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Spirit Gate: Book One of Crossroads    by Kate Elliott order for
Spirit Gate
by Kate Elliott
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2007 (2006)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I am a big fan of Kate Elliott's Jaran series, though I somehow missed her popular Crown of Stars works. Spirit Gate launches a new Crossroads series, with seven books planned. As such, it involves serious worldbuilding, with many plot threads and characters interweaved - which the author does masterfully in this first episode. It's set in a land called the Hundred, where fair and just laws were once overseen by godlike Guardians, assisted by Reeves. The latter are individually chosen by giant eagles who bond with them and carry them through the air in harnesses. They watch events below and descend to make judgement when necessary.

The story begins with tragedy. Reeve lovers meet - an older woman, Marit, and younger man, Joss. Despite Marit's objections - given that trespass on a Guardian's altar is forbidden - Joss insists on searching one, in an attempt to find out why the Guardians have disappeared. (In their absence, the Hundred is steadily dissolving into anarchy.) Joss and Marit find only bones, and soon afterwards Marit and her eagle are trapped and killed by outlaws. Nineteen years later, the Reeves are fighting a hidden enemy - and losing. Joss - now a Legate, who dreams regularly of Marit and is called 'the incorruptible' - argues for enforcing the Guardians' law, while his commander makes compromises. She sends Joss and his eagle Scar to escort trading caravans - which are regularly attacked - in the southern regions of the Hundred.

Far to the south, we meet Mai, daughter of the proud Mei trading clan in Kartu Town, in a land invaded and now ruled by the nomadic, martial Qin. Mai attracts the attention of Qin Captain Anji who requests her hand in marriage - her family have no choice but to agree. When Anji announces his reassignment to a distant garrison, the family send Mai's uncle Shai - a seventh son, not much valued by the clan, who hides his ability to see ghosts - to accompany her. As they travel together, they learn more of each other and Mai's mixed feelings for her new husband grow into love. But it turns out that the Captain has a dangerous heritage, which forces their group, augmented by additional riders to a total of two hundred, to flee east and north into the Sirniakan Empire and the Hundred, seeking haven and a place to settle.

The third major plot thread involves Keshad, enslaved as a child after his parents' deaths. Sent trading by his merchant owner, he has come upon a treasure, which he carries back north to win his own freedom - and that of another, a woman named Zubaidit with many surprising skills. These three groups eventually come together - through many perils and betrayals - in the city of Olossi, which is about to come under siege by a ruthless army of thousands.

Spirit Gate makes an exciting start to a new series, rich in varied characters, intriguing cultures, and subtle conflicts. The first episode ends with a revelation about the mysterious Guardians and the warning that 'The war for the soul of the Guardians has already begun.' I look forward to more in this enthralling series.

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