Cold Steel (Spirit Walker book 3) by Kate Elliott (book review).

May 1, 2014 | By | Reply More

Once again, ‘Cold Steel’ by Kate Elliott invites us to a parallel Earth where, two thousand years ago, Romans and Phoenicians had battled to a standstill and finally kept their sovereign territories: the Romans the land and the Phoenicians the sea. All of this happens while the Ice Age lasts and covers parts of northern Europe to the present. The reason for there being a land bridge between the continent and England where, in our world, the English Channel separates both.


Over time, the Roman Empire weakened and, one by one, the Celtic chiefs returned to their old ways by restoring their ancient principalities. Although they cast out their Roman overlords, they thought it came in handy to keep those Roman achievements which suited them like roads, bridges, aqueducts, a calendar (the present of the novel is the Augustan year 1837, which would be 1867 in our calendar), laws, literacy and the city ways and city speech.

When, about four hundred years ago, the Persians swept across northern Africa and conquered Qart Hadast (better known as Carthage on our Earth), many Phoenician families were forced to flee north and welcomed with open arms by the Celtic princes in exchange for a tax on their profits. A hundred years later, the great salt plague broke out south of the Sahara, when ghouls crawled up from the depths of the salt mines and tore apart the empire of Mali. The catastrophe drove many West African refugees with their gold, horses and magic north to Europe. The members of noble houses from the south married into northern noble families. The southern Mande sorcerors encountered like minded spirits in the Drua of the north and so the mage Houses were founded. Yes, you’ve read right, magic actually exists on this Earth. The titular cold magic the mage houses are using being fuelled by ice and the spirit world who thrive near the ice in northern Europe.

But not all refugees fled north. A fleet from the crumbling Mali Empire sailed west and finally reached a continent named Amerike, after the celtic explorer Rhisiart ap Meurig. In southern Amerike, they met human communities. In northern Amerike, the trolls, a race descended from dinosaurs. The trolls were very interested in the newcomers to their land, sent an expedition east, reached Iberia and established a new trade route. They came into conflict with the princes and mage houses of Europe because they brought new technologies with them, which were thought to endanger the mage houses’ supremacy.

‘Cold Steel’ continues where ‘Cold Fire’ left off, directly after Cat more or less sacrificed the Taino queen to the Master of the Wild Hunt and he kidnapped Andevai. Prince Caonabo, the Taino queen’s son and heir, accuses Cat of murdering his mother. She tries to escape and gets caught by Camjiata and Drake. Even before she can stand trial, the Taino ancestors kidnap Cat’s half-brother, Rory, and she has no choice but to follow and rescue him. The ancestors hold court over Cat and judge her to be innocent. Both are released to the mortal world, where they meet Bee. As usual, some time has passed while they were in the spirit world and they arrive in Sharagua. Being again pursued by Camjiata’s men, Cat strikes a deal with an opia. She promises to deliver the Taino queen’s head, which she has brought with her from the spirit world, to her exiled second son Haübey and, in return, the opia provides transportation over the Great Smoke (the spirit world equivalent to the Atlantic Ocean).

The dragon casts the three of them out on the road to Adurnam in Europa. After getting some information from Bran Cof’s head, they once more have to flee into the spirit world. After some struggles with the Master of the Wild Hunt, Cat sends Bee and Rory back to the mortal world but stays herself to free Andevai. At last, she escapes the spirit world together with her husband and they meet up with Bee and Rory and get tangled in the chaos of war and revolution. Camjiata and his army did land in Europa while they were in the spirit world and it is cold mages against fire mages! Many more adventures are to be had with dragons, mages, seas made of smoke and dreams, blood and its importance, dashing costume choices and love. Perhaps a bit too much of the last item, but each reader has to decide for himself.

In ‘Cold Steel’, Kate Elliott continues her story set in an Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk Regency very successfully. We get to see more of the spirit world and learn quite a lot of the inner workings of Kate Elliott’s world, eg why the Wild Hunt has gone from collecting the souls of the dead to hunting down mages on Hallows’ Night and what led to the existence of dream walkers in the first place. Cat’s birthright truly is to facilitate change in the mortal world as well as in the spirit world and she does so in the end, changing some things in her world forever. The trilogy in a way comes full circle because ‘Cold Steel’ ends with the same statement with which book one began: ‘The history of the world begins in ice, and it will end in ice.’

‘Cold Steel’ neatly ties up most of the dangling threads from the previous volumes and brings the story arc for all protagonists to a satisfying conclusion, at least for the time being. It doesn’t finish the story of the war that features heavily in ‘Cold Steel’ or the story of the revolution, which is in full swing at the end of the book. There are lots of stories in Kate Elliott’s world and some of them begin long before the trilogy starts while others end long after its conclusion, as it happens in the real world.

Kate Elliott once again dazzles the reader with her magic system, engaging characters even in minor roles, a well-paced plot and a world without racism. I loved to read about the adventures of Catherine ‘Cat’ Hassi Barahal, her cousin Bee, their friends and their many enemies and I would like to read more novels set in the same world. You should read this books if you are interested in unusual fantasy with strong female characters to identify with.

Sven Scheurer

April 2014

(pub: Orbit. 597 page enlarged paperback. Price: £13.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84149-885-0)

check out websites: www.orbitbooks.net and www.kateelliott.com

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Category: Books, Fantasy

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