Gate to Kandrith
I’ve always found the fantasy romance genre pretty iffy. The great romances often suffer in the worldbuilding. If it’s a big, meaty fantasy, the romance often plays second fiddle. But sometimes the two combine perfectly and the result is sublime. Gate to Kandrith is just a little removed from this ideal because of a couple of aspects I found distasteful, but is still a successful melding of the fantasy and romance genres.
The Republic of Temboria is a powerful nation that practices slavery in all levels of their society. At the pinnacle of this society is the new Primus, Lord Remillus, father of the heroine, Sarathena (Sara). On Temboria’s border is a small country called Kandrith, home to escaped slaves and incomprehensible magic, which exchanges members of the rulers’ families as peace hostages with Temboria. Sara accepts her role of hostage gladly, because she desperately wants to avoid the marriage that’s been arranged for her, and because it’s a way to make amends for a hoydenish adventure that nearly bankrupted her family. Her role as peace-keeper is jeopardized from the outset, though, when her father commands her to find the secret of the slave magic and escape back to Temboria with the information.
The hero, Lance, is the son of the ruler of Kandrith. As the son of an abused slave and a previous slave himself, he hates all nobles, but has to travel with Sara to get her to Kandrith, where Sara will trade places with Lance’s sister. Having already saved Sara from a near rape by her erstwhile suitor, Lance feels that traveling with Sara and her retinue will be trying, and is unfortunately proven right again and again. Sara’s actions during their many adventures prove to Lance how unlike his former owner Sara is, and he reluctantly gives in to the deepening attraction between them.
Like many of you, I can plow right through a book, especially if it seems there’s nothing really new offered. This one, though, kept me absorbed for a couple of days, and when it was over I still thought about it. There is a lot to like. The backstory is very detailed, with history and religion, customs, geography, even down to the food that was eaten. There is danger almost everywhere, especially due to the assassins dispatched from another region to kill Sara before she can reach Kandrith, and in treachery by her own people. The story sucks you in and doesn’t let you go, all the way to the last few pages, where the stage is set for a sequel and one of the best “I love you ” moments that I’ve ever read occurs.
Lance was a problem for me. He’s not a beta hero, thank goodness, but he does spend a lot of time in a weakened condition. He’s always sick. Arthritis, asthma, rashes, and fevers plague him throughout the entire book. There is a good explanation for it all, but I found myself becoming impatient with his various impairments, especially when they kept him from being the hero that he wanted to be. Sara, however, should get votes for kick-ass heroine. She’s skilled without being mannish, makes huge personal sacrifices for her country and her loved ones, and experiences a major shift in her preconceived notions with barely a whimper. She makes a good match for Lance, who spends his life healing others.
I found the degree of violence in the book off-putting. People lose hands and eyes and other body parts, get raped and almost-raped, and in one spectacular instance a beheading is described by the person being beheaded, down to the things the still-living head sees and feels. Gross.
Still, somehow, this book works.