Catherine "Cat" Hassi Barahal is going about her business - attending college, mocking her cousin and best friend Bee's boycrazy ways, rereading her deceased father's journals - when a cold mage from the aristocratic Four Moons House comes to collect on a debt that her family owed the house, demanding the eldest Hassi Barahal daughter as payment. Cat's uncle and aunt offer her up, telling her to protect her cousin Bee at all costs. Cat finds herself married, on the spot, to the proud and cold-mannered Andevai Diarisso Haranwy.
Married into a mage House making preemptive strikes in a war against radicalism and technological advancement, Cat must escape and ensure that Bee is rescued from Four Moons House.
Meanwhile, there are rumors that General Camjiata, the revolutionary conqueror exiled after his attempt to unite Europa under his rule and liberal legal code, has escaped his exile...
Following their escape from Four Moons House, Cat and Bee attempt to join the local chapter of political radicals - only to find themselves in the company of the revolutionary General Camjiata. Wishing to avoid the General's conspicuous presence, they seek refuge elsewhere. A hasty escape into the Spirit World brings Cat face-to-face with the Master of the Wild Hunt, who has plans for her...in the Antilles.
Washed up on the shores of Expedition, Cat is tasked with finding the Wild Hunt's next victim - knowing that if she cannot find a suitable candidate, Bee is next.
Returning to Europa, the revolution has begun anew, while Cat rushes to discover how to overturn the power structures of the mortal world and spirit world alike...
This series provides examples of:
- All Trolls Are Different: The trolls of northern Amerike are the taller, sentient descendants of troodons - quick-witted and agile dinosaur people with colorful feathers (males have more striking plumage than females, like real-life birds).
- Alternate History:
- The Carthaginians fought the Romans to a standstill, and prevented Rome from spreading into the Middle East and Africa. Oddly, this caused the Roman Empire to last longer (perhaps by not expanding beyond its ability to hold together), persisting into the Augustan Year 1000.
- The Ice Age has still not ended.
- The salt plague in West Africa forced the Mande people to migrate into Europa and Amerike to escape an infestation of ghouls. They were guided by cold mages and djeli, who established their feudal lordship over these people through their key efforts in leading the migration.
- The Mande made peaceful first contact with the Taino tribe, founding a strong society and containing the salt plague.
- Troodons evolved into a sentient species called trolls, and spread throughout North Amerike - eventually pushing humans southward into South Amerike.
- Christianity and Islam are absent (at least from Europa), with Roman, Egyptian, and Phoenician deities all being worshiped. From scattered references, Judaism appears to exist as well.
- The Fair Folk exist and exert influence on the world.
- Ambition Is Evil: Zigzagged by Camjiata. It is very apparent he seeks to take power for himself, and this is seen as a bad thing by the protagonists. However, in the process he supports the radicals, and his actions ultimately Allow them to change things for the better
- Amplifier Artifact: "Cold Lenses" made of ice, which temporarily allowed Andevai full access to his powers when they should otherwise have been weakened.
- An Ice Person: Cold mages.
- Anti-Magic: Cold steel weaponry, although mages themselves wield them for their other property.
- Animal Motifs: Just guess what Cat's is. And it's even more literal than a motif - her half-brother is a saber toothed cat from the spirit world.
- Arc Words: "Rei vindicatio," which comes back in each book for another important use.
- Author Appeal: The series seems to offer an awful lot of means to circumvent pregnancy. Rory can smell whether a woman is ovulating or not; fire mages have very low fertility; dragon dreamers cannot get pregnant (and Bee gets quite a lot of use out of that fact).
- Blessed with Suck: Fire mages have nearly uncontrollable power, and usually die young due to the backlash of their own heat. Male Europan fire mages are adopted by the guild of blacksmiths and taught to contain their power. (Female fire mages, on the other hand, are left to their own devices.)
- The Chessmaster: General Camjiata, the mansa of Four Moons House, the Master of the Wild Hunt.
- City of Adventure: The free city of Expedition has many aspects (center of political conflicts and new technology), but seen from a much more mundane point of view (most of the story's focus on Expedition revolves around grassroots politics and social norms).
- Cold Iron: Cold steel is a metal with numerous special properties; it can cut through the spells of a cold mage, and in the hands of a cold mage it can kill with the slightest cut.
- Costume Porn: Frequently, particularly with attention to Andevai's conspicuously well-developed fashion sense.
- Deus Sex Machina: According to James Drake and other fire mages, sexual intercourse with a fire mage is a necessary treatment for particularly strong salt plague infections. However, there is only the fire mages' word that this is the case. Ultimately revealed to be a complete lie that fire mages use to rape their patients.
- Dinosaurs Are Dragons: Inverted - dragons are feathered and have a nebulous relationship to the dinosaur-descended trolls, meaning that for this series, Dragons Are Dinosaurs.
- Dragon with an Agenda: James Drake is staying by Camjiata's side to fulfill his own ambitions, and his loyalty drops to about zero when he sees other avenues of pursuing those goals.
- Dreaming of Things to Come: Bee, and other women who "walk the dreams of dragons."
- Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The mansa of Four Moons House is never actually named, and only referred to by his title.
- Evil Is Sexy: James Drake gets multiple passages in Cold Fire describing how attractive he is, only to slowly turn out to be nastier and nastier as the series goes on.
- Exact Words: The spirit lords (powerful Fair Folk) the Master of the Wild Hunt is beholden to are entitled to the blood of a powerful mortal on Hallows Night by their contract. The key word being mortal. So in Cold Steel, when they take Cat's blood, the contract is broken because her blood is a mix of spirit and mortal and therefore half of it wasn't theirs to take.
- The Fair Folk: The Wild Hunt rides every year on Hallows Night, and cuts down humans who have become too powerful.
- Fantastic Racism: Trolls refer to humans as "rats" - although nobody seems to be very upset by this, and the humans seen associating regularly with trolls seem quite happy to refer to themselves as such. Trolls themselves are edged out of many human communities - partially because many humans find them disturbing, partially because they tend to favor radical sentiments.
- Fantasy Gun Control: The cold mage Houses have worked hard to slow the progress of gun technology in this world - the distribution of muskets is strictly controlled, and rifles are both very new and very illegal (to the point where their existence is not common knowledge).
- From Nobody to Nightmare: In Cold Fire, James Drake begins as a low-level magic user in Camjiata's army, unable to compete with cold mages in Europa. However, after spending time in the Antilles and studying the mages there, Drake returns to Europe with the knowledge to use cold mages' presence to empower himself in Cold Steel.
- Gaslamp Fantasy: Takes place during an alternate, fantasy version of the Napoleonic Wars. Gas lamps are specifically mentioned early on as a new innovation (albeit one contested by the mage Houses).
- Half-Human Hybrid: Cat
- Humans Are White: Fiercely averted - a ghoul outbreak in West Africa caused the Mande people to migrate to Europe, and as such most of Europe is mixed race. White characters are very rare - the only ones of importance in Cold Magic are Cat's mother (a Posthumous Character) and the minor radical Brennan Du. The sequel, Cold Fire, introduces James Drake, the only white character who plays a major role in the plot of the trilogy.
- Intimate Healing: Fire mages can burn out infections through kisses (as well as use the kiss to diagnose infections).
- Istanbul (Not Constantinople): Roughly every location is either renamed from our world - notably, Amerike for the Americas, the Antilles for the Caribbean, Europa for Europe, Iberia for Spain, the Empire of the Avar for Russia, Rome for Italy, Kemet for Egypt.
- Mr. Fanservice:
- Rory, with long and luscious hair, a distinct preference for wearing as little as possible, and a strong eagerness to be petted.
- And as Cold Magic goes on, Andevai - between the Costume Porn regarding his attire and the detail put into his full lips and handsomely cut hair...
- Not Using the "Z" Word: A textbook example: victims of the salt plague are called "salters," and strongly resemble zombies in most respects.
- Our Dragons Are Different: When a dragon dreams in the spirit world, it creates a wave that transforms everything in its path. Dragons themselves are pretty standard Western dragons in appearance, aside from having feathers. Otherwise, however, they are shape-shifters who live as male until they "crown," turn female, and reproduce.
- Perception Filter: Cat's glamors.
- Person of Mass Destruction: The stronger cold mages, such as the mansa of Four Moons House and Andevai. In Cold Steel, James Drake after a significant power upgrade.
- Fire Mages in general can become this so long as they have enough catch-fires to handle the backlash from their abilities. Learning this method is what led to said power upgrade
- Playing with Fire: Fire mages and blacksmiths.
- Power Incontinence: Powerful cold mages extinguish fires by walking by them; the presence of a mage lowers the temperature in an area.
- Andevai is so strong that when Cat sees the magic radiating from him, she first assumes that he must be using his magic, before considering the possibility that he might just be that powerful. His field of cold magic is so strong that it stops muskets from being fired at him within range (although rifles can still fire accurately from far enough away to threaten him).
- Cold mages' uncontrollable ability to extinguish fires leaves them vulnerable to cold in the winter; the only way they can stay warm in cold weather is expensive hypocaust heating.
- Fire mages, on the other hand, are likely to die from their own uncontrolled power.
- Power Perversion Potential: Fire mages' ability to control heat gives them the ability to arouse people.
- Psycho for Hire: James Drake, Camjiata's most powerful ally.
- Required Secondary Powers: Averted. Fire mages need to be careful about falling victim to their own heat, and cold mages get cold as easily as anyone else - more, as their powers uncontrollably absorb heat and make it hard for them to keep warm in cold climates.
- Zombie Apocalypse: The Salt Plague, which turns its victims into ravenous and mindless creatures desperate for blood.