(2017) Ian Irvine, Orbit, £14.99, trdpbk, 575pp, ISBN 978-0-356-50523-7
The Fatal Gate is book two of Ian Irvine's 'Gates of Good and Evil 'series and the series itself is a sequel to the 'View from the Mirror' quartet. You don't need to read the previous series, but you do need to have read book one, The Summon Stone, to fully appreciate this one. The story then continues in book three.
For anyone new to Irvine's writing, I have to warn you that his novels tend to be very dark fantasy. I am not sure of the exact definition of 'grimdark', but his books tend to be darker than some given this definition. You expect the protagonist to be tortured by enemies; in an Irvine novel you expect them to be tortured by their friends.
This book is no exception to the above. It is the ongoing saga of Karan and Llian trying to save their world from an invasion of an advanced race from the void. The invaders this time are the Medrun, who have no world of their own and are not planning to share when they get one. Their eyes are set on the old human world Santhenar and the fact that it is already occupied is merely an inconvenience to them.
The Fatal Gate and the previous volume are weighty tombs, the sheer size of the books might put a reader off, but the action and plot moves along quickly, so you find the chapters flying past.
The different races in the books can be confusing; perhaps this is where knowledge from the first series would help? Old humans, Charon, Whelm, Aachim, Faellem, Zain, the definitions and relation to each other can be bewildering and each characters heritage influences their attitude as well as their access to magic. If you are happy to accept that a character holds a particular view without knowing the reason, then you do not need this. If you like to understand all the detail then there is plenty of depth to be considered.
The themes in the books are very much about choices and loyalty. Who would you betray to defend the ones you love? What would you give up to defend your world from invasion? Your life, your relationship, your child? Karan and Lliam are repeatedly given hard choices; do you send your husband to the woman who wants him if it gives you a chance to access the knowledge you need, knowing she will demand a price? Do you send your child to a strange people who might hurt and betray her if it keeps her alive? Do you steal from your friends and set back the mission to save the world if it saves your child? Then of course you have to deal with the consequences of those decisions. Who will pay the price?
Perhaps the stark choices in this fiction remind us to value the things and people that we have and be grateful that we frequently do not have to choose. Perhaps in all of the darkness of this world, we see the warmth of love that carries the characters through it all and maybe we see that in our own lives too. Maybe, it is only in the darkest of nights that a candle can light up a room.
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