I found Kate Elliott's "Spirit Gate" to be a well written story, with great character development, but which took a little too long getting nowhere. With this in mind, seeing the sheer size of the second in the series was nearly enough to put me off.
Marit is sure she is dead, as she distinctly remembers being stabbed and her eagle is dead, which usually means death for a reeve. However, she is wandering around and all the evidence points to her not only being dead but also being a Guardian, one of nine who used to rule The Hundred. But they are all supposedly dead as well, which makes no sense to her. Worse, one of the others seems to be Lord Iliyas of Radat, the man she is sure was responsible for her death.
Like Marit, some of the other Guardians are coming to their own realisations of their situations and who they are. Some have taken on the knowledge and the role quite well, but others are disturbed by memories of their past lives and struggle to adapt. It soon becomes clear to Marit that not all of the other Guardians are fighting for true justice, but for control of The Hundred and the people and this is another struggle she must involve herself in.
Meanwhile, life amongst the human occupants of The Hundred is recovering from the events of "Spirit Gate". Joss is now marshal of Argent Hall and is trying to rebuild it after the reign of Marshal Yordenas. This is a more difficult task than he first thought, as he needs to find new reeves to replace those killed in the battles. Meanwhile, the Qin are looking to settle in The Hundred; making claims to wives and land and Olossi is in the process of being rebuilt after the battle against the raiders from the North. Meanwhile, these raiders may have lost the battle, but they haven't given up on the war and are regrouping for another try.
If it all sounds pretty confusing, that's largely because it is. This is the second part in what is supposedly a seven book series and Elliott jumps straight in on the assumption that you'll have read the opening part. This means that if you haven't read the opening part, you'll be struggling to know what's going on, as everything follows on from events in that book and there is very little recounting of those events to help the new reader.
Even as someone who had read the opening part, however, I was struggling to keep up at times, because Elliott frequently jumps between characters and time frames with very little explanation. The opening section has a couple of false starts which made me a little dizzy and there was a long section later on where she moved onto a character's back story with no explanation. It wasn't until nearly the end that everything came together and I knew which character's story it was, which was a shame as it was a tragic tale and written well enough that I could have become completely immersed in it, except that I never stopped wondering which character's story it was, which never allowed me to relax and enjoy it to the full.
I didn't feel that the pacing of the story was quite right for parts of the book, which didn't help the story along. Whereas the Guardians were constantly moving and the Northern armies were preparing, the people of Olossi were recovering and rebuilding and these bits were slow and lacking in action by comparison. This wasn't always true, but these sections did take the edge off the story a little and I felt it interrupted the flow in many parts, even though later events proved that these sections were essential in building the bigger picture; not just in this book, but for the whole series.
Regardless of the pacing, parts of the story show Kate Elliott at her best. Her strength is in her characters and how well drawn they are. Admittedly, in the large Northern army some of the soldiers blend together a little, but for all the essential characters, they are so individually drawn that there is no danger of getting any of them mixed up; even in the cast of hundreds she has here. Her way of describing features isn't the best, but she describes feelings so well that at one point, I honestly believed I knew how it felt to be pregnant, which is impossible.
The ending shocked me slightly, as well. The book kind of petered out and it almost seemed to pause, rather than to end. However, there was a bit right near the end which took me quite by surprise. Just when I was starting to wonder how on earth the story in its current form could last for seven books, she threw in a new development which could well provide its own story arc and help keep the intrigue high. On one page, I was thinking that the next book could turn out to be rather dull, then on the next I was suddenly looking forward to it.
I found the book to be a bit of a slog, even compared to the first one. However, I also found it to contain some wonderful moments and some characters I could really care about. On balance, I didn't think the story as a whole was entrancing enough to make it worth the slog, but the ending and the characters almost did. However, with a best price of £5.99 from the Amazon Marketplace, they're not quite good enough to make this book worth a purchase at this stage. Had there been a more even pace or if some of the slower parts had been left out, this would have been a much better read, but as it stands it felt a bit like filler to prop up a larger story. How essential reading, or purchasing, this book is will depend entirely on how good the series as a whole turns out to be.
This is a slightly amended version of a review which has previously appeared under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk