Spirit Gate (Crossroads) by Kate Elliott

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Spirit Gate (Crossroads) by Kate Elliott

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Iain Wear
Reviewed by Iain Wear
Summary: Elliott's skill at character building is not matched by her skill at story telling, but she's good enough at the former to make this a worthwhile read...eventually.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 640 Date: November 2007
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 978-1841492742

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Fantasy writers never seem to write in single volumes, but even by the usual standards of the genre, Kate Elliott's seven volume Crown of Stars series was maybe overdoing it a bit. As if that wasn't enough, she apparently plans much the same for her Crossroads series, of which Spirit Gate is the first part.

Years ago, The Hundred was ruled by mysterious Guardians, who supposedly could not be killed. But these Guardians have not been seen for many years and law and order is upheld by Reeves, who patrol the skies with large eagles. But their authority is being undermined and The Hundred is turning into a lawless place where merchants cannot transport goods from one place to another without fear of being attacked and no-one knows when this first started and who is behind it.

In another part of the world Mai, a woman from Kartu Town, is pledged in marriage to Anji, an officer in the army of the Qin, who conquered their country some time before. However, secrets Anji is harbouring force them to flee North, along with some of his soldiers and Mai's brother Shai, who is hoping to find out what happened to his brother Hari, who disappeared many years previously and who has been traced to The Hundred. Also travelling from the South is the merchant Keshad, a slave who finds a treasure rich enough to be able to buy not only himself out of slavery, but also his sister.

These are just the basic characters, but there is a cast of thousands in Spirit Gate, all of which have their own story and their own part to play. Kate Elliott is very good at giving her characters life and making you like or hate them, it does mean that most of the book feels like character building with very little else. Whilst this means that the whole book forms a rich tapestry of people, it does mean that the action falls to the wayside a little and that there is little explanation of the customs of the various lands, which might have been helpful given the various gods that the different characters seemed to follow.

Another problem is that with so many characters, once she's been around all of them so you can get to know them, you can forget what's gone before. At one point, I had to go back and check on exactly who a character was as we'd been away from him for so long that I'd forgotten and I was quite embarrassed to discover he was a vital character. That said, once things settle down and you're more accustomed to the characters, they are so well drawn and so individual that you can't possibly get them mixed up.

This gave me a love-hate relationship with the book. In the beginning, it did drag quite a bit and it wasn't an easy read as the characters always seemed to be travelling, but the story was never going anywhere. Admittedly, once they were all in their assigned places, things did pick up a little bit and events seemed to be moving quite quickly towards a conclusion. There again Elliott surprised and disappointed me a little, as the big climax that the story seemed to be pointing towards was over too quickly, but there were then a couple of little subtle twists that point the way intriguingly to the next in the series.

If you like character driven fantasy, this will be a wonderful read as that's where Elliott's strength lies. Even though I consider myself more of a fan of action than people I found myself wondering what had happened to a couple of the characters at some points and put the book down at the end thinking about where they're going to go next and how their lives will go on.

This, I think, is the true beauty of Spirit Gate. It is an opening in quite a long series, so it doesn't want to give too many secrets away, but it's masterfully done to leave you wanting more. If Elliott didn't have the gift for characterisation that she does, this would have been an incredibly boring read, but as long and as slow paced as it was from the start, I'm eager to read more. Elliott has shown us the gate and I'm left wondering what lies on the other side.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Fantasy fans might also enjoy The Heart of the Mirage by Glenda Larke.

Kate Elliott's Crossroads series in Chronological Order

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Buy Spirit Gate (Crossroads) by Kate Elliott at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Spirit Gate (Crossroads) by Kate Elliott at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Spirit Gate (Crossroads) by Kate Elliott at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Spirit Gate (Crossroads) by Kate Elliott at Amazon.com.


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