The first in a four part SF series which can be read as a stand-alone. I got it used.

Publication year: 1975
Page count: 192
Format: print
Publisher: Daw

The setting is clearly science fiction with high-tech Gates which can transport matter not just from one place to another but from one time to another, too. Yet, the world and the main character are from a pre-industrial society which is common in (epic) fantasy.

The prologue is just a couple of pages and introduces to the reader the concept of the Gates and that the species which built them, the qhal, was apparently ruined by the time travel aspect. The time travel part also changed the cultures and people on other planets, too. The survivor want to destroy the Gates, There’s also a short historical account from the place where the story starts, Andur-Kursh. The history remembers only one woman, Morgaine, who is thought to be evil incarnate when she was alive about a hundred years ago.

Vanye is a bastard son of Lord Nhi Rijan. He has two elder half-brothers who have enjoyed tormenting him through his childhood. One day, they go too far and Vanye kills his eldest brother and wounds the other grievously. Their father gives Vanye a choice – to kill himself or become a clanless exile, an ilin. Vanye goes into exile.

He’s chased mercilessly for months and finally he’s forced to northern lands which as still considered evil. Accidentally, he triggers a Gate and a fair woman on a gray horse comes out of it, as if from thin air. Vanye is scared when he realizes that the woman is legendary Morgaine. Still, he’s in a wintry climate without proper clothes or food, and so he’s forced to accept Morgaine’s shelter. In exchange Morgaine claims Vanye as her underling, as is customary, although not usually for women. So, Vanye has to follow and protect the strange woman.

Morgaine has only one goal: to destroy the Gate of Ivrel, and Thiye Thyie’s-son who has some understanding of how the Gate works and is using it for his own benefit. However, for her no time has passed inside the Gate and some of her old allies have become enemies. Nobody trusts her but some want her knowledge and power for themselves.

Vanye is a quite bitter protagonist. He’s had a hard life and at the start of the story, he’s lost everything but his life. Still, he wants to live and he’s honorable after his own customs; once he’s Morgaine’s ilin he will do everything in his power to protect and aid her, even if he should die protecting her. However, he doesn’t trust her and he doesn’t even know what she is. At the start, he thinks that she’s a qhal which seems to be a demon-like creature to him. Still, he keeps his oath once he’s made it.

Morgaine is a far more distant character; we see her only through Vanye’s eyes. She’s a young woman with a single goal and she will do anything to achieve it. I thought she also worried about the choices she had to make and even regretted some of them. She carries weapons that seem magical to the pre-industrial characters but seem to be technological.

The rest of the cast all have their own agendas and seemed very human to me, perhaps appallingly human and illogical 🙂 at times. I especially enjoyed Roh and Eirj. Roh, the chief of Chya clan, for his stubbornness that ended not only him but lots of others in trouble. Erij is almost as single minded as Morgaine once he made up his mind. He’s another tortured character but he’s also vindictive which Vanye doesn’t seem to be. However, Erij is a maimed man in a culture where all men are supposed to be warriors – that has be hard.

Morgaine’s fair hair color is said to be remarkable, so I wonder if fair skin color is also remarkable; maybe all the other characters are non-white? It’s not said, though.

The culture reminded me first of Mongols or Tolkien’s Rohirrim with the way they relied on horses and took good care of them, and also for being very patriarchal (there are only two named women in the book and the other is Vanye’s dead mother). However, they also have a strict honor system more reminiscent of Japanese culture’s samurai and ronin. Even though the book is slim, it manages to bring to life the culture, even though some parts are by necessity left vague, such as religion.

There’s a lot of traveling in the book and it’s realistic; it rains or snows or is too hot, and all of that have an effect. Horses are also not just cars but living creatures that tire and need to be taken care of.

The plot is very fast-paced and full of uncertainty and betrayals. About the only thing I didn’t really care for was the very ending. Oh and the lack of female characters.

For some reason I didn’t like it as much as the Chanur books.

Oh, that cover is awful! Both Morgaine and Vanye are specifically mentioned wearing armor.