The Limbreth Gate by Megan Lindholm
Lindholm’s work under this pseudonym is very diverse, but the Ki and Vandien novels are more or less straightforward fantasy. A secondary world with a long, largely unknown history, lots of different sentient races, magic and divine creatures. All the ingredients are present. They are pretty focused on the two protagonists, however. No huge cast of secondary characters and countless side plots. They are very efficiently written. Each book is a complete story, there are no major cliffhangers or unresolved questions; the relationship between Ki and Vandien is what ties these books together. In short, a very different style of fantasy than the books written under the Robin Hobb pseudonym. One of the great mysteries for the reader is how a person can adopt two completely different styles and stay sane. It is something that has always intrigued me about Lindholm/Hobb.
In her pursuit of cargo to haul, Ki has left the areas she is familiar with and ended up in the town of Jojorum. Vandien is with her on this occasion and after their business is conducted they enjoy the markets of the town. They split up do each do some shopping of their own and agree to meet in a tavern in town. It becomes clear that the place is not very welcoming to Romni teamsters, however, and Ki feels forced to leave before nightfall. What Ki doesn’t know is that Vandien is being deliberately delayed by a group of Windsingers, a weather controlling magical order they have clashed with in the previous book. Ki is forced to leave without him and by the time Vandien realizes she is gone, Ki has been tricked into leaving the city through the Limbreth Gate. A gate that not only leads out of town, but into another realm. Ki is in mortal danger. It is up to Vandien to find a way to reach her and draw her back to her own world.
The Limbreth Gate sheds a bit of light on Ki’s own past. In Harpy’s Flight (1983) she is depicted as being accepted in the Romni community but not quite a part of it. A number reasons are given in the first book. She married an outsider for instance, and her refusal to give herself over to the mourning rituals of her people is another. More reasons are revealed in The Limbreth Gate. It also explains the interest of the Windsingers and the wizard Dresh in Ki, both of whom play a part in the story. The political intrigue inside the Windsingers’ council is another element central to the plot. Ki’s actions in The Windsingers (1984) have put her on the bad side of a faction within the council. For a group with considerable power they can be extremely petty (as well as arrogant) but it must be said that some them are not entirely without mercy.
What The Limbreth Gate does more than the previous two volumes is expose feelings and doubts in the main character. The creature that uses the Limbreth Gate to create a connection between the two worlds is starving for new experiences, having long since tired of being god in a realm that contains only its own presence. In the process it consumes the unfortunate person being drawn through the gate. It is an idea that Robin Hob would later use in the first FARSEER trilogy, where Veritas’ dragon empties him of all experiences and emotions. The Limbreth is a hungry creature, deceptively reasonable and tempting as a Siren. Ki cannot help but open up to it and it exposes things about her relationship with Vandien that until now remained unspoken.
The way the relationship between Ki and Vandien develops is one of the things I like most about these novels. They hurt each other badly sometimes, and in this case they can’t help but doing so, but they always manage to turn it into a step forward.
He could not smile at her. The relationship so carefully built seemed crumbled; he dared no longer trust the weight of his heart to it. “it is more than that,” he said heavily. “It is not going to be the same between us.”
Ki looked deep into his eyes, troubled by what she saw there. “The same as what? When was it ever the same between us, from day to day? When did we ever want it to be?”
Lindholm has never been easy on her characters and Ki and Vandien certainly get their share of misfortune and heartbreak. Their experiences in the Limbreth realm are traumatic but not enough to shake them loose from each other. I’ve read a lot of comments by people who don’t like this book as much as the others because Ki is not herself for most of the story. Personally, I think she shows herself even stronger than we could have expected from the previous two volumes.
Vandien’s struggles are depicted in a very different way. He has been trying not to ask more of Ki than she is willing to give and in The Limbreth Gate, he runs up against the limitations of that approach. Under the influence of the Limbreth’s visions she wants to put their relationship behind her and Vandien has to overcome his impulse to leave her be. Lindholm uses a third character to embody Vandien’s more ruthless thoughts. The half Brujan Hollyika is a woman of action. Blunt, forceful and living for the moment, she seizes what she desires without debating feelings or morality. Hollyika does what Vandien can’t make himself do, exposing some severe doubts about his relationship with Ki. I’ve been thinking about whether or not this makes Ki the stronger of the two but when you get right down to it, they both need someone to pull out of the mess they find themselves in. Vandien might consider that the next time he feels inadequate. I guess it just makes them human.
Maybe this third book in the quartet is the most difficult to appreciate. In terms of structure and emotional charge it is the best of the quartet so far, I think, but it’s definitely a more challenging read than the previous two. Lindholm is clearly progressing as a writer over the course of this series, something that can be seen in the final volume, Luck of the Wheels (1989), as well. Ki and Vandien remain two of Lindholm’s most intriguing creations and I am very much enjoying the way she develops these characters. The Limbreth Gate made me want to reach for the next book immediately after finishing it.
Windsinger — (1983-1989) Publisher: HARPY’S FLIGHT was Lindholm’s first novel, and the first in the WINDSINGERS series, which introduced her popular gypsy characters, Ki and Vandien. Across the mountain sheathed with ice, through the treacherous shadow of the Sisters, Ki was running for her life, followed by Harpies, sworn to vegance; by the bitter memories of a once-idyllic past; and by one stubborn, dark haired man who seemed intent on being part of her future.
I bought all 3 as one volume The Windsingers, back in the day and read them as such. In fact I only recently found the fourth book and didn’t warm to it as much. The Limbreth Gate was a perfectly satisfying ending point providing a measure of healing for Ki, Vandien, Rebeka and even Dresh. A lovely series.
I suspect the fourth book was meant to start a new arc. Lindhom has stated she had plans for more books but they never appeared. Might be that is why this one feels like a more logical conclusion that Luck of the Wheels.