Tuesday, July 01, 2008

"Spirit Gate" by Kate Elliott

Why I read it: A few weeks ago I read a "Big Idea" by Kate Elliott, I think to announce "Shadow Gate", the second book in the series, on www.whatever.com. In the piece, she said the idea for eagle reeves came from her husband, who is a cop, and a really crappy ABBA song. I was, of course hooked.

What I loved: The world seemed really non-European to me -- very, I don't know, Chinese maybe. The Qin might be like Mongols, and the Sirniakan Empire might be the middle kingdom, I don't know. The people aren't blond. There aren't elves or fairies, but demons and gods.

I loved that the author let me feel smart. She never told me, but let me guess what Kesh's treasure was, and then have a self-satisfied glow when I found out. She didn't say where Bai had been, but let me guess, and again turn out to be right. Characters have nicknames and I get to figure it out on my own. In fact, when a character is listening to other people he doesn't know, that character will give those characters descriptive names. I really liked that. The author gets into the heads of each of the POV characters' heads really well.

Also, I was describing the way the reeve halls were set up, and it seemed the way you might set up, say the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police). People are transferred in and out of different bases, but it's not ideal, and if the command is bad in one, then it will attract bad people, and the like. I say the OPP, because it's more far-flung than, say, the Metro Toronto Police force. The distances between the halls seem important to me, because it means communication is limited.

What I hated: Sometimes when I read a book, I find it too stressful and have to put it down. The tension gets built up, and I need a release. This book, especially in the Joss sections, had a lot of tension. But I found it bled off quickly (the fevered nature of it) and I appreciated that. There was only one time that I had to flip ahead to make sure I wasn't going to be left hanging too long. (Some books I've started reading, I've abandoned because I don't feel any resolution coming to relieve the stress. Ed and the boy have both called dibs on reading this next--I guess the eagle reeve concept drew them in too--so I was obligated to finish.)

Also, book one of seven?!? Ugh. And only two are out.

What I can steal: There was a moment when Joss was casually thinking about his eagle choosing a new reeve if he should die in this sticky situation (page 259, for anyone keeping score), and he said "preferably someone with a better personality than the Snake." I loved this. Joss the character doesn't like the Snake, but he hasn't really been thinking about the Snake for pages. He's been thinking, rather, about his current investigation. It was such a human moment that really made the character seem alive. And the book was littered with moments like that, tossed off phrases that were so in the voice of the character. They all saw the world through their own lens, and we readers can see the flaws that get them there. That's the way real people's minds work -- the petty antagonisms rise to the surface.

I really liked it, too, when Horas was put in charge of a mission, and everyone else was waiting for him to tell them what to do, and in his own mind, he was thinking they were just going to blame him for whatever went wrong afterward, no matter what he decided. Sure, to some degree that was true, but really, they were waiting for him to lead, because he was supposed to be leading. It wasn't malice at all.

I suppose this isn't so much stealing, as learning from someone who I think builds really good characters.

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