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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

"Cold Fire" by Kate Elliott (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Kate Elliott Website
Order "Cold Fire" HERE
Read FBC Review of "Cold Magic" HERE
Read FBC Review of "Traitor's Gate" with Bonus Q/A
Read FBC Review of "Shadow Gate"
Read FBC Interview with Kate Elliott

INTRODUCTION: Last year's Cold Magic has been an unexpected hit with me and I have reread it twice this year too, once earlier when I was in the mood for an exuberant read and once a week or so ago, just after I got a copy of Cold Fire, so I could read them back to back. Very high expectations and after a somewhat surprising beginning and some 150 pages that were more of a retread of the action in Cold Magic than what I expected to see in Cold Fire - pages that were engrossing but felt a little repetitive - Cold Fire got into high gear and delivered the story I was looking forward to.

I discussed the world building in detail in my Cold Magic review and the following will contain spoilers for the first installment. Since the two novels are part of one long story and they have the same "feel", I recommend reading Cold Magic before Cold Fire since the odds are high that you will love - or not - both the same way.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: While Cold Fire is still a voice novel first and foremost and the exuberant narrator Catherine Bell Barahal aka Cat is back on form trying to navigate the changed situation in which she discovers herself after the revelations of Cold Magic, the structure of the book is quite interesting too.

So far there have been three main aspects: the sociopolitical situation which is at a cusp, the interaction with the spirit world which seems to be out of balance too and the personal saga of Cat with both its romantic and emancipation parts, not to speak her deep personal bond with her cousin Beatrice who is another pivotal character in all three aspects above.

The way Cold Magic ended, it clearly suggested that Cold Fire will continue to follow these three themes with the "big picture" moving center stage and this is why the first 150 pages surprised me since they were partly a retread of events in Cold Magic - though indeed the subtle differences that appear due to the new circumstances make quite a difference and the supernatural rather than the political is thrown into prominence. Then with a little authorial "magic", the novel moves back to the expected channel and from there on it just rolls over 300 pages that I really did not want to end and I would have gladly read another 300.

We get everything we want - the right mix of old and new both in world building and characters, in adventure and romance, not to speak of superb twists and turns and a powerful ending that promises so much for the last trilogy volume. Cold Fire also becomes Andevai's novel too from about halfway on and the arrogant cold mage of the first volume now thrown into a different realm where his kind are lowly "fire banes" and cannon fodder for the powerful local fire mages, disguises himself as - or maybe reverts to - the "simple" worker of his childhood and becomes much more human and likable in the process.

But there is more - pirates, invasion and revolution, powerful mages, a look at the "salt sickness" that threw the world in chaos centuries ago, the simple pleasures of life and family and overall the yearning for "freedom" that most characters have and which is so eloquently expressed by Cat here:

“I want this chain off my tongue, Vai. Just as you want the chains off your village, just as Bee wants to live. I want not to live at the mercy of Four Moons House, or a prince’s militia, or the general’s schemes. Surely it’s the same thing most people want. Health and vigor. A refuge which is not a cage but those who care for us and whom we care for."

Besides the first 150 pages detour - which on balance works well enough, while the stuff in there is interesting in itself though its main point did not justify the time spent getting to it - there was one thing that bothered me, namely the way the people of the Antilles were described to talk which sounded too much like the Victorian description of "native talk" for comfort. After all Cat, Vai and the rest of the European characters do not speak English either, academic or stilted, so the reader and the author share this suspension of disbelief as the book is narrated in English, and making the natives speak "bad English" is not that inspired.

Overall Cold Fire (A++, top 10 novel of 2011 for me) is a remarkable achievement since it expands the universe of the series, ends at a definite point while promising a lot for the last volume, all narrated in the same wonderful exuberant voice that enchanted me so much in Cold Magic.


Book Sake said...

Very glad to hear how good this book was. I have Cold Magic on it's way to me now and have been looking forward to starting this series for awhile. Thanks for the great review.

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Anonymous said...

I usually find myself in agreement with most of your reviews, but here I couldn't help but wonder if we've read the same book.

The main character, Cat, for the most part come across as one of the teen girls you might find in an MTV show. Many of the twists feel contrived for the sake of the author's storyline and even at points illogical. The ridiculous use of bad English is beyond annoying and majority of chapters are poorly constructed. I can go on and on unfortunately.

In my opinion this book is so riddled with flaws that a few bright points have no hope of salvaging it. All in all, a disappointing sequel to a promising series opener.


Liviu said...

As for the twists - the only one that to me seemed like hand waving was the going to Antilles one; most of the rest including the finale and the double cross seemed natural in hindsight while the opposition "dragons", "courts of the spirit world" that powers the supernatural conflict started in volume 1.

As for Cat - hard to say but I still liked a lot her voice and i did not think she was out of character; after all Andevai still tried to kill her in Cold Magic - and would have done so were not she part of the spirit world - and it takes a while to forget this however much contrition the mage shows, while her interaction with the other mage was again done under a death threat as she knew - "i can heal you of this deathly disease, but we need to..."

The bad English, yes agree that it was annoying and I emphasized that; however it did not fundamentally mar the novel, the way say Lisa Goldstein's narrator regretting the fall of the Berlin Wall in Uncertain Places or Christopher Priest Britain Ubber Alles in The Separation did which is just a matter of personal history as what annoys me (bad English) and what offends me (regretting Communism or the fight against Nazism)

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I need to expand a bit on my points (SPOILER ALERT):

As for Cat, I wasn’t really expecting her to jump back to Andevai’s arms. I was referring to her overall behaviour and character in this book. I likened her to a teenager out of your usual MTV series; perhaps a more vivid analogy would be the protagonist of the early twilight books. Cat is portrayed as an independent and rather astute young woman in Cold Magic. In contrast, here for 80% of the book she’s vacillating between, “oh, that arrogant cold mage bastard tried to kill me, I can’t wait to be rid of him”, and, “oh, that beautiful cold mage is too yummy for words, I can’t wait to jump his bones”. And the language Elliott uses (in Cat’s reminiscing) is just as appallingly cheesy. Perhaps, if I was fifteen, I wouldn’t have minded it so much! I don’t protest her ambivalence, but the length and manner in which it was described.
Her interaction with the fire mage, James Drake, only adds to this subversion. The curing on the salt island that can be done only by baring skin, unfortunately reads too much like a pedophile who deceives a child into playing doctor. If we forgive her gullibility due to the threat of imminent death and inebriation, what follows is insufferable. First, we’re given the little nugget that the girls of her clan are free to give their first night to whomever they wish, presumably to assuage the delicate sensibilities of those readers who expected her to remain celibate for Andevai! Of course, this is before our suspicions are confirmed that Drake is an utter cad. But how does Cat react? Surely she’d give him hell. Instead it’s a bit of a cold shoulder and later that incomprehensible episode at the iguana bar, where she gets drunk again and confronts him, only to tell him in no uncertain terms that "she doesn’t like him!"
There are other things about her characterisation that bothered me throughout, such as her several outbursts and loose tongue. Apparently her Barahal training is only a useful excuse in this instalment to further dramatise her relationship with her husband. As I said, for me ¾ into this novel, the thoughtful and likable character introduced in the first book is transformed into your conventional annoying lovesick teenage girl.

With regard to the plot twists, I wasn’t referring to the overall themes outlined in the opener, such as "the spirit world", "the dragon dreams", or the struggle for freedom. These were actually the initial attractions for me. I was rather concerned with the sub-plots in this book. Take the salt plague for instance. The author needs Cat to be bitten as a major component in her storyline. The way it happens though lacks creativity and feels thoughtless. She had to be inexplicably spit out of the spirit world right on this island! Then we’re given to understand how strict the Taino are with regard to the infected. They are all penned in cages and exiled for life. Except for the newly bitten in the dormant phase, who are somehow given the run of the island until they snap and bite someone! Lo and behold, one such character was the first to yank Cat out of the water. And thus we get her bitten.
Backtrack a bit where Cat, Bee, and Rory are seeking the university’s headmaster. Here, Elliott wants to be rid of Rory, since she doesn’t know what to do with him in the subsequent trip of the cousins to the spirit world. She accomplishes this by telling the reader that although he was the girls’ only defender and they still weren’t sure about the headmaster’s intent; Cat had to send him away because Rory felt obliged to tear open headmaster’s throat due to his dragon alter ego.

Anonymous said...

(Continued from previous post)

There were several other weak points such as the unmelting ice lens or the reasoning of the general that although Cat is to be her instrument of death, keeping her alive makes sense! (only if we buy into this premise the “double-cross” would be as you put it natural). One of the only natural storylines was the fate of Andevai at the end, but I’m afraid that was the only recourse after the Master of Hunt gave the choice to Cat (I don’t fault the predictability though since it’s much preferable to contrived set-up for a twist).

Finally, the author in this book is prone to use of over-the-top and/or confused figures of speech. I wasn’t making notes as I was reading, these were two such examples in my opinion that just caught my eye upon a quick skim:

“her voice retained an edge of determination that suggested her collapse would be accompanied by a tantrum no sane person wished to endure.”

“Vai’s gaze drifted to me, its pressure both bitter and so very sweet.”

As I mentioned earlier, most chapters in the first 2/3 of the book are also poorly constructed. The author somehow feels obligated to end most of them on a precipitous note and pick it up right after in the next, in a manner that is more fitting for action cartoon episodes ending with a cliffhanger.

Admittedly, the last 6 or 7 chapters in Cold Fire mark a definite improvement. This is to be expected as some of the plot-lines culminate and the action peaks. However, I found it to be too late to redeem the book to a top 2011 read due to many earlier transgressions.



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