Here we are, at last, having completed the Spiritwalker trilogy by Kate Elliott with Cold Steel. There’s something so satisfying about finishing a series…in most cases. Sadly my spirit was definitely not satisfied by this conclusion. (Spoilers ahead)
We pick off from where we left Cold Fire, with Cat Barahal missing her husband Vai and stuck in the city of Expedition with a bounty on her head for killing the Taino queen. Bee, married to the queen’s son, is forced to choose between her new husband and her cousin. And both Cat’s half-brother Rory and her sire the Master of the Wild Hunt are on the prowl (for wildly differing purposes!).
The first half of the book focuses mainly on Cat’s quest to find Vai in the spirit world, ironically with the help of the talking skull of the queen she killed. The second half brings them back to their duties in Europa, on the brink of a war in which they must choose sides and not all the protagonists are on the same one.
I mention this divide because it mirrors my feelings toward the book. I detested the first half. With the exceptions of the skull’s wit and wisdom, the characters were boring and stupid. Once again it felt like Bee and Cat had lost their personalities and turned into simpering idiots as evidenced by the numerous conversations about dash jackets and attractive rebels. And Elliott didn’t help by constantly reiterating plot points we already knew and having the characters repeat the same circular conversations as if we hadn’t heard them in the last two books.
However, once Vai and Cat were back in Europa, the plot picked up. Vai’s responsibility to his mage-house and Cat’s burgeoning radical tendencies caused interesting and realistic tension as they tried to find a suitable compromise in their lifestyles. Bee became a major player on the political scene, ceasing to cede her power to men. Surprisingly, with the discovery of the dragons and Cat’s continued ties to her father, the spirit world grew and developed far better than it did when they were wandering around in it.
Most importantly, the second half was blatantly feminist unlike the first half. Cat’s friends stand up for her when Vai’s being a jerk and refuse to let her return to the status quo. Bee and the Professora were strong female leaders in the rebellion. Camjiata’s Amazon troops are heralded above his male soldiers.The numerous discussions about women’s rights, and how political reform can lead to greater equality for everyone. This is what I expected the series to be all along – bold, boundary-breaking, and brimming with internal and external battles of actual importance.
While I loved the climax, I was disappointed that not all loose ends were tied up. I think the only explanation for the character and plot inconsistencies was that Elliott bit off more material than she could chew – she had great ideas about this world but was unable to fully flesh them all out within the scope of the series. A more brutal editor could have cut down the meandering repetitiousness further, which would have alleviated my greatest problems with the text and which could have been done without sacrificing the crux of the story.
At the middle of the book, I was leaning towards a 2 and towards the conclusion, I would say almost a 4, so to average it