Kate Elliott


Publication year: 2009
Page count: 877
Format: print, paperback
Publisher: Tor

The third book in the Crossroads series which concludes the first trilogy. The next book in the series will apparently be a stand-alone.

The series continues from where the Shadow Gate ended. Most of the POV characters are seen again and we get a few new POV characters as well. The Hundred are under an attack by a brutal army from the north. The army is led by legendary Guardians who can see into the hearts and mind of people. They can’t be killed. They used to administer justice on city or town councils but most of them seem to be corrupted now.

The Reeve Joss is trying his best to unite the Reeves against the invaders. However, one Reeve hall wants to return to their past role which is as police, and not as soldiers. Some, especially young, Reeves are eager to help the milia fight the invaders, but they aren’t trained as soldiers and their eagles are predators which can’t be trained to co-operate as well as horses. He’s also concerned about how much power the Quin Captain Anji is getting. If Anji defeats the invaders, his army will be the only on in the Hundred…

Joss’ love Reeve Marit was killed twenty years ago and Joss can’t get over her. Marit was raised from the dead by one of the Guardian cloaks and she’s now a Guardian. She was amazed that some of the other Guardians have been corrupted but she’s also trying to find a way to fight the corrupted ones.

Mai is the clever and beautiful merchant’s wife whom Anji bought as his wife. Mai has turned out to be a huge asset to his military husband; she has focused on trade and finding local wives to the Quin soldiers whom Anji leads. The Quin are exiled from their homeland so they have to settle in the Hundred. Their customs are different from the Hundred folk but Mai has done her best to settle things. She is well-respected in the town of Olossi where the Quin fought a branch of the invading army and won. Now the Quin are preparing to march against overwhelming odds in order to defeat the invaders.

The former slave Keshad and a Ri Amarath man Eliar are in the Sirniakan Empire, which in upheaval because their Emperor has been murdered. The repercussions might reach the Hundred.

We also get two new POVs. One of them is a religious figure in an occupied city and through him we get to see how people survive when the occupying army starves, rapes, and abuses them after theft. The conquered people are treated brutally. Another new character is a strange counterpoint to the atrocities that we the invaders doing; he’s a commander in the invading army. He employs women, doesn’t allow his troops to abuse prisoners, and resents the commanding Guardians for their ineptitude. This is the first time that we see a decent (if you can call a man who kills other humans for living a decent man) man in the Star of Life army.

Despite the multiple POV characters, there are two major characters whose POV we don’t see: Anji and the hierodule/assassin Zubaidit. So, we don’t really know intimately their motivations and plans. One of them did surprise me a lot.

The plot moves along quicker than in the previous books. There are some surprising twists in it, too. One of the main themes is still culture clash. The Quin have different outlook in life and they’re showing any sign of changing to blend into the local culture. Most of the difference are in sexual practices and gender roles; Quin don’t approve women soldiers, or even female Reeves, or homosexuality or anything else than monogamy for women. On the other hand, mothers have lots of influence over their sons and daughters, but in the Hundred the clans, the family, have also a lot of power over individuals. If anything, it seems that the Quin are changing the young Hundred men to be like the Quin. I’m certainly interested to see how things will progress in the future.

The end ties up most of the plot threads but leaves the future (culture blending) wide open.

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This is the second book in the Crossroads epic fantasy series.

Spoilers!

The large cast of the previous book is back and there are also some new point-of-view characters, most for whom are women. Frankly, I approve of this because the previous book had only one woman POV. Still, the cast of characters is mightily huge.

The Quin soldiers are trying to make a home for themselves in the Hundred. With the money they earned in the previous book, they have bought land. They are also trying to get local woman as their wives. Their Captain Anji is still suspicious and is trying to raise an army of both Quin and local men to protect the city.

Meanwhile, the reeve Marit, who was killed at the start of the previous book, has come back to life. She’s disoriented but soon she realizes that she is, indeed, alive even though her eagle is dead. She meets another of her kind and tries to find out what is happening to her. It appears that she has become one of the mysterious Guardians, a protector of justice in the Hundred. However, some of the other Guardians seem to have been corrupted. She decides to investigate.

Another culture is added into the mix: tribes who live on the grasslands and are led by women. It’s also possible that we’ll get to know the Sirniakan Empire better in the coming books. So far, we’ve only seen glimpses of their culture.

Like the previous book, this is a huge tome. There are a lot of descriptions of places and people, and its strength is in the world-building. Sadly, the plot moves very slowly. Some of the reason is that the many POV characters have split up in almost as many places as there are POV characters. We finally get some answers about the Guardians but there are still a lot of unanswered questions.

I liked both independent Marit and a new character called Nallo. Nallo is interesting because she’s not attractive and she says what she wants, when she wants to. She’s stubborn and independent. They’re both very different from the delicate little Mai who has been pretty much the only female POV character so far.

There’s no modern romance in the book as such. An established couple from the previous book returns (yay!) and near the end of the book one of the POV males experiences love at first sight. However, he doesn’t speak to the woman in question and instead, well, leaves the country. So, I’d be really surprised if the woman turns out to have any feelings for him because they’ve never even spoken to each other. The Quin soldiers are trying to settle down in the Hundred and in order to blend in more, they are looking for local wives. There is some match making, so to speak, but they remind me more of business deals than romance. Many of the wifely candidates are women who have lost their families and villages in the war, and a marriage to an almost unknown man is the least bad option open for them. Some women are artisans or merchants who now have a chance to get a marriage where they can continue their trade. This is probably the way many marriages were arraigned during most of human history, so it fits with the feeling of the book. However, romance readers are likely to be disappointed.

There’s a lot of rape in the book. A lot. Only very few secondary women characters have not been gang raped by soldiers. On the other hand, only one of the POV women has been raped. Yet, the rapes have not been written to titillate but to show the brutality of war, treatment of slaves, and the evilness of the bad guys. It does get a bit too much at times, though. Also, the Quin are the only soldiers in the book who are not rapists and even they use whores and slaves.

I’m still intrigued enough to get the next book to see how the bad guys are going to be stopped.

Part of my 1st in a series –challenge and the 9 books challenge. It’s the first in the Crossroads fantasy series. I won this one and the next in the series in a contest from Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist. It’s written in the third person and has multiple point-of-view characters.

Most of the book is set in a fantasy land called the Hundred which has several lords who reign over a part of the land but no high king or ruler as such. Once the mysterious Guardians kept the justice but they seem to have vanished and now only the Reeves are trying to keep up the peace. The Reeves are people who fly on giant eagles and live in their Halls mostly apart from other people. They serve as judges during town councils. However, lately the ordinary people have lost faith in them.

The book starts with Reeves Marit and Joss who are investigating one place where Guardians are supposed to be. They find only bones and forbidding magic. Joss returns to the Clan Hall to report their finding but Marit investigates a disturbance near by. She finds that one of the local lords is leading a group of savage men and is promptly killed.

Then the story jumps forward 19 years. Reeve Joss is now a legate but he’s also a drunkard and a womanizer. He blames himself for Marit’s death and can’t find peace for himself. Time has only made the Reeves’ position worse; some people now even hunt and kill the Reeves. At the same time, other people demand the Reeves should protect them better. The Reeves’ commander sends Joss and a couple of other men to guard a caravan and also to investigate.

The next part of the book focuses on the young woman Mai. She lives in Kartu Town far south of the Hundred. She lives in a merchant family and sells fruit in the market. She’s engaged to a young man from her town. Mai and her people live in a conquered country. The Quin are a race of warriors and they seem to have conquered her country easily. Mai’s life gets thrown upside down when Anji, a Quin officer, sees her in the market and wants to marry her. Her family has no choice but to agree; at least the officer didn’t just take Mai as his concubine. Mai is, of course, scared and she’s even more scared when she finds out that Anji has been ordered to leave and get new orders. She has no choice but to follow her new husband to unknown lands.

Shai is Mai’s young uncle. Shai is the youngest of seven sons and therefore considered extraneous because he can’t contribute anything to the family. However, he has a secret; he can see the spirits of the dead and hear what they say. Because he would be killed as a witch if anyone knew about it, he keeps his ability a secret. When Mai is sent far away from Kartu Town, Shai’s eldest brother sends Shai along as well. Like most of his people, Shai can’t ride or use weapons because the Quin have forbidden it, so the journey scared him, too.

The next point-of-view character is introduced about half-way into the book. Keshad is a slave who is trusted with his master’s money to go out of the Hundred and into south to buy merchandise for his master. He resents his own status as a slave and is now close to earning his own freedom by selling other people into slavery. He’s traveling with a caravan back from the south.

There are a couple of more POV characters are well, later in book. All of them are pretty distinct from each other.

The book has many different cultures. The Hundred’s culture is perhaps most like our modern Western culture at least with attitudes towards women; men and women work side by side. It has also seven deities. Of them, the Merciless One was most distinct from the others. Her followers (mostly women) are priestesses dealing in sex and death. They seem to be holy prostitutes who can choose their clients. At the same time, at least some of them have been trained as assassins. Some of the people respect them as holy priestesses while others consider them whores.

Also, the Hundred culture places significance to a person’s birth year; a person born is a certain year is dependable while a person born in another year is restless. While slavery is accepted in the Hundred, in theory a person can be made a slave only for seven years and after that he or she must go free. However, in recent years the owners has started to charge the slaves for food, room, and possible education which lengthens the years significantly.

The culture where Mai comes from separates the men and women somewhat more. They each have their own professions and women rarely learn to read. However, even an unmarried woman like Mai can be sent to the market all by herself to sell fruit. Marriages seem to be arranged by the couple’s parents and the eldest male is the head of the household which consists of his unmarried, close relatives. The culture seems quite peaceful.

The Quin, on the other hand, are a warlike people and they respect strength also in their women. Most Quin women seem to be able to ride and fight as well as the men. Sometimes they buy slaves from other cultures but they don’t enslave any Quin.

Between Mai’s people and the Hundred lies the Sirniakan Empire who worships the fire god Beltan and accept no other gods.

There are also the servitors of the Hidden One who are the only ones who don’t condone slavery at all. However, many of the other cultures respect them and allow them to live in peace even in other lands.

Pretty much all of the characters in this book are non-white. As far as I can tell, there’s only one white-skinned character and she seems so odd to the others that they think she’s a demon. The Hundred are the northern-most country and its people are described having a golden-brown complexion. The others range from brown-black to bronze-red.

I really wanted to like this book. It has many qualities which I like: different cultures (instead of Good and Evil), conflict between cultures who don’t seem evil, lots of non-white characters, actual slavery (not the fantasy slavery seen in most fantasy books), and the reeves. When I was reading the book I was quite entertained. However, when I put the book down, for some reason I didn’t feel compelled to return to it. I started the book in September and I’ve finished quite a few books while reading this one in fits and starts. This is quite unusual for me. Perhaps I’m just still in my epic slump. It did feel slow at times. I also felt that I lost interest every time a new POV character was introduced. They took “screen-time” away from the characters I already knew.

I did have a problem with Marit right at the start. Or rather I liked her a lot and was really disappointed that she had to die in order to further Joss’ story. She does appear a few times as some sort of spirit guide to Joss but it’s too little for my taste. Once again a woman had to die to motive a man’s story.

This is also very obviously the first book in a story because the mysterious interesting stuff which where hinted at, remain a mystery.

I am intrigued by the proposed structure of the series; one trilogy, one stand-alone book, and the second trilogy. I also like the cultures. But I don’t know if I’ll continue with this one. There are other books I’d like to try first.