Spiritwalker trilogy by Kate Elliott
How can I choose just one book out of a trilogy – especially when it tells one story split over three books, as is the case with Kate Elliott’s Spiritwalker trilogy? So it’s probably best to review the whole trilogy as a single story.
Epic fantasy often means something pseudo-medieval, ultimately derived from Tolkien (with or without Halflings) – a group of Heroes on a Quest, pitted against a Dark Lord. There aren’t usually many girls in traditional epic fantasy, let alone people of African or Native American descent.
Well, in this case, you can forget all the Tolkeinesque stuff. Kate Elliott has written something entirely different.
We start in the middle of a Georgette Heyer style Regency Romance – but this world is still in the grip of an Ice Age, and something terrible caused the fall of the Malian Empire in Africa some time before the story opens, sending Malian refugees north.
Our heroine, Cat Barahal, is an orphan, like all the best romantic heroines. She has also been brought up by a Phoenician spymaster, which will come in handy later. She discovers (when he arrives on the doorstep) that she is betrothed to a Cold Mage, who of course is arrogant and insulting and very handsome.
But that’s only the start of it. The plot also takes in airships, feathered dinosaur lawyers from the New World, salt zombies, a sojourn in the Caribbean, magical coaches that travel between worlds, a Native American ball game, and this universe’s equivalents of the French Revolution and Napoleon. Oh, and dragons. Cat is at the heart of a vast plot which involves the Cold Mages, the terrifying Master of the Wild Hunt and the truth about Cat’s parents, and she has only her wits and her own small magic to see her through – with the occasional helping hand from supernatural characters, in the best tradition of fairy tale.
Somehow, it all works, partly because of the wonderful characterisation of stubborn Cat, her doting cousin Beatrice, and the arrogant but ultimately rather sympathetic Cold Mage Andevai of Four Moons House.
So although it starts off rather like a Regency Romance, the trilogy quickly becomes something far more complicated and interesting, and about as far from a pseudo-medieval Quest as it’s possible to be.
The three books of the series are called Cold Magic, Cold Fire and Cold Steel.