Gate of Ivrel: A seamless blend of science fiction and fantasy

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsGate of Ivrel: A seamless blend of science fiction and fantasyGate of Ivrel by C.J. Cherryh

Gate of Ivrel is one of C.J. Cherryh’s entries into the science fantasy genre in which we follow the adventures of Vanye, the bastard son of a minor lord in a seemingly medieval world who is cast out for standing up to his oppressive brothers and inadvertently killing one and maiming the other. As he makes his way across the harsh landscape of his world populated by clans who would like nothing more than to end the life of a miserable outlaw he stumbles across a ‘miracle’ in the person of Morgaine: a figure of power and fear out of legend seemingly magically returned and to whom he becomes joined by bonds of duty and obligation. What the reader knows already is that Morgaine is actually an agent from a high-tech society sent to seek out and destroy the many ‘gates’ that were created by the alien qhal and allow their users to travel instantaneously through space and time. It was soon discovered, however, that these gates were the cause of the extinction of the qhal and could also lead to the extinction of the human race, and possibly all of time and space itself, should they continue to be used.

Morgaine is the last member of the original team that was sent out on this desperate mission and is anxious to seek out and destroy the gate on Vanye’s world (which one must assume was at one point a human colony populated through use of the gates which has since forgotten its origins) after the tragedy of her initial attempt in the past (recent to her and ancient to Vanye) that led to the deaths of thousands, including her few remaining comrades. As a result of this tragedy Morgaine’s name has become a byword for evil and destruction amongst the people of this world. Vanye is thus at first a very reluctant retainer of Morgaine and fears her seemingly alien nature as much as the tasks she forces him to perform. He is constantly dealing with the tension between his honour and sworn oath to Morgaine on the one hand and the fear and natural suspicion which his people hold for her and her apparent goals on the other. The taciturn Morgaine does little to aid in easing Vanye’s worries, but somehow along the way her actions and character cause him to gain a grudging respect and admiration for her and Vanye comes to understand the importance of the mission she has set for herself even though key details are unknown to him.

I enjoyed the story in Gate of Ivrel and thought Cherryh did a good job of melding the science fiction and fantasy elements into a pretty seamless whole. One thing that came across as a bit odd was Morgaine’s constant use of “thee” when referring to Vanye or others in conversation. I know Cherryh was doing this to provide a verbal clue to the fact that Morgaine came out of a small gate that had caused her to jump forward in time hundreds of years to the ‘present’ of the novel and thus she spoke in a more archaic form of the language, but the fact that “thee” was used exclusively despite the context (she never used “thou”) struck me as awkward and possibly grammatically incorrect part of the time (though I’m not an expert on archaic English usage by any means). That niggle aside I thought the story was successful in presenting a fantasy-style quest set against seemingly insurmountable odds in order to reach the goal: in this case the destruction of the main qhal gate on this world. Morgaine is dogged in her pursuit of her goal, but also seemingly doubtful about the possibility that it can be met which, when tied with Vanye’s constant doubts and fears, leavens the story with a foreboding sense of near despair. Morgaine remains a cypher due to the fact that the story is told from Vanye’s point of view and, as already mentioned, Morgaine is an extremely tight-lipped liege. She is indeed only willing to take on Vanye because she has no other option short of trying to achieve the impossible on her own. So, all in all, I think this was a good story where pretty much every obstacle Cherryh could possibly throw at Vanye and Morgaine was utilized, though I’ll admit to not being totally blown away. I’m sufficiently interested, though, to keep seeing how the adventures of these two progress across time and space.


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TERRY LAGO, one of our regular guest reviewers, is a Torontonian who, like all arts students, now works in the IT field. He has been a fan of fantasy ever since being introduced to Tolkien by his older brother when he was only a wee lad, though he has since branched out to enjoy all spectrums of the Fantasy genre and quite a few of the science fiction one as well. Literary prose linked with well-drawn characters are the things he most looks for in a book. You can see what he's currently reading at his Goodreads page.

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One comment

  1. I’m so glad you reviewed this book. It’s still one of my favorites. I think this was the first book where I consciously realized how easily SF and fantasy could be melded, in the hands of a good writer. And even though it was, to some extent, a trick, I loved the way Vanye ended up oathed to Morgaine.

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