I’ve talked before about the trouble I’ve had finishing series, especially since I became a librarian and book blogger. There are just so many series to try! This book is the last in the series I was feeling most guilty about not finishing, since Kate was kind enough to comment that the last book wasn’t as difficult as the second. It still took over a year to get to it both because the series is heavy and because I knew I’d have to set aside two to three weeks to get through it.
Traitors’ Gate. Crossroads Trilogy Book 3. by Kate Elliott. Tor, 2009.
This is the third book in the trilogy and therefore, spoilers for the first book are inevitable. In the first book, Spirit Gate the land of the Hundred was regulated between the reeves riding the giant eagles who chose them and the temples of the various gods. Everything used to be overseen by the Guardians, but no one has seen the Guardians in generations. Now they have been sighted again – but instead of bringing increased order, they are laying waste to the kingdom, burning, raping, pillaging, and overturning the temples of the gods. Our large cast of characters from inside and outside the kingdom attempts to bring order to the situation, all for their own reasons and with slightly different end goals. In the second book, <em>Shadow Gate</em> (very broadly summarizing), there were a few victories and a large number of defeats. Now in the third book, the tide finally seems to be turning in our allies’ favor – but this also serves to highlight the differences in their approaches and the need for a consolidated approach.
Here are just a few of the many things going on: Keshad, the slave who bought himself and his sister out of slavery, travels with Eliar of the minority Ri Amarah, to neighboring Sirniaken to spy for Captain Anji, who needs the Sirniakens to acknowledge his right to a peaceful life in the Hundred. Things do not go as planned. Meanwhile, Keshad’s sister Zubaidit, a trained assassin of the Merciless One, is undercover in the evil Star of Life army, where we meet our first relatively honest Star of Life character, Captain Arras. Captain Anji’s wife Mai (probably my favorite character) continues her work trying to integrate the Qin men into the life of the Hundred. Her life now is woven through with the needs of her nursing baby – a rare and beautiful depiction of this stage of motherhood in a working mother’s life. Mai is shaken to her core by the arrival of her mother-in-law, trained to ruthlessness in the Sirniaken court. We are introduced to some of the non-human intelligent beings of the Hundred: wildlings, firelings, and demons.
Larger themes look at the big picture: if some of the Guardians are corrupt, does that mean they should all be done away with? Can there be a true religion, and what does it mean for its future if religion can be corrupted and used for evil? We also look at the impact of the Qin on the culture of the Hundred, bringing order and peace on the one hand, but also military rule, much more limited roles for women, and intolerance for homosexuality. Overall, this final entry in the series, while not what you’d call easy, gentle reading, is much less violent than the first two. (Warning: still a couple of babies killed in front of us.) There’s so much going on that you really need to read the other two first, but this is more of plus for the fans of deep, complex fantasy that the series is aimed at. The ending is complicated, heartbreaking with a little sweet, but ultimately hopeful. Ultimately, the investment in time and emotional energy that reading the Crossroads Trilogy requires is well worth it.
[edited to include the name of the second book in the series 8/19/14]