My Fun Summer Read
I’ve read the first two books in the Spiritwalker Trilogy, Cold Magic and Cold Fire, and plan to soon gobble down the final installment that came out this summer, Cold Steel. I’m writing this brief review now because the Metaphysical Circus is packing it up for a few weeks and I wanted to leave you with something to feast your readerly eyes on while I’m gone.
The Spiritwalker novels are not the kind usually covered by the Metaphysical Circus; they don’t walk the line between realism and the fantastic; they are pure epic fantasy. But it’s summer and I’ve been working way too hard, so it’s been the perfect time for me to escape into another world. But even my escapist reading has to be high quality to keep me engaged and these novels are inventive and well crafted and feature strong female characters.
These novels take place in an intricately constructed alternate history. This is a world without the European conquest of… everywhere. Elliot has described her Europa as “an immigrant Malian culture meets and mingles with northwestern Celtic Europe while old imperial Rome and merchant Phoenicia retain a strong influence.” Across the sea, the Taino rule the Caribbean and there is a free city called Expedition.
The story is told by Catherine Barahal, daughter of the infamous clan of Phonecian spies. As the series opens, she finds herself betrayed by the beloved aunt and uncle who raised her, married hastily to Andevai, a man she’s never met before, and taken away from her home and city without explanation. As she fights to get free of the magic that binds her to a man she doesn’t love, she begins to learn surprising things about her family. No one is what they had seemed: least of all herself.
There is a romantic thread running through the story with an arrogant but secretly passionate hero, and a heroine who despises him but can’t quite resist his charms… but (thankfully) the conventions turn on themselves at key moments. Cat Barahal is no drippy romance heroine. In fact, the central relationship is between Cat and her cousin Bee. And a loyal and charming one it is.
The novels are also about politics and culture, very humanist in the way they explore how the machinations of power affect the lives of those caught up in them. Cat’s primary aim, for herself and her cousin, is to live free or die. And along the way she begins to see how others desire, and deserve, the same basic freedoms.
By the second book, a revolutionary named Camjiata has escaped his Napoleon-like exile and intends to resume his fight to overthrow the Cold Mage houses that keep the common folk of Europa labor locked in a serf-like system. Along the way there are also dragons, trolls, the spirit world, ghosts, shapeshifters and zombies… all of which can be hip, campy, or hackneyed depending on how they’re used, but here are none of the above. For the most part they seem well integrated into the landscape of this world that, despite playing fast and loose with so many fantasy tropes, comes across as fairly naturalistic.
The Spiritwalker trilogy strikes a nice balance between popcorn and eat-your-peas: it’s fast moving, clever, entertaining and smart – a great summer read. I’m looking forward to seeing how the series resolves.