Gate of Ivrel Mass Market Paperback – 1959
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|Mass Market Paperback, 1959||
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Though this is the first of a series, it stands well on its own -- perfection just as it is. A real classic which can be read by people who don't usually read or like sci-fi. Loan it to your own Mom after you are finished and you will see.
The "heroine" is a traveler through space and time named Morgaine. But the entire tale is from the point of view of Vanye, a youth from a primitive and superstitious warrior culture who regards Morgaine as a witch. He is forced by a sacred oath to serve her, even though he believes that serving a witch will cost him his soul -- a LITERAL "Damned-If-I-Do and Damned-If-I-Don't" situation.
The book is science fiction, but reads like sword and sorcery, because that is how Vanye sees the world. He is a wonderful character, probably one of the BEST CHARACTERS EVER CREATED, imho. Cherryh's gift for realisticly portraying the psychology of a superstitious, obsessive, highly traumatized, warrior-caste teenager is so spot-on it is almost creepy. Morgaine isn't too shabby either.
Give it a try. I tell people to read the first three pages of Chapter One. That is all it takes to get them hooked.
Oh, and don't be misled by the the cover art. This isn't remotely cheese-cakey. The heroine wears clothes and everything.
To give just one example of Cherryh's descriptive talents without spoiling the book, if you close your eyes and visualize when Morgaine draws her primary weapon, a shiver will probably go down your back. Rare indeed is the author who can scare you without resorting to grossness.
You could save time by ordering _Well of Shiuan_, _Fires of Azeroth_, and _Exile's Gate_ at the same time you order this one. If you order this one you are going to want the other three anyway.
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.
Cherryh's style is clean and dry, but at the same time very intense and passionate. Instead of using flowery words and melodrama to spoon-feed emotion to the reader, she uses common words and short, almost aggressive phrasing. The tension and passion and danger are drawn with a sharpness and clarity that is almost painful. A deceptively simple word or glance between these characters, whether friends or enemies, will at times bring that tension to a breathless peak, but without the expected release afterwards.
This is not an easy, exciting Harlequin-esque roller-coaster of peaks and valleys. This is a sharp ridge on a bare mountain with an occasional rock slide.
This is not a graceful Puccini aria that makes you want to weep and feel melancholy. This is avant-garde jazz where a single painfully high note is drawn out in the background for so long that you find yourself begging for a release that you fear may never come but then again do you really want it to?
It's exhausting, but in the best sense.
And about the 4th time I read the series, I found that it was funny too! It is, of course, a very dry humor, but it's there. And not a joke or eccentric comedic bit player to be seen.
It's easy to fall in love with these characters. They're very different from each other, but they're both excruciatingly familiar!
Cherryh creates the perfect male characters for a straight female audience. Cherryh's men are the kind many of us would create for ourselves. (Which is very different from the men male writers create.) Cherryh's men are capable of great valor and honor, but also of very deep emotion and affection, and self-reflection.
Also, her men often feel strong love and affection and respect for other men, without there being any sexual element to it. This is not only unique, but very difficult. The ability to create tension between male characters who love each other without it reading like sexual tension or a Sunday night "family drama" is something I rarely see. I appreciate it when I do.
My circle of friends has a shorthand way of expressing our reaction to this exhausting mix of physical danger and emotional tension, just by groaning "AAAAAHHHHGHHHHGHGHHHHHG!!!". If one of us starts off a conversation this way, another might say "Are you dying, or did you just finish a Cherryh?"
Of course I have gone on to all the other Cherryh books, I have a shelf that is as long as I am tall that won't contain them all. She is master of "worlds" and master of her own unique style of "steam of consciousness." She's now tops in straight S.F. as well. She's changed a lot since Ivril, but she went way back there once to do another Morgaine book, and I wouldn't be surprised if she did it again. When I was a kid, the Lone Ranger was number one, but he never made mistakes. The whole point of most of Cherryh's books are the mistakes that people make. My reader's Tee-shirt reads "Morgaine Yes' as per C.H. Cherryh." and most everything else by her too.