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Sunday, June 20, 2010
This year has been just awesome for me as sff books go, much better than the good but not great 2009 when mainstream books were considerably more impressive. I did a post with 12 excellent 2010 novels read by April, two more posts about some upcoming books that were excellent and another post with some 14 more books I expect to greatly enjoy.
So imagine my surprise when another book came that while I may have picked up to browse as I do with all new sff I have no clear opinion about - just "to do my duty" if you want - I did not really expect to like it, and definitely did not expect it to blow me away as Cold Magic (Sept 2010, Orbit) by Kate Elliott did.
I have been a big fan of the Jaran novels in the 90's but I have not read anything by the author since - tried both Crown of Stars 1 and Crossroads 1 and both are not quite for me - so when the arc of Cold Magic which is the author's debut with Orbit came with a blurb comparing it to the Jaran novels, I was intrigued and on opening the novel I just got enchanted by its narrator's voice as well as by the superb setting.
This is the Amazon blurb which is a bit misleading:
"From one of the genre's finest writers comes a bold new epic fantasy in which science and magic are locked in a deadly struggle.
It is the dawn of a new age... The Industrial Revolution has begun, factories are springing up across the country, and new technologies are transforming in the cities. But the old ways do not die easy.
Cat and Bee are part of this revolution. Young women at college, learning of the science that will shape their future and ignorant of the magics that rule their families. But all of that will change when the Cold Mages come for Cat. New dangers lurk around every corner and hidden threats menace her every move. If blood can't be trusted, who can you trust? "
The setting is an ice-age like alt-Earth around the 1800's but with a quite different history, magic houses, but also budding science that the "Cold Mages" dislike and want suppressed, but the local princes try to protect when it fits them.
The heroine/narrator is Cat (Catherine) of Carthaginian descent - here 2000 years ago Carthage was ruled by queens (called dido's for the famous mythical founder) and Hannibal defeated the Romans at Zama for once, so the two powers fought themselves to a standstill and while the Roman Empire eventually extended over most Europe, North Africa and Spain remained Carthaginian influenced and after the Empire breakup some 1000 years ago, there has been a patchwork of mini-states all over Europe, which now stops at the Baltic ice-sea - there is a great map too.
Cat is almost 20 - age of majority - and studies at a college in a Celtic city in Britain at the edge of the sea, city that is a famous trading one and a mixture of all races/nationalities - the headmaster is an Egyptian since they are perceived as "neutral"; since tragically orphaned at age 6, Cat has been living with her uncle, aunt and cousins of which Beatrice younger by two months is like her twin sister, while her uncle is the head of the local family clan which like many other Carthaginian old trading houses is now somewhat impoverished and acts as spies/mercenaries/enforcers for the powerful and the moneyed
Cat's father who was a famous traveler for the clan and wrote some 50 travel journals drowned with her mother who was a mysterious figure - seemingly an "Amazon" warrior of Belgae origin in the army of a Napoleon like conqueror of Iberian descent that was finally defeated 13 years before by the Mages and their allies and has been imprisoned on an island ever since; since the local British princes have been the general's fiercest enemies and since Cat's mother deserted to have a family, it is understandable that nobody wants to talk much about her.
And then the Cold Mages come to enforce a "bargain" made with Cat's house many years ago and she will find herself thrown in the unknown...
Great exuberant narration, tons of twists and turns - some that you can dimly see, but still think a bit far fetched until they actually happen, and a punch ending that really makes me want the sequel Cold Steel asap.
"Ice-punk" with magic and an A++, while I will have to think hard and choose between this and The Folding Knife for my number one for 2010 in the fantasy genre. I will re-read both later to see how they stood the test of time.
I will also have a full formal review of Cold Magic discussing some things in more detail closer to the publication date.
12:01 PM | Posted by Liviu | | Edit Post