(This post was written over the course of a few weeks.)
I read Kate Elliott’s SPIRIT GATE a few years ago when it first came out, and have had the sequels sitting on my shelf for over a year, unread because (as I may have mentioned previously) being a full-time writer (and Mommy!) really cuts into your reading time. So I wanted to re-read SPIRIT GATE before tackling the other two, ’cause I barely remembered what had happened in it.
I liked it even better the second time through, which seems to be something of a trend for me and epic fantasy. I suspect I read too fast to appreciate all the nuances and story developments the first time through, and that I catch them more solidly the second time, even if it’s been a long time since I’ve read it.
What I particularly noted this time through was Kate’s descriptive abilities. I honestly have no idea how she does it, even when I’m sitting there reading and trying to analyze it. Someday in my copious free time I’m going to have to try my hand at real epic fantasy, and go beg her for help. :) Anyway, as usual with Kate’s work, it’s a great solid book of good characters, alarming encounters, desperate measures and inevitable conclusions. If you like epic fantasy and haven’t read it, do. :)
SHADOW GATE: The second book in the Crossroads trilogy is stronger than the first, I think, and that’s even with enjoying the first very much. I’ve been friends with Kate a while now and it’s really interesting to see what she talks about in her blog posts being reflected in her stories–things I wouldn’t necessarily have noticed actively on my own. There’s a *lot* of (not just women, but very often women) playing the hand they’re dealt, no matter how dreadful that hand might be, and it’s making for astonishingly good characterization. As a reader I completely understand where each of the characters is coming from (even if I don’t necessarily like the character very much), and that’s pure gold both from a reader’s and a writer’s perspective.
Also, holy crap, someone I totally didn’t expect to died and I’m still a bit O.O over it. Actually, two people, though the second one I probably should have seen coming because it’s going to totally cause everything to go to hell (and also probably maneuver a major character into the position that appeared to be inevitable when I began reading the trilogy. But maybe not, so I’m all eager to find out!), whereas the first one is sheerly “BUT HEY WAIT NO I LIKED THAT ONE WAIT STOP ACK!” O.O
Cannot. Wait. To read the third book! Eee!
TRAITORS’ GATE: The inevitable totally failed to happen, and something else obvious and yet completely surprising happened instead. This is the strongest book of the trilogy, and it ends beautifully, although my instant reaction was NEXT BOOK PLEASE AGGHGLGL! Somewhere in the last third of the book, when it became clear what had been going to happen all along even though I had utterly, completely not seen it coming, I started panicking: how were they going to get out of this? And then: Oh, crap, they’re not AGHGLGLGH NEXT BOOK PLEASE! Furthermore, it became increasingly apparent that Kate Elliott has subscribed to the GRRM School of Epic Fantasy*, where nobody is safe, and I really had no idea who was going to come out of it alive, which was terrific. I love that palpable sense of distress as a reader, watching the tragic inevitabilities unfold and wondering how it’ll affect the characters. And there are highs to meet the lows, love stories that are not romantic or which break the rules of the societies the characters come from, so it’s a beautiful, satisfying ending to a whacking big epic fantasy.
Looking back at the trilogy, it’s…it’s epic fantasy on a personal scale. I mean, epic fantasy has to be or you’d just be listening to someone narrate “And then this happened, then this happened, then that happened.” But the Crossroads Trilogy dives into the hearts and stories of individuals in a way I’ve rarely encountered. One set of major characters, the reeves, who fly with giant eagles, can literally see it all from above, but despite that, the story is very much told from the ground level. There are battles, but at most we get glimpses of them from an eagle-eye view; mostly we see them from the points of view of soldiers and slaves, from people who have lost everything to the war and from those who, having lost everything, are willing to sacrifice the last thing they have to end or profit from: themselves.
The pacing is therefore…not, perhaps, what one would expect from epic fantasy. There are tangents, stories told not precisely because they drive the main thrust of the books, but because they reflect the world as a whole, and how it’s being changed, and how the people in it are being changed, and the choices they have to make and live with. If I had written this (nevermind Kate Elliott’s descriptive abilities, which far outshine my own), it wouldn’t have delved into so many characters so deeply, telling their stories alongside the main thread. It wouldn’t have really occurred to me to do that, even though I’ve enjoyed other writers who’ve done the same kinds of things. The worldbuilding here is astonishing and deep, and I would happily, happily spend many more books in the Hundreds. Hell, despite its problems, I’d be pretty happy to spend some real time in the Hundreds, and I feel like I’d even have a fair grasp of the customs and behaviors expected of me, which is quite something for a purely fantasy world.
*She may have subscribed to this a long time ago. I’m afraid it’s been so long since I’ve read Jaran or the King’s Dog books that I simply can’t remember anymore. :)