ideas about socio-economic divides, power and how it should be wielded, democratic representation, revolution, and the role of science and technology in a changing society. A lot of really interesting ideas, and I am really so impressed by how Elliott wove it all together. This is the first book of hers that I’ve read, and I’m really looking forward to checking out her other books. I think she also phrased the little romance perfectly, in an understated, kind of wistful way that I really enjoy and not all authors can do well. No bodice-ripping here, sorry if that’s your thing.

In every aspect–adventure, fantasy, characters, and romance–Elliott hit all the right buttons for me and I am only sorry that I will have to wait so long for the sequel. I believe it’s going to be a trilogy, and the ending of Cold Magic and the happenings within have set us up very nicely for a long arc of adventure. I am really just so impressed and floored by Elliott’s writing and storytelling abilities; I have found a new favorite author to follow and I really can’t wait for what she comes up with next.

How I got this book: The author, Kate Elliott, provided me with an Advanced Reading Copy.
When does it come out? September 9, 2010
Genres: Fantasy, Steampunk, Alternate History, Young Adult Fiction, Adventure
Publisher: Orbit Books, I first heard about Cold Magic through this publisher’s website; I basically want to read every book they have on their publishing schedules.
Author Website: www.kateelliott.com
Also, her blog, where you have the chance to win an ARC of Cold Magic: http://kateelliott.livejournal.com/

Mortal Engines by Phillip Reeve

Rating: 7 out of 10

Summary from book jacket:

London is hunting

The great Traction City lumbers after a small town, eager to strip its prey of all assets and move on. Resources on the Great Hunting Ground that once was Europe are so limited that mobile cities must consume one another to survive, a practice known as Municipal Darwinism.

Tom, an apprentice in the Guild of Historians, saves his hero, Head Historian Thaddeus Valentine, from a murder attempt by the mysterious Hester Shaw — only to find himself thrown from the city and stranded with Hester in the Out Country. As they struggle to follow the tracks of the city, the sinister plans of London’s leaders begin to unfold …

My Thoughts: This was an incredibly original idea that I’ve never really read anywhere else. The only thing that it even remotely reminds me of is Hayao Miyazaki’s work, mostly because of all the fantastical machines and world-building that he has in his movies.

After Earth was basically destroyed by a sixty-minute nuclear war thousands of years ago, cities in the present-day world are great mobile behemoths that move around on giant tracks and wheels, chasing down and devouring smaller cities and towns for resources in an accepted system called Municipal Darwinism. People who live on these Traction Cities find the idea of living in on the ground in one stationary spot incredibly unnerving and unnatural. The problem is that almost all of the “prey” (aka smaller towns and villages) in Europe has been hunted to extinction, and there are no natural resources left in the nuclear wasteland–what is a gigantic mobile city such as London to do?

The writing is aimed at a middle-school/young adult audience, but Reeve keeps the plot very interesting and fast-moving, it never feels like he’s patronizing or dumbing down things for his readers, which some YA authors tend to do.

Since this is the first in a quartet of books, I will definitely be checking out the sequels.

Ack! I am 4 or 5 books behind in posting reviews, I’ve read so many books this winter break but haven’t written about any of them here 😦

Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotti

COVER clockwork heart by dru pagliassottiRating: 6.5 out of 10
Summary: A steampunkish romantic fantasy set in Ondinium, a city that beats to the ticking of a clockwork heart. Taya, a metal-winged courier, can travel freely across the city’s sectors and mingle indiscriminately among its castes. A daring mid-air rescue leads to involvement with two brothers, scions of an upperclass family, and entanglement in a web of terrorism, loyalty, murder, and secrets.

My Thoughts: I’ve rated this a 6.5 because there were some aspects I really loved about it, and some aspects that just bored me.

My experience with the “steampunk” genre is minimal. I actually had never heard of it until a couple months ago. I guess the whole experience can be described with words like brass, industrial, slightly magical?

That’s what Clockwork Heart was. It really blended magic and science together to the point where the world of Ondinium could have been one of our own cities in the Industrial Revolution except for the cultural differences and the kind-of magical metal, ondium, that is lighter than air and lets our main character, Taya, fly.

The romance was slow and sweet, it developed realistically and it was nice as a subplot.

One part I didn’t enjoy particularly much was the mystery aspect and the descriptions of the world’s engineering processes. I got bored several times in these passages and it just didn’t hold my attention very well.