Maybe she was still dreaming.
The mare lifted her head, left ear flicking back.
–Kate Elliott - Shadow Gate - c.2008
The blurb on the back cover of my edition of this book gives away a pretty big spoiler for book one. So does the first line of the book, so I’ve had to take a different one for the blog, I don’t mind the odd spoiler with warning, but it’d be a bit mean to surprise-spoiler people with not even a warning.
Events in book 2 pick up where book 1 left them. If you’ve read Spirit Gate you’ll know where that was, and if you haven’t then you should. Honestly, go read it. Yes, it is a huge book, and so is this one, and I’m guessing the next one as well, but that doesn’t matter. They are worth the investment. Anything with giant eagles and flying horses is worth a look, right?
But apart from those attention grabbing elements there are plenty of reasons to pick up this series. First of all, the world-building. If you like world-building then you should love this, because it isn’t just one country or culture that Elliott has created here, there are various peoples, just like in the real world. The main focus is on the people of The Hundreds, but there are many “outlanders” and their stories and history are vital to the story.
There are also multiple point-of-view characters, so be prepared for that. Depending on the story, having multiple POV characters can lead me to hurry through the chapters of those I don’t love in order to get back to my favourites, I recall doing that a bit on certain Wheel of Time rereads, but I never felt the need for that here. For one thing most of the chapters are short, so you never felt that anything was dragging you away from any other aspect of the story, even if you really wanted to know what was happening. And then there was the fact that I enjoyed all the voices. Well, enjoyed might not be the right word for those chapters dealing with death, rape, and abuse, and be warned, there is a lot of that, but I wanted to know about all the characters.
To get back to the violence, there is a lot of violence. More than you might think. There is death and there is rape. A lot of rape. But none of it is done to thrill. It is all horrifying and horrible.
And, in part, it ties into one of the themes of the book. Slavery. All of the cultures in Shadow Gate save one are cultures that own slaves. Some call it selling labour and it isn’t intended to be permanent. The differing reactions to slavery are fascinating, and I loved the way that some of the characters seem to be re-evaluating slavery. Slavery to most of us today is regarded as an evil. But for most of human history people have enslaved others. And kind and compassionate people could grow up in a culture believing that it was okay, because when something is everyday and commonplace you can hide its true brutality from yourself. It was wrong, of course, but for someone of that culture to come to that realisation is a very difficult thing.
I also really liked what Elliott did with the character of Keshad. I think, he is, perhaps one of the more unlikeable POV characters, but his is an important story. All his actions were because of slavery. He wanted to be free, that became his only focus in life. His and his sister’s freedom. Nothing else mattered. In another story he could have been a dashing hero. Only in order to escape slavery he did terrible things. Do we, as readers, excuse that behaviour because it was, in a way, forced upon him?
And then there is Shai, again, he is a man who has grown up in a culture where slavery was a fact of life and slaves were, in many ways, disposable. His family covered up terrible crimes to protect one of their own. And in Spirit Gate Shai allows something horrendous to happen Show Spoiler ▼
before Mei makes him reconsider. But that happened because of the culture he grew up in, his view of slaves and slavery was such that he didn’t see how evil that act was. And the soldiers who actually did the deed, we find out that they saw no wrong whatsoever in it.
It’s hard to read about.
And these aren’t even the actions of the bad-guys!
And I’ve gone on far too long, but really, if you like epic fantasy at all you should read this series. Elliott’s writing is just wonderful. I could read it all day long.
Buy or borrow : 9781841492971