Katie's Reviews > Cold Magic

Cold Magic by Kate Elliott
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Jan 10, 12

Read in January, 2012

This book is so FRUSTRATING

I mean, interesting premise: Steampunky alternate Europe in which there is widespread multicultural cross-pollination and ~magic~. Check!

Great characters: Headstrong young lady who has been sadly misinformed about herself for most of her life, and a Harlequin-worthy hatemance with the spoiled Cold Mage she's forced to marry and who is Not All What He Seems. Check!

But on the other hand--

Plot: Hello, yoo-hoo, plot? Where are you? Look at the cover blurb:

"Young Cat Barahal thinks she understands the world she lives in and her place in it, but in fact she is merely poised, unaware, on the brink of shattering events. Drawn into a labyrinth of politics involving blood, betrayal and old feuds, she will be forced to make an unexpected and perilous journey in order to discover the truth, not just about her own family but about an ancient secret lying at the heart of her world."

Okay, that's nice, BUT WHAT IS THE PLOT. HOW DO WE GO FROM A TO B. IS THERE EVEN AN A TO B. TELL ME BOOK.

Wait, you're too busy worldbuilding. Sorry, I'll let you get back to that.

And the worldbuilding. Oi. The worldbuilding.

I like worldbuilding. I like new, fresh, innovative takes on old tropes. That's why Sabriel is placed on an altar in my apartment and periodically worshiped. The major problem with building a whole huge world and spending a lot of thought and braincells on building this whole really cool world, including food, politics, and a culture is that you want to show people that you spent a lot of time and braincells on it. Which leads to infodumps.

This is the reason why I can't get through the Lord of the Rings trilogy (I know, I know, I'm a Philistine). The man put a lot of thought into the worldbuilding. And he shows it. I gave up when he spent like a page describing a CHAIR. I DON'T CARE ABOUT THE CHAIR. I'M SURE IT'S A VERY NICE CHAIR. BUT DO SOMETHING NOW, OK?

Cold Magic likes to infodump. Not only does it like to infodump, but it has the main character do it in the narration. The way it's done is so jarring that I kept getting thrown out of the story. The effect was rather like jogging straight into a brick wall every twenty feet or so.

Because the plot (when it's THERE) moves fast. There is action! Cat is constantly going from one place to the other, stuff keeps happening, blowing up, SEKRITS BEING REVEALED and oh wait BRICK WALL more infodump about the world, ow my head.

This would not be nearly as frustrating as it is if the plot and premise and characters weren't so interesting. Leaving me to have to force my way through the walls o' information. I feel like the book could have been served with less infodump about the world and more plot. Again, I hold up Sabriel as the example. It's obvious A LOT of worldbuilding went into the thing, but Nix only used as much as he needed to tell the story. You know there's a lot more going on there, but he cleverly gives us enough to get the job done and moves on (Which only leaves me slavering for more, 2013 get here NOW). J.K. Rowling did the same thing with Harry Potter, she knows a LOT more than what she put in the books, but used only enough to tell the story.

The other major problem I had was the prose. It seemed like there were a few large SAT-worthy words sprinkled into the prose that also felt jarring. I understand that Cat is an educated young lady who is obsessed with her scholar father's journals, and might throw in a few rando big words into her narration, but it just didn't feel right. And there's nothing wrong with using the thesaurus-mighty words, as long as they fit. The way it was done in Cold Magic these words interrupted the flow of the prose. A lot like the infodumps got in the way of the story.

This is the first book in a trilogy, and thus we probably need all the information being thrown at us to get the story. I just wish it had been integrated a bit better into the story, instead of ACTION! infodump ACTION! infodump! ACTION ACTION ACTION infodump! Jog jog jog BRICK WALL. Give us enough to understand the next bit and move on, we'll keep following because we NEED TO KNOW MORE OMG.

This is not a bad book. It's a good book that is also very frustrating. I'll be reading the second book because I do like the all the ideas and the strong characters. I just sincerely hope that the infodumps are a lot smoother the second go-round.
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