Cold Fire is the second book in Kate Elliott’s Spiritwalker series, following Cold Magic. The action picks up right where Cold Magic left off, and actually even overlaps a bit. Cat and Bee continue to be hunted by the mages, political groups, and the Master of the Wild Hunt. Having escaped from their enemies’ grasp in the previous work, they are still essentially homeless and friendless.
Due to botched magic, Cat and Bee are separated, first in the spirit world and then in the real world. After a terrifying interaction with the Master of the Wild Hunt, Cat is dumped on the zombie-infested island of Taino before making her way to the city of Expedition, where she serendipitiously encounters Vai. The pacing of the plot slows to a crawl as if it was swimming its way through a vat of sexual tension jelly. The plot picks up speed again as all the other main characters coincidentally arrive on Expedition, a deus ex machina which is ridiculous even for a world of magic.
For me, this entry was not nearly as strong as the first book in the trilogy in a few ways. The world building should have been intriguing as we expanded to the “Amerikes”, this world’s version of America, which has definite parallels to the Creole/Caribbean of our world yet remains unstereotypical. Both Camjiata and the mages are trying to woo these nations into an alliance, and the radical social movement has spread overseas. Unfortunately, as the reader faces an infodump of the political and historical background of Expedition and the Free Cities, the overall story arch remains murky. Possibly because there’s so many questions still unanswered about the situation in Europe, I wasn’t thrilled to need to learn and understand the goings on of an entirely separate region.
As to the characters, Cat and Bee both seemed extra naive and frustrating in this book, like they’d reversed their growth from the end of the previous book. One would think that with their repeated claims of having mastered the Hassi Barahal spy-training that they would be less trusting (which they are, but of the wrong people) and more sneakily subtle. They also were rarely together, which weakened the book for me because a highlight of the first book was their protective sisterly relationship. Additionally, Cat seemed to forget that her cousin was going to be sacrificed, instead wallowing in self-centeredness because of Vai.
The majority of the book revolves around the ongoing romantic drama between Cat and Vai as they adjust to being together in the married sense. Despite finding a way to annul the union, they clearly want each other. However, Cat continues to resist her feelings and Vai doesn’t help himself out, acting like an arrogant jerk, shaming and shunning her when his friends think she’s a slut. Eventually they make up and I respect that they actually have a conversation about their problems, but I like Vai much less now. Also, neither acts in a significant way with regards to the rest of the plot until the end, converting them into typical YA protagonists whose lives revolve only around each other rather than being actors in their own right.
Camjiata is still rather an unexplained, ill-defined antagonist – I’m not really sure what he wants or why he’s so powerful but hopefully that will be fully examined in the final book. His introduction was so strong at the end of the last book that I presumed he’d be more of a presence in this book. Instead he remained obscure offscreen. I don’t want to spoil much, but the inclusion of Drake and his role as a fire mage definitely intrigued me more than Camjiata and the other political maneuvering. The trolls continue to be awesome, but the majority of supporting characters are bland and annoying, particularly Kayleigh, Kofi, and assorted radicals of which are plenty and unmemorable.
Though it didn’t meet my high expectations after the first book, Cold Fire was still a entertaining segment of a unique saga and I look forward to what the next book will bring. Hopefully Vai’s character will be redeemed and the results of Camjiata’s plots will be revealed in an epic way.