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Monday, August 17, 2009

“Traitors' Gate” by Kate Elliott with Bonus Q/A with the Author (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Kate Elliott Website
Order "Traitors' Gate" (HERE)
Read FBC Interview with Kate Eliott in 2008
Read FBC Review of "Shadow Gate"

Book & author information
: This is the 3st book in the Crossroads series written by Kate Elliot which completes the 1st trilogy called informally as the "Gate Trilogy" in this 7 book series. With the release of this book she will have completed 15 books under this pseudonym from the time her 1st book got released in 1992. This novel stands at 576 pages and is divided into seven parts with 54 unnamed, continuous chapters. The book also features a map of the Hundred, the land in which the story takes place.

Overview/Analysis: This book is set immediately after the events in Shadow Gate as the people of the Hundred along with the help of the Reeves [Policemen of the land who fly with the help of eagles] & the foreign Qin soldiers try to recuperate from their previous misfortunes & prepare themselves for a battle with the rebel army threatening their existence. The novel is narrated from a third person POV and features many characters from the previous books as well as a few new ones.

I'll be listing the main ones as readers of the books are already familiar with them & they are:

Reeve Commander Joss who is struggling to acclimatize himself with his new position but is still resilient in his approximation about Reeves and their new roles in the fight against rebels.

Mai, wife of Anji & new mother of a bonny baby, who strives to do good while learning about her position & powers as wife of the Outlander warrior chief.

Marit, former murdered reeve & now a Guardian of the White(Death) Cloak, who strives to unite the remaining Guardians.

Shai, uncle to Mai & seventh son who sees & converses with dead people, he was thoroughly distraught on learning of his Brother Hari's new condition & now has to struggle with his new station due to his blood relations.

Zubaidit, female hierodule & spy, who through her fearless zeal has managed to penetrate the enemy forces & is working hard at fulfilling her mission.

Keshad, brother to Zubaidit, a master accountant who recently freed himself & his sister from legal slavery & now is caught up in the war to save his land. He arrives in the Sirniakan lands & receives a huge shock when entrusted with a responsibility concerning the revelation in the last chapter of Shadow Gate.

Nallo, newly made reeve, who is steadily adapting to her new role & her eagle.

Kirit aka Cornflower, who is learning more about her new role from Jonithin as they contemplate their future as Guardians.

There are a couple more new POV's which I'll let the reader to RAFO as Robert Jordan used to fondly recite as it will be appropriate this way. The Hundred is in chaos due to the handling of the corrupt Guardians who though stronger in numbers, are antagonized by Marit, Kirit & Jonithin's stark opposition to their plans.

The 3 guardians try to search for the ninth hitherto missing compatriot & also try to release Hari from the hands of the corrupted cloaks. They split up in their tasks and go their separate ways. Joss & Anji plot together to gather the support of other cities & remaining reeve clans to unify & deal with the rebel armies which while disorganized still have strength from their numbers.

Shai continues his travels partly as a prisoner & partly as a shocked but coerced person amongst the rebels. Mai struggles to deal with the happenings in her household due to certain new arrivals & also due to the events in the previous book. Keshad returns from his sojourns with more than he bargained for & is glad to be given a chance to claim his heart's desire. A lot more happens in this trilogy ending; however to reveal it will spoil many a readers expectations.

Kate Elliott continues her fine form in her prose & plotting as there are many battles & the body count rises significantly in this novel. Be forewarned the author has implied to the readers some notions in the previous two books, while in this one she has done her utmost to shock & surprise us & she succeeds to a great extent. Not everything happens as the readers expect, in fact one can easily say, the last 150-200 pages will leave many readers gasping with shock.

The title refers to traitors & it is not related to any specific single character. It might refer to a whole bunch of them as they do things we couldn't have foreseen or probably weren't foresighted enough to understand. One character about whom I had my doubts does end being villain so as to speak, however the chain of events leading up to this culmination makes the reader understand the "how" of the situation, while no real insight into the "why" can be gleaned as we are not given the glimpse into character's thoughts.

Kate Elliott has definitely outdone herself with this book. I must admit I was not thoroughly impressed with the "Crown of Stars" series. I almost gave Spirit Gate a miss because of the perceived pickles in the previous series. However I did end up reading it based on the book description and it was a definite improvement from her previous books but still left a lot to be explained about the world & problems in the Hundred.

The 2nd book Shadow Gate changed the equation completely as it widened the world & deepened the story by explaining about the world history & by giving us back-stories of certain characters. It also had a great ending & last chapter which set the bar rather high for the trilogy ending. This book while having a few negatives still blew me away as all the story threads started from the 1st book are resolved. We are given resolutions to character arcs & conflicts, not in the way we expect but that's what will make the novel even more enticing to its readers & fans of the series.

Kate has given us a richly detailed world which is unlike most of the pseudo-European fantasies published; it might take a while for readers to grasp the world's customs, practices & people, however it makes fascinating reading & gives jaded fantasy readers a different experience.

Now the drawbacks of this book though few are still there. The characterization which is a strong point of the author can be a drawback sometimes as readers looking for a fast paced read will not be getting their heart's desire. The heavy descriptions can be a bit troublesome especially when you as a reader want to see events and things happen faster. This marred the COS series for me as it swelled from 4-5 books to an eventual 7 books saga. The author had said that she wanted a bit more brevity in this series & it is heartening to see her efforts.

Another minor niggle I had was that certain events towards the end seemed rushed so as to complete the story & close the curtain on this tale of the Hundred. However the author had pointed out in a previous interview that this series was originally set as prologue to the story she had in mind & in context to this revelation, I can see why she choose to expedite & end the things this way.

In the end as this review has gone a bit longer than I intended, I would like to leave all readers with this simple thought , the author had previously described her books as "historical novels set in imaginary worlds" & I believe this is one history story you'll be interested in reading for its sheer ingenuity & as it sets up the foundation for the future & also with the last line in this trilogy warns us to be "ready for anything"!

Am I ready? Maybe; will I be reading the remaining books? Most definitely!

BONUS Q/A with Kate Eliott

1] You had said in your previous interview that “The instigation for Crossroads was an online comment made years ago by a person who stated that no polytheistic religion could be moral”; what was it about this statement that bothered you & propelled you into developing Crossroads?

The statement was made as part of an argument that only one specific type of religious “understanding” was “moral” according to how the speaker was self-defining understanding, religion, and morality and how he therefore felt the rest of us ought to be defining it. It was, in fact, a political statement, not really to do with religion at all. But nevertheless, recognizing that human beings in general try to frame a cosmological understanding of the world and our place in it and that these understandings almost always are structured in terms of a “moral” architecture for human behavior, and that many cultures throughout history (most?) have framed their cosmologies in “polytheistic” terms (although even that term is reductionist and therefore misleading and incomplete), I thought I would entertain myself by devising a “polytheistic” society whose “strong moral values” were embedded in the cultural assumptions of the inhabitants of that cultural setting. The story developed tangentially to that although, as it happens, one of the things the Gate trilogy is about is justice and corruption.

2] Now that you have completed the Gate trilogy in the Crossroads series, do you still intend to follow your earlier plan of finishing the series with a standalone novel followed by another trilogy?

I hope so. That is my medium term plan, and I will do my best although, as always, one can never predict what the future will bring. As I’ve said before, the original story I developed some years ago actually constitutes the second trilogy. The prologue for that trilogy grew so long and complicated that my spouse suggested I turn it into its own novel. Trying to do that, I ended up going even farther back in the “history” of the Hundred and wrote the Gate trilogy instead.

One of the great things about working on it this way was that while writing the Gate trilogy I already knew what the future held for the Hundred, so not only was I writing “history”--which made it easier to plot because the main events were already “fact,” so to speak--but I was thereby able to seed in set-up for the second trilogy. For instance, a careful reader will note the brief appearance of a carter and his dogs in Spirit Gate. Descendants of that man and those dogs are important characters (one human, one dog) in the second trilogy.

I have the basic plot and characters for the standalone novel, and I have started working on it. It’s an odd book for me, as it is a “smaller” book in terms of scope, a more “familial” book, if you will, on a more intimate scale. The second trilogy will be another big ticket sweep-of-events epic, however, so I think the standalone will have a very different feel compared to the trilogies on either side of it. Or it might not. It’s difficult to say what will happen in terms of the emotional feel and scope of the story as I actually write forward into the novel.

3] In your most recent book Traitors’ Gate, was it your purpose from the start to end the tale the way you did (I bet there will be a lot of discussions on certain characters and their actions) & after how many years will be the events of the next book/s be set after the Gate trilogy.

Yes, I absolutely hit the ending I was aiming for from the beginning.

Of the three major plot points I was heading for all along, two ended up exactly as I had always planned. However, I changed my mind about one extremely significant aspect of the third when I was about three fifths of the way through writing book three. That change, in that third plot point, utterly altered the necessary topic of the standalone bridging novel between the two trilogies. This caused me serious consternation, as I had an entirely different plot in mind for the standalone book, one that was to take place about 40 years after the end of Traitors’ Gate.

The new standalone book starts about eight years after the end of Traitors’ Gate but the bulk of the story takes place fifteen years after the end of TG. The second trilogy takes place approximately sixty years after the end of TG. Of course, that’s the plan. As the saying goes, life is what happens after we make plans. The same could go for story.

4] With respect to cover art, was it a coincidence or a purposeful intent to feature a reeve, a guardian & a qin on the covers of the 1st three books as each book expounds on each character/persona.

That might be more coincidence than design, although you would have to ask Irene Gallo, Tor Books’s fabulous art director. I believe it seemed obvious to put a reeve on the cover of book one, because conceptually it’s a cool fantasy idea that one would want to put front and center. Book two followed the winged creature template: winged horses always look awesome, and the artist, Michael Kaluta, has really played up the flow of wings, cloak, and hair with this illustration. Book three is meant to be Captain Anji; while the figure is an excellently detailed representation of a Qin soldier, I find him rather too old to be Anji, so I personally imagine him to be Chief Tuvi. You’re right, though, that in retrospect the sequence on the covers seems cleverly purposeful!

5] On your blog, you mentioned you had some goals to accomplish with respect to Traitors’ Gate & the trilogy in general:

- cut extraneous verbiage
- make every single plot wrap around the essential spine of the book, no exceptions, nothing moving off in its own direction
- intensify character interaction in a way that would create and enable the emotional impact received by the reader.

What do you feel now that you have completed the trilogy, how much of your set goals did you achieve?

I feel I achieved my goals to the best of my ability at the time I was writing and revising the novel. I’m very very pleased with Traitors’ Gate and the writing as it stands. That’s not to say that if someone stuck the manuscript in front of me right now, when I haven’t seen it for some months, I could not find ways to improve it; of course I could--there’s always more that can be done. Having made that caveat, I have to say that I feel it is my best work to date as a finished piece. Then again, so far in my writing career I’ve always felt that the book I’ve just fully finished and revised is the best thing I’ve done. Rinse and repeat with each subsequent book. I work very hard to continually improve on what has come before.

6] You have a very pro-active online presence & often have very stimulating discussions on your blog. What do you want to get across to your readers?

I like to hear what people have to say. I find people so interesting. When I can, I like to hear about diverse experiences, and I love to pick people’s brains about their areas of expertise.

I also feel there is value in relating my own experience as a writer so people who are themselves writing, or who are interested in the process, can compare their own experiences or get some insight into the writer’s life. As with any challenging endeavor, sharing stories of what works, what doesn’t, and the ups and downs of the process can be helpful in adapting to one’s own personal artistic (or work, or emotional) struggles. For instance, if I write about “middle of the book” syndrome (when I as a writer may be thinking “it’s dreadful! dreadful!”), then I always hear from another writer, often someone I don’t know in person, who is relieved to hear that other people deal with similar anxieties, hopes, and fears.

Additionally, because I live quite far away from my professional community, I do a lot of my personal networking and hanging out online, which can be both a good thing and a bad (time-devouring) thing.

There is a sense in all of this of building a community online, not one that replaces my local communities but yet another community. I have a lot of diverse identities, and it’s nice to have various locales where I can be involved in the different parts of my life.

7] What’s next for you in terms of the Crossroads series & other new projects & can you give us a glimpse into your new book/s as well?

I am working on Crossroads 4 (working title). It’s always a pleasure to write in the world of the Hundred because I feel I know it well and, also, because I have many exciting events to write about and a number of new characters.

I have also finished the first draft of a novel I’m quite excited about, titled Cold Magic, which I am calling my Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk Regency with bonus! airship and Phoenician spies novel (this way of describing the novel I have stolen outright from Cherie Priest, whose fabulous steampunk novel Boneshaker is coming out in October).

Cold Magic is planned as the first of a trilogy. I don’t yet have the signed contracts for that deal so prefer not to discuss it in any detail. However, I note that Mark Charan Newton and Stephen Hunt are also practitioners of the icepunk subgenre, which refers to fantasy (or sf) with some sort of Ice Age connection, however obscure that connection might be (icepunk, like advancing glacial ice, likes to crush everything in its path, which makes it an inclusive rather than an exclusive sub-genre). I’ll post more about it when I can.



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