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Cold Fire by Kate Elliott

Cold FireA review by Nalini Haynes

Spiritwalker trilogy book 2

Cold Fire is the second in the Spiritwalker trilogy by Kate Elliott, of which the first was Cold Magic. Cat and her cousin Bee are caught up in the middle of political intrigue in a class and race-based society that subjugates women. Cat has discovered that her father, Daniel Barassi, was not her biological father and that she shares her biological father with Rory, sometimes a sabre toothed cat and sometimes a spoilt, sensual male. Cold Magic introduced the Wild Hunt, which hunts and kills a powerful mage or person touched by the supernatural every Hallow’s Eve. In Cold Fire, Cat is told her beloved cousin will be next on the menu unless Cat finds an alternative sacrifice of sufficient potency. Cat’s husband Andevai pursues her while they dance, determining their futures.

Cold Fire is set in an alternate world where magic and spirits roam Earth and history has developed differently, with Rome rising twice. Not really an alternate history due to the supernatural elements, Cold Fire still has strong elements of steam punk without the Babbage engine but with dirigibles.

There are strong supernatural themes with capricious Fae-like creatures crossing between the supernatural world and Earth, and yet Cold Fire isn’t as surreal as Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Creature Court.

Climate change is a theme in this story but hints arise that there is a link between climate and magic; thus Elliott avoids many climate change-related tropes. Political themes also abound in this trilogy, with international and national politics directly impacting on characters.

Sex and romance are threads in Cold Fire, including sexual abuse of a young woman. This is handled delicately in that there is no explicit sex nor is rape used to titilate, instead the issues are clear. The victim discovers her betrayal after realising she has been misled and abused by a man whose complex motives are politically not romantically oriented. This is handled in such a way that I would not hesitate to give this book to high school students or, indeed, any girl with an old enough reading age and old enough to have to deal with these issues. Intimacy, sex and abuse, along with the other tropes make Cold Fire an excellent novel to stimulate discussions in bookclubs and high schools.

Cold Fire’s book design includes a cover that hints at steampunk tropes and a layout within that is significantly more appealling than a mass market paperback. The text size could be larger but at already over 500 pages, larger text would make the novel unwieldy.

The Spiritwalker trilogy is one of those rare series that blends personal realism with meta-issues like slavery and subjugation of women. An engaging plot incorporates political intrigue on an international scale, adventure, magic and romance. I highly recommend Cold Fire to a broad audience.

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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