Monday, March 18, 2013

Cold Magic by Kate Elliott

 I'm afraid I'm a bit late to the party here - this book has been on my to-read list for quite a while, and I just got it from the library last week. Kate Elliott has at least a dozen fantasy novels out, and this is the first I've read. One reason I mention this is that the book (and series) seems to be an alternate history historical fantasy, and I spent some time while reading it thinking about diversion points from our own history (aside from the whole magic thing) which I am sure have been thoroughly discussed on Ms. Elliot's fan sites already, so if you want the real scoop you may want to do a bit of looking around out there, but...

One thing that seems to be missing in this world is the entire back story of Judeo Christianity, as if the entire Jewish people were never a significant factor. One minor quibble with this thought is that Elliott appears to use the standard A.D. dating system when she identifies the time period when the stories take place, but there is no mention of Christianity, the Roman Catholic Church, or anything at all related in the story. The role of traders and merchants diasporically cast through the world is taken over by the Phoenicians, known to themselves as the Kena'ani, to a tribe of whom the heroine of the tale, Catherine "Cat" Hassi Barrahal, belongs.

In Elliott's own words, some of the back story:

"Two thousand years ago, the Romans and Phoenicians had battled to a standstill, and in the end the Romans kept their land empire and the Phoenicians kept their ports and traded across the seas without impediment. Over time, as the empire of the Romans weakened, the Celtic chiefs broke away one by one and restored their ancient principalities and lordships...retained many things Roman: roads, bridges, aqueducts, a calendar, laws, literacy, and the city ways and city speech of the Romans.

When, about four hundred years ago, the Persians swept across the north of Africa and conquered the trading city of Qart Hadast, many Kena'ani merchant families were forced to flee to other ports and cities...

About one hundred years after the Persian conquests, the salt plague broke out south of the Saharan Desert, when ghouls crawled up from the depths of the salt mines and in their invading hordes tore apart the empire of Mali...

A fleet from the crumbling Mali Empire sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, guided by Phoenician navigators. They reached the distant western continent, which was later named Amerike...there they met previously unknown human nations and...the venturesome trolls...

Twenty-five years ago, a young Iberian captain who called himself Camjiata rose from obscurity during one of the periodic wars between Iberia and Rome and decided that Europa would be better off if he ruled all of it...In the end the mage Houses combined with the Second Alliance to overthrow him...they imprisoned him on an island and left him to rot."

Into this maelstrom falls our heroine when she is "sold" to one of the mage Houses and married unwillingly to one of its powerful young mages, Andevai, who himself was adopted into the House when his mage powers were discovered at puberty, but who grew up a hunter in a village of peasants. She is whisked away from her family in the city Andurnam (somewhere in what we'd call Great Britain) in the midst of incipient uprisings by the workers in the area, who demand better conditions and more rights, such as Camjiata once promised them.

When she arrives at their destination, the mages discover that they have been deceived, and that Cat was offered up to them in lieu of the eldest daughter of the Barrahals, her cousin Beatrice "Bee". Beatrice is suspected to have prophetic powers, and the mages desire to bind her to themselves, so the head of the House tells Andevai he must kill Cat to dissolve the marriage and return to Andurnam to take Beatrice as his wife instead. Cat flees for her life, and encounters many interesting people and strange adventures along the route of her escape.

This is a big, complex book, which appears to merely be the beginning of a big, complex story arc of the Spiritwalker trilogy. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and will be picking up a copy of the next book at the library as soon as possible.

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