I purchased this book in the late mid-1980's after the fourth book in the series came out - Exile's Gate - which I had bought, knowing nothing of the author, but liking the cover to it. I wanted to start the story at the beginning and it turned out to be a good idea. On the first read, Ivrel will probably seem fairly basic, but it sets up the characters for what happens later, in Azeroth and Exile. I like to think of the first three books in the series as one whole book (and its published in an omnibus that way too) because there are some story lines that don't get resolved until Azeroth.
Ivrel starts with a shocking event: Vanye has killed his oldest brother in self-defense and his father exiles him. Vanye grew up being teased excessively/tortured by his two brothers. He is the illigitimate son of a captive - a high-born woman who was kidnapped from her clan and raped, she died soon after he was born.
Two years after his exile, Vanye is camped at a lesser Gate, and he is remembering the myths of Morgaine, the witch-woman who betrayed thousands of men into a Gate (and to their deaths, everyone believes). When he kills a deer and it stumbles into the lesser Gate and Morgaine herself rides out on her horse, he is shocked. No less than she is, for a hundred years have past since she went into the Gate (she's been in suspension), as she learns from Vanye.
He is sworn to serve her and he hates it. But she needs him to guide her through his world to achieve her mission - the destruction of the main Gate, so that none others can pass through it and warp time and space.
One of the first places they come to is his mother's people's clan - the Chyya. Here they meet his cousin Roh, a leader and close to Vanye's own age and appearance. This is one of the best and most heartbreaking parts of the book. Roh confronts Vanye several times in one evening and in the last he tells Vanye to come back to Chya when he is finished with Morgaine and her mission. He is offering a home to Vanye who never really had one.
But it is not to be. The forces that Morgaine sweeps up in her wake descend on the Chya and destroy them and a vengence-filled Roh follows Vanye and Morgaine and he meets a horrible fate. If he had died that would be one thing, but what happens to him is so much worse than that.
When I first read this as a teenager I found it hard to get passed Vanye's negative opinion of his own abilities. But I've realized in rereading the series lately, that he doesn't see himself as he is. There are many people who try to follow and help Morgaine in all four books, and they always do poorly.
Vanye is quite successful at getting her what she needs, protecting her from others, protecting others from her at moments of extreme anger, and at respecting what she is, even the part of her she rarely shows - the young, sometimes vulnerable woman, who hates that she must sometimes kill innocent people to achieve her goal. He tries to make her burdens less, and after several books she learns to trust him to do that. Personally I love Vanye, but it took me reading all the books to get there.
As a writer I consider this book an excellent template on how to write fantasy. There is not one erroneous word, or self-indulgent scene. The book is maybe 170 pages, and the complicated rituals, people, history and beliefs are so simply explained that the reader DOESN'T have to wade through pages of meaningless explanation that would drag the story down. Probably her original drafts of this novel were 3 or 4 hundred pages long, but it didn't need to be did it?
My recommendation is for new readers to READ ALL FOUR NOVELS before deciding if they like the series or not. This is the tip of the iceberg, people, you MUST read all of the books to understand where the story is going and why.