fantasy and science fiction book reviewsCold Steel by Kate Elliot fantasy book reviewsCold Steel by Kate Elliott

The third and final book of Kate Elliott’s SPIRITWALKER trilogy finishes with a bang, wrapping up most of its storylines and myriad of subplots, but also leaving enough room for Elliott to revisit this world and its inhabitants if she so chooses. Preceded by Cold Magic and Cold Fire, this final installment picks up right where it left off: with protagonist Catherine Bell Barahal (or Cat as she’s better known) is in the midst of a desperate search to rescue her husband Andevai from the spirit world, having been kidnapped by her own father and the Wild Hunt that rides at his command.

At this stage, there’s no point trying to jump into the story without first having read the first two books in the trilogy. All three books are closely intertwined and each builds upon the last when it comes to crafting a full story of immense scope and detail. By this point Cat is beset on all sides by a variety of challenges: not only does she have to deal with the disappearance of her husband, but also the fact that the Prince of the Taino kingdom believes that she’s responsible for his mother’s death, and that a jealous and half-crazed fire mage wants to kill her.

And honestly, I’m still only just brushing the surface of what goes on in this novel. Against a backdrop of revolution and political upheaval, Cat and her allies try to negotiate the opposing leaders of the conflict, forced into siding with those that they had previously considered enemies, and into making deals and alliances with untrustworthy opponents. The richness of Elliott’s story comes from her refusal to paint any of her characters in broad strokes. There is no “good and evil” here, instead almost every single individual is working for what they honestly believe is the greater good, either on a personal or political level.

Perhaps most interesting of all is when Cat is forced to concede that the Mansa of Four Moons House, the very man who she ran for her life from in the first book, might not be such a bogeyman after all. Likewise, James Drake is a dangerous and unpredictable opponent, but even he is afforded a few moments of humanity by the narrative. The fullness of life and the multi-faceted nature of human beings is something that Elliott excels at, and she has a gift of making even the tiniest character feel like a three-dimensional person.

Best of all, this book reunites Cat with her cousin Beatrice and her half-brother Rory, the trilogy’s most appealing characters — not just in themselves, but for the deep relationship they share with Cat. Often-times exasperated with each other, but ultimately devoted and loving, their bond feels utterly true to life, with all the bickering and affection you would expect from siblings and people who have grown up together. I’ll admit that I was never quite as invested in Cat’s relationship with Andevai (a man who she was forced to marry in the first book, only for them to fall in love with each other regardless) but their growing trust and support of each other throughout Cold Steel finally won me over.

But something that can’t be stressed enough is Elliott’s commitment to racial diversity and gender politics. Not only do we have a cast of characters and a slew of settings that incorporate myriad skin tones and cultures, but Elliott has a keen eye for using Cat’s first-person narrative to tell a story that is undeniably told from a woman’s point-of-view. Though she occasionally notes the attractiveness of other women, Cat is a straight female who is far more interested in the opposite sex. And seriously, just think about this for a moment: how often have you read a book that focuses on male beauty as filtered through a woman’s appreciation of it?

Likewise, Elliott knows that “strength” in a female character is not measured solely by her ability to swing a sword or lead an uprising. When Cat meets her husband’s mother and sisters they are wholly feminine creatures, but just as worthy of respect and love as the girls who can fight or give an impassioned speech on revolution.

Ultimately, this isn’t a story about saving the world from the forces of darkness, it’s about changing the world for the better, moving from an old totalitarian regime to one that embraces equality and democracy for all. Wisely, Elliott does not try to wrap this up with a neat little bow — revolutions are not fought and won overnight, and our cast still has a lot of work to do by story’s end. In their entirety the books are massive and exhaustive, stuffed full of ideas and detail and clever turns of phrase. Though its length requires a significant break before tackling a re-read, I know for certain that this isn’t going to be the first and only time I enjoy the SPIRITWALKER trilogy.

Spiritwalker — (2010-2013) From one of the genre’s finest writers comes a bold new epic fantasy in which science and magic are locked in a deadly struggle. It is the dawn of a new age… The Industrial Revolution has begun, factories are springing up across the country, and new technologies are transforming in the cities. But the old ways do not die easy. Cat and Bee are part of this revolution. Young women at college, learning of the science that will shape their future and ignorant of the magics that rule their families. But all of that will change when the Cold Mages come for Cat. New dangers lurk around every corner and hidden threats menace her every move. If blood can’t be trusted, who can you trust?

Kate Elliott Spiritwalker 1. Cold Magic 2. Cold FireKate Elliott Spiritwalker 1. Cold Magic 2. Cold Firefantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews


  • Rebecca Fisher

    REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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