Books for Grownups · Reading

“Gate of Ivrel” Review

“The gates were the ruin of the qhal.”

So begins Gate of Ivrel by C. J. Cherryh, the first of four books in the Morgaine Saga. As I’ve said elsewhere, Cherryh is my favorite author and so I’ve spent a good chunk of the last year eating up lots of her work. She is prolific and exceptional. I had originally hesitated to dive into the Morgaine Saga based in part of the original artwork (which displays a stereotypically scantily clad, sword wielding, fantasy heroine) and my assumption that there would be lots of scantily clad “activities” throughout, but was pleasantly encouraged by a review to the contrary and bought an omnibus edition of all four works. I’m currently partway into the third but will confine my review here to the first (mostly).

In brief, this is a science fiction story which dresses overwhelmingly in the garb of fantasy. The background story – that of technological gates which whisked people and empires through space and time – is only hinted at, as is the mission of the central character, Morgaine. Upon the destruction of the Qhal empire by their misuse of the gates, some far future Science Bureau apparently sent a team on a mission to go through the gates, one-by-one, destroying the “passageways” in the process. Morgaine seems to be (though it is not said overtly) the last surviving member of this team.

In her quest she comes across an outcast warrior named Vanye who becomes bound – unwillingly – to her service by the customs of his culture. These two then seek out their world’s Master Gate in their attempt to pass through and destroy it. There are many, however, including Vanye’s vengeful family and remnants of the long-fallen Qhal empire, that seek to prevent them from this quest, and Vanye’s own hesitations about his new master further complicate the goal.

As with all of her books, Cherryh dazzles in her worldbuilding. There is no shallow water here; no obviously false fronts on the universe she has created. In fact, the story carries with it a heavy sense of history and culture, so much so that the reader feels it even when the book itself doesn’t dive deeply into all its crevices. But Gate of Ivrel is not all plot and creative power. The relationship between simple, devout, troubled Vanye and powerful, aloof, uncaring Morgaine is wonderful and has continued to grow and mature past the end of this first installment. 

In fact, I would say that someone who picked up only Ivrel would be greatly disappointed at the end, which is only minimally satisfying on its own and begs for the sequel. I’m glad I got the complete saga. 

I am compelled to offer one complaint: Cherryh is often so subtle in the machinations of plot and so true to the authenticity of dialogue that I am often left wanting just a bit more clarity on what’s going on. I love the sense of “figuring things out” as I go and not being spoon fed, but there are times where I genuinely wonder if I missed something, and that can be a bit frustrating.

That said, I greatly enjoyed Gate of Ivrel and look forward to finishing the remaining books. Perhaps I can give a review of them as well.

Profanity-0-Do to the style of the writing, I can’t remember anything that I would consider profanity. They don’t talk like 21st century Americans and thus don’t use 21st century oaths.
Violence-3-There is certainly lots of fighting, swordplay, etc. and lots of folk die; that said, she is usually not overly descriptive or gruesome. The fighting is not the central focus of the plot.
Sex/Romantic Themes-3-There’s actually very little here, but some subtle references to sex – with a flirtatious prostitute thrown in – are present. 
MiscellaneousThe feel of fantasy is here, complete with magic, witches, and mysterious fires; it’s not magic at all, however, but how the culture interprets a technology that is far beyond them. 

NOTE: As always, my content notes are for informational purposes, not judgmental ones. For a full explanation of my Content Notes and the scale, click here

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