Cold Steel is the last book in the Spiritwalker trilogy. Those who have read Cold Magic and Cold Fire are by now well acquainted with the alternate earth imagined by Kate Elliot. In her world, the Roman Empire is still in existence and people live in a feudal state with Princes and Mage houses controlling them. People are extremely aware of the spirit world, which once a year unleashes the wild hunt to gather the souls of those who are going to die in the following year. Nothing is stable in this world, as the people are trying to overthrow the regimes which rule them. Cat, the protagonist, must not only deal with the political upheaval and war but the legacy of her heritage as the daughter of the Master of the Hunt.
Like all novels in this trilogy, I firmly believe that Elliot could easily have dropped 100-150 pages and not lost a thing in terms of the story. I often found myself wishing that she would just get to the point. It also felt very disconnected, as the characters were repeatedly presented with problems to over come and then quickly did so, only to then be thrown into yet another issue. These problems didn't really seem to connect and it felt like we moved from one action scene to another.
One of the things I love about this series is the fact that nearly all of the character are multi-racial in some form. As a person of colour, I am used to seeing myself erased in science fiction and to see Elliot's passion for including us really did present me with some hope. This inclusion however did not extend to GLBT people, which while normal, is never acceptable. We were introduced to a disabled character but because of her relative youth, she was never actively a part of the major plot and instead served to bind Vai to the Mansa. It was however encouraging to see Cat advocate that she should get a proper cane as befitting her size, as well as an education.
As a protagonist, Cat is extremely strong. With lines like "It would take a strong man not to speak of harnesses," in reference to the suggestion that a man should control her, there is no doubt that Cat refused to be bound by an sort of gender convention. Cat had no problem killing when the need arose, her handy sword always be her side, or risking herself for the people she cared about. It however all fell apart when it came to Vai. Suddenly, this woman who walked the spirit world, punched sharks and escaped ghouls became a quivering mass of jelly. Yes, we get that Cat loves Vai but was it necessary for her to obsesses about his clothing, or lose all conscious thought looking at him without a shirt? Cat constantly in Vai's service, lugging his clothing around (because heaven forbid something happen to one of his precious dash jackets), or mending the blasted things because he just had to look his best. I don't remember one instance of Vai doing anything similar for her. Cat defied gender boundaries when it come to the social world but the minute it came to her relationship with Vai, gender roles were firmly and most irritatingly in place.