Thursday, March 10, 2011

Nine Gates - Jane Lindskold

This story made much more sense once I realized it was the second in the series and not the first! The two groups which were opposing each other in the first book are now working together to return to the Lands of Smoke and Sacrifice. In order to do this they need to construct the Nine Gates in order to travel through the Guardian Realms and reach the Lands. The Gates must also be linked to the Nine Yellow Springs which are located in Hell (Chinese version which is quite different than the usual Western versions of Hell - but still the afterlife). They will also need a representative from each of the Earthly Branches in order to accomplish this, but some of the descendants of the original exiles are no longer aware of their lineage, and so the spirits of their ancestors must be contacted and persuaded to assist.

This is a great story with a nice balance between the ordinary familiar world - including conflicts with the followers of other magical traditions, some of whom would really like to learn their peculiar style of magical workings, and journeys into the fantastical Guardian Realms. The juxtaposition of high fantasy and everyday life keeps things moving at a nice pace.

I really enjoyed the character development. Honey Dream (originally from the Lands) joins Pearl Bright and Brenda Morris as one of the narrators and her perspective is fascinating. It is really neat to get the contrast between the two cultures. The conflict between Honey and Brenda is great, mostly very subtle and centered around Flying Claw - Honey Dream's professed "beloved" who appears to be quite interested in Brenda, while Brenda is simultaneously attracted and repulsed. The relationships between these characters are fairly central, and yet the relationships between the other characters are not neglected. There is a lot of conflict between Gaheris (Brenda's father, the Rat) and Albert Wu, descendant of the exiled emperor, which deepens here and is explained to some degree. Then there's the oddity about Brenda - she has access to more magic than she should, and she's being contacted by other magical beings who claim to have a long relationship with her mother's side of the family, originally from Ireland.

One thing I especially enjoyed is the inclusion of Lani, the Rabbit's 2.5 year old daughter. She is living in Pearl's house along with most of the others, and needs to be cared for even when crazy things are going on. At one point her mother, Nissa, has gone to the Guardian Realms with a group of others, and has left Lani at Pearl's house. When she returns, she finds that Lani has been sent to stay with Waking Lizard and Righteous Drum, while Pearl and the other Orphans were off doing something dangerous. As a mother I think I would have been really distressed to find that my young daughter had been sent of to spend the night in the care of two older men who were currently allies but had not always been. There were magical treaties in place which prevented them from offering any harm to Lani, so she was perfectly safe, but I could imagine many children not coping particularly well in this situation. However it did illuminate some things about Waking Lizard and Righteous Drum's characters - they really are good guys, and both love children, and I found it very interesting that at every point during the story Lani is accounted for. She has never just been abandoned, assumed to be taken care of offstage. I'm not entirely sure why I like this so much, it leads to lots of unnecessary details, and yet it is a constant reminder that just because there is a crazy fantasy quest going on the real world doesn't just grind to a halt while you deal with the crisis. The level of detail involved in the food everyone is eating, and the living arrangements for this large and eccentric group takes up a lot of time, but I think it really helps to set the scene and make things believable. People's relationships change when they are forced to live in close accommodations, especially when it is fairly long term with no definite end point.

But I need to stop writing this now, because the next book is waiting for me, and I really really want to find out what happens next!

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