Fantastic, original worldbuilding is the main draw of this fantasy novel set in a world in which the ice age didn’t completely go away, cold mages try to squelch steampunk technology, humans share America with intelligent feathered “trolls” who appear to have evolved from dinosaurs, and the main cultural influences on Europe are West African, Celtic, and Roman.

Cat and her cousin Bee are young women studying at an academy where the headmaster keeps a preserved, occasionally-prophesying severed head in his office. Then cold mages descend out of the blue, armed with a contract with Cat’s family that says that she has to marry the cold mage Andevai. Next thing she knows, she’s been hauled away from everything she knows and forced to travel with Andevai, who is attractive but a total jerk, and seems to be neck-deep in all sorts of nefarious, oppressive activities, like blowing up airships.

And then Cat gets a magic sword of cold steel! She meets solicitor trolls! She’s swept into the spirit world! She meets talking saber tooth tigers! She learns the secrets of her heritage! She must save her beloved cousin! Revolution! War! The workers go on strike! Etc!

Much of the action of the story consists of pell-mell rushing about, with people showing up, taking off, coming back, helping Cat, attacking Cat, and so forth. But judging by the way that the pieces of the story start fitting together at the end, book two will probably be more tightly plotted and less “one thing after another.”

As I mentioned, I absolutely loved the worldbuilding in this book. It’s detailed, interesting, different, and completely lived-in. I also liked many of the characters, especially Cat, Bee, the trolls, and a guy named Rory who shows up about halfway through and proceeds to steal every scene he appears in. Though Cat and Bee are separated for much of the book, their relationship is what drives the story, and it’s beautifully depicted.

My big caveat is that the novel sets up a “hate on first sight, love comes later” arranged marriage romance, and there is absolutely nothing likable about Andevai for most of the book. I kept waiting for him to have even one appealing quirk or touchingly human moment, but no. (No attempted rape – he’s just a cold fish.) This is especially frustrating because it’s so obvious that he and Cat are the designated romantic couple, and Cat keeps thinking about how sexy he is, but he does nothing to endear himself to either her or me. We eventually get his psychological reasons for being so unpleasant, but even when he starts being noble at the end, I still really disliked him. And while I can hand-wave that Cat is attracted to him because he’s so incredibly gorgeous, I can’t get invested in a romance where the hero and the heroine don’t have any chemistry other than what I’m told they feel, rather than what is shown in their interactions. So all the romance-y parts of the book fell flat.

That being said, I really enjoyed all the non-romance-y parts of the book. And the situation at the end promises lots more action and non-romance character interaction to come. I assume the reason for Andevai being so awful for most of this book was to set up lots and lots of character growth, so hopefully that will be happening in the next book. I’ll definitely pick up the sequel.

Props to Orbit for not whitewashing the biracial Cat on the cover. I wish that wasn’t so unusual that it deserves special commendation.

Cold Magic (The Spiritwalker Trilogy)
This post was not only prompted by a remarkably stupid NY Times review of the "Game of Thrones" TV series, in which the reviewer thought the story was a polemic against global warming, claimed that women don't like fantasy, and further claimed that women do love sex, so the sex was gratuitously crammed in to please them.

It was also prompted by curious fact that while many of the most successful, and by successful I mean bestselling, writers of YA fantasy and sf are women writing under clearly female names, and most of the bestselling writers of urban fantasy are women writing under female names, most of the bestselling writers of epic/high fantasy are men or women writing under male or ambiguous names.

To quickly define terms, by "urban fantasy" I mean "Set in contemporary world much like ours, but in which magic and/or magical creatures exist. Typically involves romance, fighting evil, and/or detecting." By "epic fantasy," I mean "Set in non-contemporary world which is not just our world plus magic or an alternate history of our world, big sprawling stories, typically a series of fat volumes, typically involves a huge cast of characters, war, battles, monarchies, and politics. Typically set in a vaguely medieval period."

I have some questions for you all.

1. Am I correct that the bestselling writers of epic fantasy are typically male or writing under possibly-male names? I'm thinking of Robin Hobb (woman writing under possibly-male name), Patrick Rothfuss, George R. R. Martin, Robert Jordan, Brian Sanderson, Tad Williams, Terry Goodkind, Terry Brooks, etc.

I am under the impression that the female authors writing under clearly female names, like Kate Elliott, Katherine Kerr, are midlist or at least not hugely bestselling authors.

Anomalies: Jacqueline Carey - bestselling, I think, but clearly female. Gender of names may not be clear to readers: Sherwood Smith, Mercedes Lackey. I think Sherwood is considered a midlist writer, while Lackey is maybe in between midlist and bestseller?

2. Is epic fantasy really read more by men than by women? In general, women read far more than men do. Is epic fantasy an exception? I would love to see some actual figures here, because I honestly have no idea.

3. Do male or male-seeming epic fantasy authors get a bigger marketing push from the publishers? Are readers more willing to buy their books? Why is this different from urban fantasy and YA fantasy? (Maybe the latter are considered "less serious," because of the association with romance and teenagers, and so the proper province of women?)

(I don't even ask, "Is epic fantasy by women reviewed less?" because we already know that answer. All fiction by women is reviewed less than fiction by men. One of many statistical breakdowns to that effect here.)

ETA: A brief reading list of non-bestselling female writers of epic fantasy:

Sherwood Smith: Overview: Yo, epic fantasy authors. I'm real happy for you, and I'mma let you finish (uh, sorry, George R. R. Martin, I swear that was not a dig) but Sherwood Smith has already written one of the best epic fantasies of all time. OF ALL TIME.

Buy on Amazon: Inda

Kate Elliott: Cold Magic (The Spiritwalker Trilogy)

Mary Gentle: A Secret History: The Book Of Ash, #1

Michelle Sagara: Cast in Shadow (The Chronicles of Elantra, Book 1)

P. C. Hodgell: The God Stalker Chronicles

Judith Tarr: The Hound and the Falcon: The Isle of Glass, The Golden Horn, and The Hounds of God

Barbara Hambly: Dragonsbane: The Winterlands Series (Book One) (Note: This book stands on its own, and is a perfect work of art on its own. For the love of God, AVOID THE SEQUELS.)

Laurie Marks: Fire Logic (Fire Logic)

N. K. Jemisin: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (The Inheritance Trilogy)

Katherine Kerr: Daggerspell (Deverry Series, Book One)
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