Paula Volsky
The Gates of Twilight
Bantam 1996

The Gates of Twilight. The gates between "Little Shereen", the Vonahrish section of the Kahnderulese capital of ZuLaysa, and the natives' city. Not only the air is hot, but also the political temperature. People - that is "pissies", "yellow-fellows", the native Aveshquians - were always crowding outside the Vonahrish Residence, always close to a riot, only sustained by the superior military power of the Westerners. But if an organized uprising took place, the advantage of modern military equipment wouldn't keep the local population from overthrowing their colonial masters. Now rumour has it the mysterious VaiPradh sect, the oldest of the Aveshquian religions, is about to organize the discontent locals. Renille vo Chaumelle, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Aveshqian Civil Service - the colonial administration, that is - and one of the few Vonahrishmen who knows the local language and customs, is given the hard and dangerous mission to infiltrate the sect - whose name means "the Filial" - and learn about their involvement in the current political situation and their future plans. In fact, close to nothing is known about this religion. Not even the existence of their First Priest, KhriNayd, is certain, because nobody but the sect members, and certainly no Westerners, has ever been able to get into their main temple, JiPhaindru.

There are strong similarities between this novel and Ms. Volsky's debute novel, Illusion. Both take place when there is revolution in the air, a ruling class unable and unwilling to care about the lives of ordinary people creating an explosive political situation. The Vonahrish rulers in Aveshq behave much like the Esteemed in Vonahr a century earlier. There is also the standard romance with a hero and a heroine from different backgrounds, making their love impossible as far as they let what's considered right and decent rule them. It feels a little like she's found her winning concept, varying it only a little between the novels. But as long as the concept is good, and the setting brings something new to it, I can accept it. As a matter of fact - I really like it.

Aveshq is like a 19th C India, complete with Western rulers and their racism, strange religions and a caste system. They even got railways! On the one hand it might be argued that Ms. Volsky goes a little too close to our own history to be considered inventive. On the other hand she's pretty good at what she's doing, manipulating history to create an interesting fantasy scenario. The major difference this time is the religions, which is interesting because in "Illusion" the characters didn't seem to have any religious concepts at all. This time they do, and the Aveshqian more than others, of course. But the gods aren't just concepts or beliefs but very concrete realities dwelling in the mysterious JiPhaindru. And as if fighting the gods wasn't enough, they have to do it without knowing who they fight as the Vonahrish administrators are fast in labelling all talk about gods as superstition. The result looks to be a disaster, not only for the colonists but also for the Kahnderulese themselves. Aoun-Father, the god of the Filial, is by no means a merciful god.

There are two easy positions when describing colonialism. One is to naturalize it, not at all accepting the problem of one culture ruling another, redefining cultural imperialism as 'bringing them civilization' or things like that. The other is total relativism, accepting everything about the local culture as good and natural and something no outsiders should care about. Ms. Volsky tries to find a third position, between colonial superiority and the radical multicultural position, just as she was trying to find a position between feudal tyranny and revolutionary tyranny in "Illusion". The answer she finds isn't very far from the spirit of the American Constitution, an enlighted democracy. But for those of you completely uninterested in political agendas - you can read this one as a fast-moving action novel spiced with a little romance. Anyway you read it, it's a good one.

Karl Henriksson


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Books by the same author:
Illusion
The Wolf of Winter
The White Tribunal


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Henriksson & Henriksson 1997.