M. Helfer, reviewer
Chalk up another winner for DAW Books with this fresh and original tale of a young academician stranded on the one world in the known galaxy where magic actually works.
The planet Ivory, exotic and dangerous, is an irresistible lure to anthropology student Theodora. But when a mugging leaves her alone and penniless, she must employ all her ingenuity simply to survive.
Discovering an unexpected talent for telling fortunes, Theodora catches the eye of master sorceror Ran Cormallon, head of one of Ivory’s most prominent families. But Ran has a deadly enemy, one who will stop at nothing to eliminate the magician and his new associate. After a series of attacks leaves Ran an empty shell and sends them fleeing through the countryside, Theodora learns what desperation really is, taking each and every job that comes her way, however menial, however dangerous.
It’s been a long time since the powerful yet often neglected literary device of irony has been used so deftly, so deliciously. Theodora’s continuing reactions to her plight and the contrasting counterpoint of magic vs. science are a constant source of enjoyment, lifting this adventure far above the genre norm.
Don D’Ammassa, reviewer
Theodora, a researcher from Earth on the planet Ivory, is robbed of her money and forced to sustain herself by performing as a fortuneteller in a bazaar. Ivory is a planet unique in the known worlds, however, for although most of its magic seems no more than a simple fraud, the fact is that magic =does= sometimes work on the planet. While pursuing this occupation, she attracts the attention of Ran Cormallon, the head of a powerful family attempting to raise its level of prestige within the society of Ivory.
Much to her own surprise, Theodora discovers that under certain circumstances, she can read a set of cards and make predictions about the future, spot dangerous situations where no clear evidence is available, and generally advise her new employer in difficult situations. The more she practices this art, the better she becomes at it.
Cormallon is properly appreciative, and after a number of encounters, a bond begins to develop between the two, and she is invited into the inner circle of the family, a very great honor on this world. There she slowly begins to understand the complex web of customs that governs the behavior of the families, while accumulating the money which she will eventually need to leave the planet and return to her own world.
Unfortunately, it happens that practicing sorcery is against the law on Ivory, and although the authorities normally turn a blind eye to it, this provides a convenient excuse when political enemies wish to make things inconvenient for their rivals. Cormallon and his family have a number of powerful rivals, and his enlistment of Theodora, whose growing abilities begin to attract attention, makes him peculiarly vulnerable to this form of attack.
The situation becomes ever more confused. Someone is persistently attempting to murder Theodora, or trap her into being blamed for a crime. Ran is trapped in the web of deceit as well, and is eventually disowned by his own family. It appears that the two of them have challenged powers determined not to be defeated, and they will be lucky to escape with their lives, let alone their fortunes.
Doris Egan’s first novel is a fine blend of fantasy and SF themes, and her world and society could become serious rivals to the popularity of similar books by Marion Zimmer Bradley and C.J.Cherryh. In addition to creating interesting characters and situations, she has a fine grasp of narrative pace and plot development. The action may pause, but it never quite stops as the relationship between the two protagonists evolves, just as their status at large changes. A very auspicious debut and a fine otherworlds adventure story.
Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine
Baird Searles, reviewer
Readers who go back a way probably did a double take at the title of a book called The Gate of Ivory, since it is unmistakably reminiscent of a title that caused a stir a dozen years back. That one was Gate if Ivrel, and it was the first novel of an unknown named C.J.Cherryh (from the same publisher, incidentally). The ways of publishers are strange indeed…
But never judge a book by its title, and this Gate (by Doris Egan) is no relation, save that it’s an engaging first novel that shows promise and is thoroughly enjoyable in its own right, or write. Right?
One of the problems of interstellar travel in the future could well be that it’s so expensive only the elite will be able to afford it. This will make for a galactic jet set, for one thing; it will also create situations such as that in which the heroine of the novel, one Theodora, finds herself. An anthro student on Anthena, she and fellow students cop a free round-trip trip ride to the planet Ivory; she gets mugged and misses the ship and, as the novel begins, has been trying for two years to earn enough money to get home.
Ivory is the only planet in the known galaxy where magic works. “Oh, oh,” I can hear you SF purists groan. “These blatant genre mixtures never come off.” Well, Egan does a pretty good job of pulling it off. True, she cheats a little by slipping in a possible scientific explanation (a very loose one). But the magic system on Ivory is so low-keyed and so matter-of-factly handled that somehow the two concepts never really clash.
Theodora, in her endless quest for cash, becomes attached to one of the great houses of Ivory, in particular the head of the clan, Ran Cormallon. He uses her to read the cards for his business deals, a magical activity for which she suddenly shows great aptitude. When Ran’s older brother, the charming but twisted Eln, stages a sort of family coup d’etat and Ran ends up exiled in a far part of the planet, Theodora throws her lot in with him. The story is of their adventures in besting Eln in a world of spells and technology.
Despite Egan’s adept mixture of the two, this would be for the most part pretty standard stuff. What makes it more than that is the feisty Theodora, whose narration reveals a charming and gutsy female with whom it’s a pleasure to share these adventures.
To her first science fiction novel Egan brings a fresh attitude that helps enliven the cross-cultural conventions she reworks. The woman in the market square telling fake fortunes in the first scene is revealed to be Theodora, an anthropology student and folklorist who hails from a scientific world but is stranded on the isolated planet of Ivory, where magic works. She is hired by noble Ran Cormallon, who proceeds to teach her sorcery — with the aid of a computer. Her plan to earn her fare home founders when Ran loses his position and wealth to an unscrupulous brother. From her initiation into the nobility, Theo is now confronted with poverty, and a readily available job in a rural kitchen turns out to be replacing the taster recovering from food poisoning. If Ran’s struggle to regain his place is less than compelling, Theo’s reactions to the contradictory world she finds continually ring true in entertaining ways.