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Portal of a Thousand Worlds    by Dave Duncan order for
Portal of a Thousand Worlds
by Dave Duncan
Order:  USA  Can
Open Road Media, 2017 (2017)
Softcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I have sought out Dave Duncan's myriad works of fantasy for decades now and have never been disappointed. He always provides spectacular action and entertainment and does so again in Portal of a Thousand Worlds. In this alternate history based on nineteenth century China, an iron-willed dowager empress rules the land (and intends to keep power at all costs) but fears the anticipated opening of a magical portal, which occurs once in a millennium and always changes the world in unexpected ways.

Various intriguing characters rise from lowly positions to exert their influence on events. There's the beggar boy who joins the Gray Helpers (an order of assassins), is trained in many arts, and becomes known - and renowned for his skill - as Silky. Silky weds his first client's daughter, Jade Harmony, who proves to be a quick learner. There's the very spiritual Sunlight, who has suffered endless lives and reincarnations and is currently a teenage boy imprisoned (and tortured) in the Four Mountains fortress on the orders of the empress - she has questions about the Portal of Worlds that she believes he can answer.

In the capital, Heart of the World, the Empress Mother chooses a concubine, Snow Lily, to bear a son for the eighteen-year-old emperor, who was brain damaged by poison as a child, and has been kept in seclusion ever since. She also arranges for a young man (Horse) to be acquired from a distant province and brought in secret to the capital to act as emperor (under her control of course) in case her real son is unable to perform adequately and sire an heir. Once that heir is assured, Snow Lily and Horse will no longer be needed (a destiny that they soon work out for themselves).

While we get to know all these intriguing characters, a rebel group, the Pearl Army, moves through the country, steadily accumulating influence over the masses. Paths gradually converge before the portal opens ... and soon closes once more. Don't miss this one. Portal of a Thousand Worlds is brilliant, a must read for fans of historical fantasy!!

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