Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Limbreth Gate - Megan Lindholm

I've reached the third volume in my rereads of Megan Lindholm's Ki and Vandien Quartet. Lindholm's work under this pseudonym is very diverse but the Ki and Vandien novels are more or less straightforward fantasy. A secondary world with a long, largely unknown history, lots of different sentient races, magic and divine creatures. All the ingredients are present. They are pretty focussed on the characters that give the series its name however. No huge cast of secondary characters and countless side plots. They are very efficiently written in a way. Each book is a complete story, there are no major cliffhangers or unresolved questions; it is the relationship between Ki and Vandien is what ties these books together. In short, a very different style of fantasy than the books written under the Robin Hobb pseudonym. One of the great mysteries for the reader is how a person can adopt two completely different styles and stay sane I suppose. It is something that has always intrigued me about Lindholm/Hobb.

In her pursuit of cargo to haul, Ki has left the areas she is familiar with and ended up in the town of Jojorum. Vandien is with her on this occasion and after their business is conducted they enjoy the markets of the town. They split up do each do some shopping of their own and agree to meet in a tavern in town. It becomes clear that the place is not very welcoming to Romni teamsters however and Ki feels forced to leave before nightfall. What Ki doesn't know is that Vandien is being deliberately delayed by a group of Windsingers, a weather controling magical order they have clashed with in the previous book. Ki is forced to leave without him and by the time Vandien realizes she is gone, Ki has been tricked into leaving the city thought the Limbreth Gate. A gate that not only leads out of town, but into another realm. Ki is in mortal danger. It is up to Vandien to find a way to reach her and draw her back to her own world.

This novel sheds a bit of light on Ki's own past. In Harpy's Flight (1983) she is depicted as being accepted in the Romni community but not quite a part of it. A number reasons are given in the first book. She married an outsider for instance and her refusal to give herself over to the mourning rituals of her people are another. Those are clearly not story and  in The Limbreth Gate more reasons are revealed. It also explains the interest of the Windsingers and the wizard Dresh in Ki, both of whom play a part in the story. The political intrigue inside the Windsingers' council is another element central to the plot. Ki's actions in The Windsingers (1984) has put her on the bad side of a faction within the council. For a group with considerable power they can be extremely petty (as well as arrogant) but it must be said that some them are not entirely without mercy.

What this novel does more than the previous two volumes, is expose feelings and doubts in the main character. The creature that uses the Limbreth Gate to create a connection between the two worlds is starving for new experiences, having long since tired of being god in a realm that contains only its own presence. In the process it consumes the unfortunate person being drawn through the gate. It is an idea that Robin Hob would later use in the Farseer trilogy, where Veritas' dragon empties him of all experiences and emotions. The Limbreth is a hungry creature, deceptively reasonable and tempting as a Siren. Ki cannot help open up to it and it exposes things about her relationship with Vandien that until now remained unspoken.

The way the relationship between Ki and Vandien develops is one of the things I like most about these novels. They hurt each other badly sometimes, in this case they can't help but doing so, but they always manage to turn it into a step forward.
        He could not smile at her. The relationship so carefully built seemed crumbled; he dared no longer trust the weight of his heart to it. "it is more than that," he said heavily. "It is not going to be the same between us."
     Ki looked deep into his eyes, troubled by what she saw there. "The same as what? When was it ever the same between us, from day to day? When did we ever want it to be?"

Ki and Vandien discussing how to move on - Chapter Twenty-One.
Lindholm has never been easy on her characters and Ki and Vandien certainly get their share of misfortune and heartbreak. Their experiences in the Limbreth realm are traumatic but not enough to shake them loose from each other. I've read a lot of comments by people who don't like this book as much as the others because Ki is not herself for most of the story. Personally, I think she shows herself even stronger than we could have suspected from the previous two volumes.

Vandien's struggles are depicted in a very different way. He has been trying not to ask more of Ki than she is willing to give and in this novel, he runs up against the limitations of that approach. Under the influence of the Limbreth's visions she wants to put their relationship behind her and Vandien has to overcome his impulse to leave her be. Lindholm uses a hird character to embody Vandien's more ruthless thoughts. The half Brujan Hollyika is a woman of action. Blunt, forceful and living for the moment, she seizes what she desires without debating feelings or morality. Hollyika does what Vandien can't make himself do, exposing some severe doubts about his relationship with Ki. I've been thinking about whether or not this makes Ki the stronger of the two but when you get right down to it, they both need someone to pull out of the mess they find themselves in. Vandien might consider that the next time he feels inadequate. I guess it just makes them human.

Maybe this third book in the quartet is the most difficult to appreciate. In terms of structure and emotional charge it is the best of the quartet so far I think but definitely a more challenging read than the previous two. Lindholm is clearly progressing as a writer over the course of this series. Something that can be seen in the final volume, Luck of the Wheels (1989), as well. Ki and Vandien remain two of Lindhom's most intriguing creations and I am very much enjoying to way in which she develops these characters. The Limbreth Gate made me want to reach for the next one immediately after finishing it. Unfortunately there is a to read stack to consider though, it will have to wait its turn. I will try to read and review that book before the year is out and wrap up this series.

Book Details
Title: The Limbreth Gate
Author: Megan Lindholm
Publisher: Voyager
Pages: 360
Year: 2002
Language: English
Format: Mass Market Paperback
ISBN: 0-00-711254-8
First published: 1984

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