I talked about Kate Elliott in my women in science-fiction and fantasy series (specifically, her book Spirit Gate, the first book of the Crossroads Trilogy), and I’m talking about her again because she writes excellent epic fantasy. Today, I’m talking about a different series, her most recent, starting with Cold Magic.
This series takes place on an alternate Earth — the map at the front of the book is labelled “Europa * 1837 (Augustan Year)” and bears such places as Iberia, Illyrian Princes, Empire of Rome, and Wagadou Federation — similarities enough that one immediately feels comfortable, yet marked by such differences as the lack of an English Channel. This is a world teetering between magic and industry (aerostatic ships that cross the Atlantic Ocean are the latest thing), rife with politics and intrigue, a place where cold mages hold sway and the unseen court may hunt down those it feels are pests. Within this setting, Elliott uses details to fill out her world, from the difference in price between beeswax and tallow candles to creatures that look like horses but are tireless and don’t need to be changed out because they are not horses.
As marvelous as the world is, the story is about people.
Cat Barahal is an orphaned girl who lives with her aunt and uncle. Her cousin Beatrice (Bee) is of a close age with her, and the two are inseparable friends who cover for each other — even if it does appear that Bee generally has the upper hand in their dealings. They are of the Hassi Barahal clan, a Kena’ani (whom the Romans call Phoenicians) family that has moved north. Both Cat and Bee have little magics, things that have nothing to do with the cold mages of West African and Celtic descent, but they do not talk to others of what they can do. Then the cold mages come and demand Cat marry one of them.
As ever, Elliott’s characters do not disappoint. Cat and Bee are on the cusp of adulthood, and they are believable and engaging in both their behavior and their differences — Cat, who only cares about learning more about her parents, reading and rereading her father’s journals; Bee, who is enchanted by every new handsome male who attends their college and fills her sketchbook with pictures of them. Both are also quite prone to take action to achieve what they want, whether it’s Cat reading past her bedtime (a habit I can certainly relate to) or Bee wanting to reclaim her sketchbook when the headmaster has taken it. That ability to be daring, to rely on wits and abilities, to do what has been forbidden stands Cat in good stead after she is taken from her family.
If you’ve never read any of Kate Elliott’s work before, this is as good a starting point as Spirit Gate. She writes beautiful, complex epic fantasy with detailed worlds and believable characters that will entertain you for hours.
This is a post for the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge. My theme is epic fantasy, and blog posts will cover authors, books, tropes, themes, or anything else I can think of to fill the alphabet. Check out some of the other bloggers participating or follow my blog by e-mail if you like what you’ve read.