Book Review: Cold Burn of Magic by Jennifer Estep

There be monsters here.

Jennifer Estep, author of the Elemental Assassin series of urban fantasy novels, makes her second foray into YA in Cold Burn of Magic. Lila Merriweather is a teenage thief with a few special talents. Prickly and independent she takes pride in not needing anything or anyone, surviving on the magically mean streets of Cloudburst Falls by her wits and the skills her mother had taught to her.

Except, what’s she going to do when someone needs her?

Reluctantly entangled in the politics of the town’s magically enhanced mob bosses, Lila is forced to admit she’s more like her mother than she likes to admit, and that while she doesn’t need anyone…maybe she could want a few people around.

Cold Burn of Magic is a fun book with an engaging – and endearingly pragmatic – heroine, whose rough edges can’t disguise a solidly moral core. Well, fairly solid…as long as gemstones and anything easily pilfered aren’t involved. The world of the Black Blade series is fun too, with magically adept people, monsters and plain old mortals all rubbing shoulders in a tourist town for monsters instead of mice. I particularly enjoyed the monsters, who slither in and out through the shadows and demand their tithes in shiny tokens and sweeties – if you don’t want them chewing on your sweetmeats that is.

The plot is a nice mixture of intriguing and straightforward. I mean, I know Estep can do convoluted and cunning, but when you are trying to settle a new world in your head it can be nice to start out with something easily followed, you know? For the future, there is certainly plenty there to convolute, with enemies lined up one side of the street and people who probably aren’t Lila’s friends lined up the other.

The only thing is…I’ve read, and enjoyed, all the Elemental Assassin novels to date and a lot of the major narrative strokes felt familiar. Both books have very similar settings, similar tone, murdered mothers and missing fathers. Even the magic feels more or less familiar, although there’s a bit more leeway in the Black Blade canon for the range of magic available. They even have a magical mineral that absorbs magic, albeit in slightly different ways. Like I said, I enjoyed Lila and her world, there were just times it felt too familiar. It is definitely a fun book, just – for me – not one that can share space in my head with the Elemental Assassin series. And hey, they came first and I’m invested in the characters.


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