Gate to Kandrith is the exceedingly long tale of Sara and Lance, two children of rulers of opposing countries, Temboria and Kandrith, respectively. Well, "opposing countries" is being kind of generous. "The children of rulers of one tiny refugee country and the heavily militarized one surrounding it on all sides" would probably be more accurate.
The summary pretty much says it all - Sara's father asks her to discover the secrets of the Kandrithian's magic, which is the only reason they haven't been invaded and trampled out of existence. She opts to go the seduction route with Lance. As this is a romance, they're contractually obligated to fall in love, eventually. Shenanigans ensue.
This is one of those books whose plot it would take weeks to recount in full. 300-someodd pages isn't usually a big deal, but the sheer amount of stuff that happened in Kandrith makes it hard to remember it all. Basically, Sara is asked to be a spy, but there are these Qiph guys who chase after and want to kill her, but then she gets to Kandrith and they're like LOL U DON'T KNOW Y UR REALLY HERE, DO U?, and then we're off to see the Kandrith, and you think it's going to end there, but nope, then there's a war, and then we have to go back to Temboria and rescue the new Kandrith to end the war, but shenanigans, and then the book just sort of stops, and you can't really call it a cliffhanger... It's more like a good dividing point, so one extremely long book can be made into two shorter ones.
At any rate, the ultimate objective changes constantly based on each new plot development, and where we end up is about forty plot twists away from where we began. New objectives are added even in the last hundred pages or so. I ended up grimly eying the page count, wondering exactly where the story was going and when/if we were going to get a boss fight, and then we hit the last twenty pages and it's like "Ah, okay, there it is. Cutting it a little close, aren't we?"
Which isn't to say that the book itself is particularly tedious. Normally I'd call this kind of plot line wandering, but it's more...hyper-efficient? The book accomplishes a task, and then quickly replaces it with a new one; subplots are resolved before we hit the halfway point, and more are picked up along the way. Characters shift from enemy to ally and back again, and it's all really only tied together by virtue of being part of these characters' journey. It's not exactly can't-put-it-down compelling, and it's difficult to build any sort of dramatic tension when the stakes are constantly in flux, but I was never particularly bored, either, and the twists never felt especially arbitrary.
Gate to Kandrith's real draw, however, is most definitely the world that Luiken has built for it. Nearly as much time is devoted to exploring, defining, and developing different aspects of Kandrith, Temboria, and their respective mythologies as is spent on plot, and Luiken does a rather masterful job of creating a world that is both familiar and totally alien at the same time.
In fact, that was one of the more confusing aspects - I'm still not entirely sure whether Gate to Kandrith is supposed to take place in a fantasy world, an alternate history, an alien planet, or hell, even a dystopian future. Temboria is essentially ancient Rome, that much is obvious, but the details in the mythology are different. Temborians worship different gods, names and titles differ, and, y'know, magic is literal and tangible. It could as easily be a Roman-esque civilization on a faraway planet as it could be Rome itself.
But that ambiguity aside, the world of Kandrith is interesting, even unique. From the temples of the gods in Temboria, the sacrificial magic of Kandrith, to the scenery, there's a lot of detail in here that allows the world to feel very real, not to mention massive. This particular installment involves characters from not one, but three different unfamiliar cultures in its story, and there is passing mention of a few others. More than that, the cultures are significantly different - each set of characters has a different philosophical make-up, a different drive, and more than usual, you really feel that this is an entire world Luiken's building, not just a country, city, or culture. Though it's not, er, without problematic issues.
For starters, I was a little troubled by the portrayal of the Qiph warriors...
Read the full review at You're Killing.Us