Cold Iron, by Stina Leicht
Posted April 17, 2017on:
published in 2015
where I got it: purchased new
Cold Iron came out in 2015, and it’s been sitting on my shelf ever since. Stina Leicht? Everything she writes is gold, so why did I wait so long to read this one?
This is why I was nervous:
- It is a fat book. It looks like it would take me forever to read, and through all of 2015 and 2016 I had very limited reading time. Did I want to commit to a book that was going to take me a month to read?
- The cover art screams military fantasy. Yes, I know I went through my Joe Abercrombie phase, but then I realized I was no longer interested in trails of dead bodies. I was no longer interested in stories that glorified battle and killing. The cover art shows a dude with a pistol, looking over a field of battle. Was I going to like this book??
Every so often I reread my reviews of Stina Leicht’s Fey and Fallen books, and am reminded of how much I love her writing. Prose sharp as a knife, plotting so tight you’ll never escape, and good god the characters she develops. I recently did a 5 books 50 pages, where I grabbed 5 books I’d been meaning to read, and only committed to reading the first 50 pages. If I liked what I was reading, I could continue, and if the book just didn’t do it for me, I was under zero obligation to read further. My comments about Cold Iron after 50 pages were:
“Nels is broody, his personal bodyguard/spy/assassin Viktor is snarky AF, I want to join up with the Waterborne, and Leicht has already written the sequel. As she always does, Leicht writes characters you immediately become invested in. Cold Iron is some solid awesome.”
I was hooked in the opening chapter. Nine pages in, and I knew I’d be devouring this novel. A ritual done after a death, swords that carry the memories of the dead. I was happily hooked. And the book only got better from there.
Everything about this novel was so wonderful, that I don’t know even where to start. The characters were fantastic, the pacing is spot on perfect, and I loved that Leicht built a fantasy world that exists in a changing world.
I loved the world of Cold Iron. Leicht created a magic filled fantasy world, one where blood remembers and swords and knives carry memories, a world where water-weavers can control the weather and speak to creatures of the ocean deep. And then she had a non-magical culture (humans!) invade it with muskets and small pox. Yep, small pox. And that’s not a spoiler, by the way. The Eledorians are used to fighting with magic, but how do you magic away a high mortality infectious disease to which no one has immunity?
I’ll be honest, standard high fantasy usually doesn’t do much for me. (Except if you are Robin Hobb, in which case it IS my thing). But this world Leicht created? I wanna go there. And I got to, every time I opened this book. Even better, I know there’s plenty more that Leicht hasn’t told me yet. There are all these little details mentioned in passing, or mentioned in legend, that the characters don’t yet have a reason to care about. Everyone has these little bits of info, but because there is a freaking invasion happening, no one has time to connect the dots. She didn’t just give me a place where stuff happened, she gave me a world full of people I deeply care about.
And as cool as the worldbuilding was? The characters are even better. The story follows twin royal heirs Suvi and Nels, and Ilta, who is in training to be a royal seer and advisor. We meet all three when they are around 15-16 years old. Instead of giving us your typical fantasy heirs who are confident and ready for adventure, Leicht gives us normal teenagers – kids who are insecure, afraid of fucking up, haven’t a clue about diplomacy, have cocky moments, who argue with their parents, and are actually pretty normal teenagers. I loved getting to watch Nels grow from an idiot 16 year old into a more mature 19 year old. I loved watching Suvi learn how diplomacy and flattery works.
I’m used to characters who use blunt force, and throw themselves at problems. Through sheer will power, they’ll succeed! It was so refreshing to spend time with Suvi, Nels, and Ilta, characters who use their brains and learn from their mistakes. I feel like shit they had to come of age during an invasion.
And it’s not just Eledore that is in danger of being invaded. Suvi works tirelessly to gain a defensive alliance with the tribes of the Waterborne, as if they are near the path of the invaders too. Not only are the Waterborne a hella cool culture, Dylan and Darius steal every scene they are in. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Viktor, who is Nels’ bodyguard. Viktor also needs his own story.
Is there war and violence in Cold Iron? Oh, buckets of it. This is a kingdom that is being invaded by outside forces, so of course there is war, military maneuvers, and much chatter of rank, weapons, smuggling in weapons, commanders and captains back-stabbing each other, blowing bridges, and the like. But none of it is glorified. None of these people want to go out and kill other people. Everyone in this novel is doing what they feel they need to do to survive. There is a scene near the end regarding how a commander motivates their troops that just destroyed me. Because it was sick. And he fucking did it anyway.
And then the end. Maybe I should have seen the end coming? Maybe the story going this direction was inevitable? I want to talk about how this book ended, but saying even the slightest thing will wreck the ending. Let’s just say it wasn’t at all what I expected, and now the really hard work begins for Suvi and Nels. I’ll save all those spoilers for my review of the second book in the series, Blackthorne, which comes out this summer. And hey, if you don’t want the end of the first book completely spoiled for you, do NOT go to Amazon and read the description of the 2nd book. It wrecks EVERYTHING.
Once you do get to the shocker of an ending of Cold Iron (ok, maybe not a shocker? but it was for me!!), make sure you read Leicht’s acknowledgements. She gives all this cool information about where her idea for this novel came from. I love it when authors include info like that!