The Morgaine Saga by CJ Cherryh: a review

Morgaine’s mission is to close the Gates which permit folks to travel from world to world and time to time. She’s assisted by Vanye, her ilin (sort of vassal, often a body-guard, on what starts out as an accidental one-year contract). In the third book, the relationship changes; they’re still not equals, but Vanye’s more a partner than an underling. On most worlds, Morgaine’s treated as a mythical, dangerous figure. She’s done a lot of damage on many worlds over many centuries; most of that was unintended side effects of her main mission.

The books describe the relations between two races–humans, and the qhal, who are humanoid, long-lived, and usually the rulers wherever the races cohabit. Each world, apparently, finds a different equilibrium.

These novels read like sword-and-sorcery fantasy, but the first pages explain (perhaps) the science fiction basis of the tale.

A note: One of the other LT reviews complains about the Union Science Bureau mention on the book’s cover. Yes, it’s annoying, and misleading, but it’s based on the text; there’s one mention of the bureau, on page 7.

Gate of Ivrel

Honor and treachery, and a journey through the lands which neighbor the Gate. Vanye disgraces himself, is exiled from home, and unintentionally binds himself to Morgaine. Most of the characters believe Morgaine to be a witch. This was Cherryh’s first novel; she hadn’t yet fully mastered her voice.

Well of Shiuan

Morgaine and her companion chase Morgaine’s enemy (once Liell, now inhabiting Roh) through a very different, dying, world. Foul weather, extreme tides, and earthquakes help shape the action. Morgaine’s still believed a witch; her enemy’s, well, become interesting. They’re joined/assisted by a young woman who, surprisingly, finds a happy ending in the last pages.

Fires of Azeroth

Less a story about the gates than about the after-effects of the previous story; Morgaine and Vanye mostly fight to contain the damage they’ve afflicted on this attractive world by unintentionally bringing hundreds of thousands of rather nasty immigrants from Shiuan. Roh, no longer exactly an enemy, helps in this effort and is apparently pardoned for his past sins. In this book, Cherryh has fully mastered her craft; the texture is much richer than the first two novels.

One oddity: The Morgaine tales are actually a four-novel set. It seems odd to create a three-novel volume.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

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