by Kate Elliott
Opening line: “The history of the world begins in ice, and it will end in ice.”
Catherine Hassi Barahal is the eldest daughter of the Hassi Barahal clan, a family of Phoenician mercenaries. Despite the fact that her parents were killed in an accident when she was just a baby, she lives a fairly normal existence with her aunt, uncle, and cousin/best friend Bea. Then a mage from the Four Moons house shows up with a contract binding the eldest Barahal daughter to the Four Moons mages until she reaches her majority. Catherine is forced to marry and go with him.
I wasn’t quite sure what I would make of this one, since most of my recent forays into Regency fantasy have not been met with a lot of success. Moreover, Charlotte’s review, where I first heard about it, was positive but not glowing.
I always enjoy it when I can tell that an author has put a lot of though into their world-building. Eliott has done a gentle riff on Regency/early Victorian England here. I really enjoyed the fact that it was just close enough to reality admit comparisons, while not being so close that I felt annoyed with inaccuracies or departures. That is to say, this is firmly in the alternate world subgenre, rather than purporting to be our Regency England with magic. I’ve read several of the latter, some of which work and some of which don’t, and it’s refreshing to find a different take. Although this is set in the early 1830s, in some ways it did seem closer to the 1810s, both in terms of society and political concerns.
The description, “Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk Regency novel with airships, Phoenician spies, and the intelligent descendants of troodons” sounds a bit like someone wanted to fit in anything and everything possible. In the actual reading I felt as if all of these disparate parts came together into a cohesive whole. That is, the different elements made sense within the world of the story and didn’t feel as if they were there simply to be there. I really enjoyed and respected that.
I feel like it got off to a slow start–I even stopped reading for awhile. But once I got past page 200 or so, the story caught me and I was thoroughly engrossed from then on, even staying up late to finish. I do think the beginning could have been pared down a bit, but if you can get through it, the story gets more and more exciting.
Personally, I didn’t mind the romantic relationship, mostly because I thought Andevai’s reactions and regrets seemed genuine. I had hope that his character would actually undergo some growth and change, unlike some other so-called heroes I could mention. I think the end is the clearest indicator of this, and I’m interested to see where the relationship goes in the remaining books.
I think this was marketed for adults, but it could very easily be a cross-over for older teens as well. There’s nothing particularly scandalous in the romantic relationship, and Catherine and Beatrice are just about to turn 20 in this book.
Book source: public library
Book information: Orbit, 2010; adult/young adult