The Witch Who Came in from the Cold by Lindsay Smith, Max Gladstone, Cassandra Rose Clarke, Ian Tregillis, Michael Swanwick.★★★★
The Witch Who Came in from the Cold mixes Cold War intrigue with urban fantasy to create a fantastic and original story.
Before I say anything else, I should note that The Witch Who Came in from the Cold is a Serial Box story. Serial Box is a fairly new company that releases “episodes” of serial stories that together make up a “season.” Basically, a written story told in a format more akin to weekly television. Each Serial Box story brings in multiple writers who work together to create the season.
In Prague, both KGB and CIA agents scheme on behalf of their respected countries. But there’s another divide that lies beneath the feuding nations: the magical organizations of Ice and Flame. The Flame wants to see the world burn and built anew from the ashes. The Ice wants to prevent this happening. And magicians loyalties to the Ice or Flame are greater than any national divide. Whether KGB or MI6, Ice agents will cooperate to stop the Flame. Tanya Morozova is a KGB operative and sorceress for the Ice, but she’s beginning to wonder how much the Ice can be trusted. Gabe Pritchard is a CIA operative, but he’s beginning to realize there’s more to the world. Something happened to him in Cairo, and nothing’s been right since… But when he seeks help, he’s directed towards Tanya Morozova. They are enemies in one conflict and allies in another.
I’ve always had a certain enjoyment for spy stories. Be it James Bond or The Americans, I love the shifting webs of loyalties and the questions of who can be trusted. The Witch Who Came in from the Cold amplified those facets with the creation of a whole other level. Plus, magic! Fantasy is my favorite genre, so this mash up had immense appeal to me.
Gabe was obviously the reader’s surrogate. He’s just become aware that magic exists in the world, so the reader is learning about it right along side him. Plus, he’s the fairly typical lead – a straight white American. However, The Witch Who Came in from the Cold contained some really awesome female character’s as well. Tanya is probably my favorite, and I love how she works alongside Nadia, another KGB and Ice operative. There’s also a supporting CIA character who’s gay, and I’m glad that The Witch Who Came in from the Cold chose to address his story.
I’ve had mixed results with the Serial Box format. Sometimes I’ve been thrown off by the transitions between different authors. In the case of The Witch Who Came in from the Cold, the different authors felt entirely seamless. This story did feel less episodic than some of the other Serial Box offerings. Each episode felt more like chapters in a larger story than self contained episodes with their own arcs. It might have made it more difficult to read an episode a week, but it lent itself well to binge reading the entire season in one go. Which to be fair is how I prefer to view my television too.
The Witch Who Came in from the Cold is a slow burn story, filled with simmering intrigue. The motivations of both the Ice and Flame are shadowy, and I still don’t know if either side can be entirely trusted. The plot was filled with twists and turns that kept me flipping the pages. I can’t wait for more! Bring on season two.
I received an ARC of this novel through Netgalley in exchange for a free and honest review.