Sunday, November 6, 2011

Cold Magic, by Kate Elliott

Cold Magic was the book I most recently bought for the Kindle, whose sample tempted me too much. I was seduced by the part in which the main characters are caught talking in class, while the other students are "recording the formula V(1)T(2)=V(2)T(1), which was shedding chalk dust on the board...". When the maestra demands to know if they were paying attention, the main character starts babbling the contents of the lecture, finishing with: "Gas expands as its temperature goes up. No wonder the mage Houses hate balloons! If it's true that proximity to a cold mage always decreases the ambient temperature of any object, then wouldn't a cold mage deflate any balloon sack just by standing alongside it?"

I liked that paragraph: holding up the magic system next to existing physical laws, and seeing how they play together. I'm still kicking around in the steampunk genre trying (rather futilely, so far) to find something I like, but that sentence made me look forward to her airships.

Unfortunately, we spend no time on airships in this book. There are other places where science and magic rub up against each other like this, though. But mostly the focus is on the magic.

I liked the world a lot: the world of faerie layered on top of a continued Ice Age in a Europe where the Roman Empire petered out early, and Africa remained powerful. There are a lot of rich, powerful black characters; the cold mages tend to be of mixed African-Celt descent; the main character's family originated from Carthage (which was never razed by Rome, in this history - though there remains significant tension between the two peoples).

The only thing that really bugged me about the book was the "romance". Cat, the main character, is forced to marry Andevai, who is a pompous, overproud ass. In the grand tradition of pompous asses, the sweet-and-true core is revealed over time, but it came too slowly and too late, and wasn't enough to redeem him, in my opinion. I don't care what kind of hovel he was born in or how many lectures on his Proper Place he got, I still want to punch him in the face. Although, I suppose the way the relationship stands at the end of the book - it's first of a trilogy, so it's not a tidy, tied-up-with-a-bow "happy ending" - Cat may still want to punch him in the face, too.

I liked it, but I don't really feel compelled to find out what happens next, at this time. So we'll see if that urge ever arises, before I pick up the sequel.

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