Revolutionaries, Spirits, & Mages... and a Conclusion that's Sort of a Hot Mess
Are heroes formed through years of experience... or is it more likely that they’re simply born to it?
No doubt there’s a heap of anecdotal evidence supporting each side of such a “nurture vs. nature” question, but in her “Spiritwalker” trilogy--an alternate-reality fantasy series set during the Industrial Revolution, featuring two very young women (girls, still, really) who set their minds on changing the world--author Kate Elliott goes the heroism-as-a-birthright route.
The entertaining Cold Magic first introduced us to the cast of characters (notably, feisty Cat Barahal and her irrepressible cousin Bee, along with Cat’s delightful half-brother, the cat/human Rory, and her newly-acquired-though-wholly-unwanted husband, the cold mage Andevai), as well as doing considerable world-building and setting the stage for all of their problems. [You can see my earlier review of it, here, by the way]. Cold Fire [which I somehow never got around to finishing a review for] followed a year later, ably picking up the reins, giving ‘em a good whack, and really getting the action moving along at an exciting, breakneck pace (while continuing to add interesting layers to each of the main characters and adding several new ones).
Cold Steel’s job as the finale, then, is to tie everything together and provide some resolutions... something which, for me, it only partially succeeds at.
When Cold Steel opens, Cat’s just trying to make it through one day at a time, living among the family and friends she’s made in a far-from-home island kingdom after escaping both a shady revolutionary and the clutches of a dangerous fire mage... while fretting non-stop about the fate of her husband, Vai, who was taken captive by the Master of the Wild Hunt (and is now imprisoned--or worse--somewhere in the Spirit World). She also faces the threat of serious repercussions after (accidentally) helping the Wild Hunt’s Master kill the powerful female ruler of a neighboring kingdom (which in turn, is now ruled by the dead woman’s son... who recently married Cat’s drawer-of-dreams cousin, Bee).
Meanwhile, trouble is still brewing in Europa, as war rages on. The revolutionary General Camjiata, whom she earlier refused to align herself with, keeps insisting on her help, going so far as to claim that the fate of all Europa--and whether or not its people can ever be free or are doomed to remain in servitude to the few wealthy, magically-powerful rulers--rests in her young hands.
So, find her husband, then rescue him from the Spirit World (while trying not to get captured by the Master of the Wild Hunt, again, herself). Evade a likely-unpleasant punishment at the hands of the Taino (whose leader she didn’t-mean-to-help-kill-but-did) and a certainly-horrid death by the angry fire mage (who’s still out for blood). Save war-torn Europa. Plus, keep all those she holds near and dear--including Bee, Rory, her troll friends, her adopted-island family, and Andevai’s relatives--from harm. Oh, and help some dragons. (Yes, really.) All in a day’s--or perhaps a couple years’--work, right?
While I really enjoyed the world, characters, and complex situations Elliott created in Magic and Fire, I found myself enjoying Cold Steel considerably less.
For one thing, there’s just too much. Too many places, too many characters, too much story. It’s not that I couldn’t keep everyone and everything straight, though... just that I didn’t actually care about all of the people and story lines.
There’s also a lot of repetition. Once Cat rescues Vai (which isn’t a spoiler, since you know going into a book like this that the heroine will, of course, do, in these circumstances) and they’re on the run, their journey is endless... and becomes, for me, excruciatingly boring. Yes, it’s very cold, and often wet, and the journey is hard. Yes, for them to sleep together, they can’t have a fire, because he’s a cold mage and puts out all fires around him by the nature of his being. Yes, she can’t get over that she really, really loves him... while finding him still to be the most annoying man she’s ever met. Yes, pretty much everyone they encounter along the way is scared of her, or him, or both. (And on and on, such scenes repeated themselves again and again, ad nauseum.)
If Elliott had lopped off, say, 200 or so pages from the story--letting the readers make their own inferences rather than beating them over the head with things she’d already covered--and tightened the plot a bit, instead of going off on too many tangents, the result could’ve been a really satisfying ending to a fun series (for there is much to recommend in it)... but she didn’t, and I, for one, am left feeling quite frustrated.
[Side note: The “Spiritwalker” trilogy isn’t classified as YA (young adult), but it reads a lot more like something from that genre than it does a geared-for-adults-only fantasy... not a bad thing, mind you, just something to make note of, especially if looking for recommendations for, well, a younger crowd.]