Cold Magic, by Kate Elliott
Cold Magic is the first in a fantasy trilogy set in a alternate-history version of Europe sometime similar to the beginning of the industrial revolution. Science and magic are beginning to butt heads, as are the ruling class and the the people who want freedom from both the politically powerful princes and the magically powerful mages. Cat Barahal and her cousin Bee are part of a poor, but in some ways influential and valuable family of information brokers. They spend their days attending University and learning to take their place in the family business. Until one day powerful mages come to claim Cat as part of an old agreement, and Cat finds herself in the middle of political intrigue. She also discovers that nearly everything she knew about herself, her family, her history and the world aren't what she thought; that the truth's she thought she knew are actually pretty far from reality.
I really loved this book. First off, alternate histories are fascinating to me; I've always loved the "what-if" game. And it makes the world familiar, yet exotic at the same time. Elliott really did a great job of setting up this alternate world, giving it depth and color. I also loved the characters. Cat was tough and strong, but believably so. The supporting cast of characters were also interesting and diverse. And I felt like everyone was going somewhere. The plot was intriguing and well-paced. There were several facets of it as well -- the politics, Cat's discovery of magic, her journey with the mages, her relationship with her family -- but it never got too confusing or muddled. Although I will admit I did get a little lost in the political history and background, but that's more me than a fault of the book, I think. And I think the set-up was an important part of this being the first of a trilogy.
Bottom line: I can't wait to read more! The perfect book for readers who like their fantasy with a side of adventure, a little bit of history and a dash of romance.