Kate Elliott’s Cold Magic is about as slippery as dress shoes on ice. But fortunately without the painful fall.
Why is it slippery? Because it’s (as Elliott describes it) a mashup novel.
When I started reading I decided it was a magic-riddled steampunk novel. Then I decided it was also a political novel (exploring cultural beliefs using an alternate Europe). But no sooner had I decided that when Elliott threw in an “I hate him with all my heart” romance in the best Harlequin tradition. Later, once I had accepted the three themes, seemingly for fun, Elliott tossed in a coming-of-age story colored by who-am-I changeling motifs. At this point I was sliding around so much in the various plots that I’m convinced that there are other novels hidden inside Cold Magic that I didn’t see.
In other words, it’s a mess of a novel. Oh and it’s long. Very long. It’s also full of physical detail, whole sections of alternate history lessons and worldbuilding summaries.
It should be a disaster. I shouldn’t have made it past the first addition of complexity. I like my stories simple, plot oriented and on the shorter side. I hate book bloat (yes, looking at you Harry Potter Book 4).
And yet I loved it, so much that I was momentarily angry with Elliott for abandoning me at the end, just as the main character and I were getting some answers.
I’ve heard (can’t remember where) that the twenty-first century’s only original contribution to culture is the mashup (a nice piece of irony that – the only thing new isn’t new at all). If that’s true, then Elliott demonstrates that she’s one of the Mashup Movement’s masters.
Every single thing that she “shouldn’t” have done should have blocked my slide through the book (such as the passages of history stuck into the thoughts of the main character, or the use of description and details that seemed to have nothing to do with the plot), but as I glided along screen after screen I marveled at how well she had done it. Cold Magic is a great example of a book that breaks the rules of conventional fantasy and yet succeeds for the skill with which it’s done.
This isn’t a Hollywood blockbuster hitting us over the head again and again with its action scenes and overarching lesson. It’s a European period piece that lets the reader decide what to get out of the slippery messages the story contains. (Not that it doesn’t have action scenes, because it does aplenty – written with dexterity, of course).
You can probably guess that my recommendation is to go buy the book (in print or for Kindle), however I’m also including a recommendation for myself – to go back through Elliott’s backlist and download whichever of her other works are available for my Kindle. For all that I recognized her name, I’d never actually read anything by her before (I think a case of non-appealing coverart turning me off), but I’m more than ready to make up for that unfortunate mistake.