Two alien powers contended for that world. One, Eliff, had assumed a godlike identity; the other, Udrig, imprisoned beneath the polar ice cap, was branded as the evil one―the would-be destroyer of the planet.
Unknown to himself, Teron of Korv was the key to their conflict. If he could meet the right girl, the noble Eldra the Seventh, and if they could combine their powers―the fight would be resolved.
Against that meeting worked Udrig’s human agents, certain that the legends were wrong and Udrig was truly the Good One. In favor of the meeting was Eldra herself and the mysterious forces of the orbiting Eliff.
Guardians of the Gate is a space adventure reminiscent of the questing of Tolkien, the legendry of Merritt, and the action of Andre Norton.
This cover sure is butt heavy. That’s a prominent butt. There’s also sideboob, but there’s also a faint possibility of nipple there. I’m not totally certain. I don’t want anybody to catch me looking quite so hard at an illustrated naked woman being tortured. I think the dude climbing the stairs is also naked, but I have issues with how his buttcrack is depicted.
There are very few naked people in this book. None of them are tortured or thrown into a dungeon. Yes, there is a dungeon. Only one person is thrown into that dungeon, and he is not naked. He does not swing his mighty chains while climbing the stairs. That is actually is a complete reversal of the way our hero works in this book. There are no alligator lizards. The only thing about this cover that is accurate to the text of the book is that there is a guard or soldier or whatever. And that’s…iffy.
What we’ve got here is a fantasy novel that my roommate found in the science fiction section. To be fair, there’s some stuff in the back cover matter that certainly suggests science fiction. The word orbit shows up once, for instance, as does planet.
Plus there’s the fact that the words space adventure are fairly prominent, but then those very words are placed quite close to the word Tolkien. Somebody, somewhere, didn’t know what this book was about at all.
I can understand that our authors might have been a little annoyed at this.
Said authors are Louis and Jacquelyn Trimble. Jacquelyn seems to have only one credit to her name, which is this book. Louis, on the other hand, was prolific, albeit mostly outside of science fiction. I wonder what led to this wife-husband collaboration. My guess is that she got out of the shower one day with the idea for the book and figured since her husband was a writer they could work on it together. Or maybe she decided to have a stab at writing and the publishers felt that having an established writer’s name on the cover would help sales. Or, more cynically but more likely, they felt that having a man’s name on the cover would help sales.
Teron of Korv is our protagonist. He’s a “spellmaker,” although I’m not entirely sure what that’s supposed to mean. His father is the court “spellman” of Korv, a title that will pass down to Teron’s older brother. As the second son, Teron is relegated to being a spellmaker, which also means that he is highly literate. He knows a lot about the various legends of the planet, but most notably the Song of Vacor and Eldra, a prominent piece of mythology that is the main focus of the story.
Teron’s an interesting character. He’s a skeptic, leaning toward agnostic. A bit that endeared the book to me featured him thinking something along the lines of how he’d always put weird phenomena down to a rational explanation: magic.
Armed with lots of knowledge and something called a spellstaff, Teron gets into this well-written but not-super-original adventure. First, he meets this old man who says he has a special destiny and that he needs to meet Eldra, the Seventh. Now, normally you’d think that Eldra’s name means that there have been six other Eldras and that she’s nobility and named after them. I assumed that at first, but it turns out that “the Seventh” is a title. Eldra is the fortieth Seventh, which is not confusing at all.
It turns out that the title passes to every seventh child along a specific bloodline. I feel like passing that title along would get pretty complicated after several generations, but nobody seems to have a problem with it, so I’ll go with it.
Prophesy says that Teron and Eldra have to be “joined” so that they can both fully manifest their powers. This is a prophecy that Eldra believes in quite strongly. Teron is skeptical. He had no idea that he was supposed to be the target of the prophecy, for one thing. He doesn’t think much of himself in this regard. After all, someone like his father or brother, full-on spellmen, would be much more appropriate to save the world.
Being “joined” means just about what you think it does. Eldra and Teron get married rather quickly, and later they have to do the Horizontal Cotton-Eyed Joe. What interested me was that they didn’t immediately get down to business, even though gettin’ it on is what leads directly to saving the world. Eldra states that this will come in time, once Teron truly believes.
There are some scenes that show the two of them coming together emotionally, mostly as Teron grows to believe in the power of Eliff and Udrig, the two deity-things that the story hinges on. Eldra is supposed to have magic powers, like making it rain and stuff, but thus far her powers have yet to manifest. She’s following all the right instructions, but nothing’s happening. She thinks that she’s flawed somehow. It’s Teron who states that maybe there’s something wrong with the instructions. He gives a long talk about how poetry, even sacred poetry, can change with culture and time period. He recites to her the poem as he knows it, which allows her to change the procedure a little bit. Sure enough, she makes it rain. It’s pretty sweet.
Directly after that, they get captured by the bad guys. There’s an evil nation called Fenn, run by Davok, who is also evil. It turns out that Davok is just greedy and the real evil is behind the throne, a wizard named Korox. Korox wants to free Udrig, a likewise evil and powerful entity that is trapped beneath the ice cap, called the Whitelands. The back of the book makes it sound like Korox is convinced that Udrig is the good deity, unjustly imprisoned, but the text itself does not suggest this. It seems that Korox just wants power and thinks that he can control Udrig. Everybody else thinks that freeing the entity will destroy the world.
I think I would have been more impressed by a story where the back of the book was accurate and it turns out that all the religions and legends of this planet were false and that the bad guy was actually the good guy. I think this makes for a better story. As it is, it turns out that the story is pretty standard. Well-written, but nothing too surprising.
Getting captured seems to be the best thing that can happen to our duo since the MacGuffin they need has been previously captured by the bad guys. To fully manifest their powers, something I thought hinged more on going to bonetown, Teron and Eldra need to get hold of the original copy of the Song of Vacor and Eldra, which has a part in it that no one has yet been able to translate and put to use. Eldra (the current one, not the one from the poem) is under the impression that Teron can figure out what’s going on in that part and save the world.
What surprised me most about this book was that the gender politics were not all that bad. Mostly I expected that Teron would do all the work while Eldra kept getting kidnapped or something. This was not the case. The two of them work together as a team, mostly via the fact that their powers enhance one another’s. Eldra has her own abilities, which she uses, and Teron has his own, mostly in that he has this spellstaff that apparently only shoots laser beams. They each have contributions to the adventure and the fact that they couldn’t have made those contributions without the other―albeit with some kind of mystical synergy thing going on―is really quite sweet considering this book was written by a husband and wife team.
Teron’s contributions to the plot are also interesting because he’s not a typical sword-and-sorcery kind of hero. His chosen path in life, apart from being whatever a spellmaker is, is as a traveling entertainer. He does illusionary magic shows in a world that actually has magic. He’s a sort of Houdini figure. This knowledge allows him to escape from dungeons and bindings and all sorts of different things throughout the narrative. He’s also got some kind of a code, though, which means he doesn’t kill people unless he himself is in mortal danger.
That kind of story hook is interesting to me because generally it only serves to limit the main character and keep the story from ending too early. Sure, it’s also nice to know that the hero has some kind of morality, but in the end the whole thing is so ill-defined that it only means that at this particular moment he can’t just kill everybody and run away. There are so many times that Teron could have said “Yeah, I think my life is in danger” and then spellstaffed some people to death, but he never does. Take the ending, for instance. The evil Korox is trying to unleash the even more evil Udrig on the world. Teron’s life is definitely in danger there, as is everyone else’s. And all it would take is like half a second of laser to end the threat. Does Teron do it? Nope! He expositions us about how he can only do that if he’s about to die. Well, guess what, Teron?
The story progresses through the standard evil castle stuff with dungeons and all that. Teron tries to convince Davok that Korox is trying to usurp the throne. This technically works, seeing as how Korox does usurp the throne and Davok has to go “Oh, yeah, I guess you were right” and joins the party.
The trio goes to the frigid northlands, where they meet the titular Guardians of the Gate. They are standard-issue frigid northlands people from lots of fantasy works. Namely, they’re very tall, fair-haired, muscular people with names like Inge. There’s also one named Skoog, which is just one of those names I can’t take seriously. This book is full of names like that.
There are also some weird turns of phrase. Nobody says “days.” Once or twice the concept comes up, and the person says “I give you two of Zarza’s turns on its axis for you to make your decision.”
In case you’re wondering, Zarza is the name of the planet. It circles a star named Zarz. This can be compared to the fact that humans on Earth named their sun Eart.
There are some trials in the frozen northlands but the trio manages to get to Korox before he opens the gate and let Udrig out. Eliff, Udrig’s good counterpart, sends some help.
Actually Eliff sends help several times throughout the book, which leads to some real deus ex machina moments. These are rarely overt acts of power; they’re most like inspirations. At one point Teron is just staring out a window wondering what to do, so he prays to Eliff for a moment, and then boom, the plan of action is in his head. I groaned a little at that.
Teron uses his spellstaff and shoots at Udrig’s prison and lets the thing out. Eliff has some angel-things hanging around, called liffi, which Udrig starts to chase. Apparently Udrig needs to eat things that are good. The liffi lead Udrig into space, where Eliff destroys him.
That paragraph made my spellchecker explode.
If Eliff can destroy Udrig, why was it imprisoned in the first place? I guess you could argue that Udrig was weakened by its long imprisonment or whatever. That makes sense, but still, this bothered me.
The book ends with some celebration. The last bit was, again, pretty sweet, since it had Eldra roll over in bed and ask her husband if he wants to do the thang, to which he responds something like “We just saved the world. It can wait until tomorrow.”
So this book didn’t have a lot going for it that was original or neat or whatever. It was another strictly mediocre fantasy thing, based a little too heavily on Tolkien but without a lot of the imaginative world-building that Tolkien used. To be fair, J.R.R. had three massive volumes to fill with his Elven linguistics and so forth, whereas this book was about 150 pages of paperback. Still, the authors tried. We get a lot of verse in this book. Something about the way I read means that I skip those bits. I think I’ve heard other people say similar things about reading fantasy. Songs and poems are skippable, mostly because they tend to be pretty bad in the first place. Lots of prose writers are not also lyricists. I’m not sure if I can name a writer who adds poetry to a book and just nails it.
Still, the book was largely inoffensive. Nothing got me especially mad. If anything came close, it was the fact that the book was poorly edited, something I can’t pin on the authors. There were a lot of commas missing in obvious places (and anybody with an eye for grammar who reads my reviews will likely see my own disdain for commas), questions that didn’t end in question marks, and so forth. Teron’s name was misspelled on the last page of the book. Little things like that.
I can’t say I’d recommend the book to anybody who hasn’t got a massive affection for the sort of book that it was. If you’re jonesing for some decent fantasy that doesn’t really add much new to the canon, give it a go, I guess. This wasn’t my kind of book, but I can’t argue that it was bad.