Monday, May 25, 2009
The Labyrinth Gate
The Labyrinth Gate / Alis A. Rasmussen
New York: Baen, c1988.
I love this book! I've just reread it; according to my records that makes it 12 times now. It's generally about a once a year read. :)
It tells us the tale of Sanjay Mukerji and Chryse Lissagaray, newly married and on the way to their hotel from their wedding reception, when they look at what they believe is a wedding gift -- an elaborate set of tarot cards. In the elevator up from the parking garage, Chryse drops the cards and immediately the power goes out. They gather together the cards in the dark and then they slowly realize that the elevator door is now mysteriously a heavy wooden door. Pushing it open, they arrive in St. Christobal of the Gates, a church in the town of Heffield, in the country of Anglia. This is an alternate world reminiscent of England, but a matriarchal one and full of magic. The tarot deck they possess is a powerful one, known in this world as The Gates. (Rasmussen includes an appendix describing the appearance and the magickal correspondences of each card).
Sanjay and Chryse stumble out into a working class riot, and are rescued by two slumming aristocrats, Julian and his trouser-clad friend Kate. Going home with them, they begin a journey through this strange land, looking for a way home. They develop deep friendships, become embroiled in a political conspiracy, find a new direction for their lives, and yes, eventually discover a way home.
The story is brilliantly constructed: the labyrinth is a major symbol in the book and the story itself spirals inward, creating more complexity as it goes. There are some marvellous characters -- Julian and Kate who rescue Sanjay and Chryse in the beginning, and Julian's Aunt Letitia, a mage in her own right. The Regent, Princess Blessa, is scary and obsessive and a great villain. The entire company of fellow travellers is introduced as Sanjay and Chryse, Julian and Kate, all join an archaeological expedition to find the fabled city of Pariam. We meet Professor Farr, absent minded archaeologist (for whom Sanjay has begun working as secretary), his daughter Maretha and niece Charity; common labourer and overseer Thomas Southern; and the notorious, disreputable yet immensely handsome sorcerer, the Earl of Elam, whose price for funding the expedition is marriage to the virginal Maretha. (Maretha is one of my favourite characters and seeing her come into her own as the story develops is something I enjoy each time I read it.) The quest for the labyrinth city of Pariam, fabled city of The Daughter (a goddess) draws the attention of the Regent and of the Earl; it holds a secret treasure of great power which both of these magicians desire. Sanjay and Chryse have also been told by another mage, Madame Sosostris, that this treasure will lead them home. The stage is set for grand adventure and romance, and that's what the story delivers.
The world-building is excellent; the matriarchal nature of this parallel society is reinforced by toss-off comments about Anne Shakespeare and a female Bach. The structure is based on the deck of Gates; each chapter is named for a card and the world's magic is based within the archaic images on the cards, drawn from the distant past when the rites of Pariam were ascendant. There is an interior logic which holds and all the elements of the action are carefully considered. There is a wonderful reversal near the end which makes perfect sense once you've read it but it is not telegraphed beforehand. Even so, the thing that keeps me coming back to this book is, first, the wonderful magic in this world, but even more so the amazing characters. I love Sanjay and Chryse, Maretha and the Earl and many of the secondary characters as well. It's a satisfying read, full of humour, romance, adventure and creativity. I've enjoyed it each of my 12 times through!