Cherryh is the best writer of this sort of adventure tale since C.L. Moore and Leigh Bracket…Any reader who is willing to become lost in an alternate reality will find much to enjoy

NO MAJOR SPOILERS

The Gates – portals constructed by a long-extinct alien race that allow navigation across time and space. A deadly threat to the people who use them, the worlds they lead to and, ultimately, the very fabric of the spacetime continuum.

Morgaine – beautiful, otherworldly. She travels through the gates, closing them behind her in a vain, endless and fatal bid to save civilisation.

Vanye – disgraced warrior. His only hope of honour and salvation is to betray his kin and protect his liege-lady.

The Chronicles of Morgaine is the oldest, tattiest, most worn out and dogeared book on my shelf. I own a 1986 edition – bought new – and it has survived about six house moves, numerous car-boot-sale culls and a protracted period in a cardboard box in a loft sometime during the 1990’s. It is the most re-read of any of my books and, over the last 25 or so years it has done faithful service as a sort of literary comfort-food, a paperback rice pudding, if you will.

Now that all of my reading is done on a Kindle, this is the book that reminds me what reading a paper book feels and smells like. When I have replaced all of my paper books with electronic ones, THIS is the one, held together with strata of yellowing sellotape, that will remain on the shelf, defiantly paperiferous.

I really love the story. It is a collection of three books, “Gate of Ivrel”, Well of Shiuan” and “Fires of Azeroth”. From the title and cover art you might be forgiven for thinking this is a bit of a sword & sandal, Conan & Sonja saga – nothing like it! It owes far more to Arthurian legend (and with a fair dose of Lord of the Rings) than anything and there isn’t a bulging loincloth to be found.

What more to be said? the plot is long and linear, based as it is around Morgaine’s ill-fated quest and Vanye’s struggle with his oath of fealty to her. There are battles and betrayals, pursuits and travails aplenty, and none of it matters. Once you “get it” you realise that the *real* story is about the developing relationship, uneasy and unwilling at first, between the two protagonists; the fey, unpredictable and beautiful Morgaine and her faithful warrior servant, young, persistent and deeply flawed Vanye.

To say much more would spoil it, but the development of these two characters and how they interact (which culminates in a sequel “Exile’s Gate” is what makes this story what it is. Until you realise that you may find that it drags terribly because there’s a lot more “jaw jaw” than “war war”. After a couple of abortive first attempts, I fell in love with the story and (as a greying 40 something I blush to admit…) with Morgaine.

I only wish Cherryh had written a few more of these, but she never did. While Chronicles can be bought new, Exile is out of print and can only be found second-hand.

 

Reviewed by:

Campbell McAulay

Added 22nd July 2015

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Campbell McAulay