Past Reading: GATE OF IVORY by Doris Egan

Worst drive in the world 2013-2014: Highway 70 through Illinois and Indiana. What is it with these states? Look, I’ll give their departments of transportation a couple tips for free: pick ONE section of highway to fix up at a time. DO NOT fix up the left lane for ten miles, then skip ten miles, then work on the right lane for ten miles, then skip ten miles and repeat. That requires everyone to merge to one lane over and over, thus producing many, many traffic slowdowns rather than just one. DO NOT drown every single exit for 100 miles with construction barrels and single-lane-bumper-to-bumper traffic, because the barrels make it hard to see how to get off the highway and the horrible traffic makes the thought of trying to get back on thoroughly unpleasant. Every business that depends on highway traffic in Terre Haute must be having a bitch of a time, since ALL their exits are surrounded by construction.

Plus, good GOD, that one truckdriver who wants to be a stunt motorcyclist? I thought I was going to die, and the car behind me was also just about pushed off the highway.

Anyway, here I am in Indianapolis. I may skip this CKCSC specialty for the next few years, though, until either IL or IN has had a chance to finish some of their construction, which hopefully only SEEMS endless.

This year, I’m showing Ish in Junior Puppy Dog, where I don’t expect him to do much because he still has a slight underbite; and Pippa in Veteran Bitch, where she is up against at least one CKCSC champion, so frankly I don’t expect her to win. But, good experience for Ish and fun for Pippa, and really you don’t come to CKCSC shows to win. You come to meet the friends you only see at CKCSC shows and check out dogs you might like to use as studs and look at the puppies those dogs have been producing. I see a son of Lanola Santana is in Ish’s class; I was thinking of him for Honey one day. I hear he can produce high tail sets, but he’s an excellent older dog who looks like a good bet for longevity and vigor. I have a black-and-tan boy in mind as a possibility, too, don’t really know what I’ll do yet.

I am on the climactic scenes for KERI, by the way, but I was too tired to work on it last night after the drive + the puppy sweepstakes. Today I will definitely work on it, though, because taking four days off in a row is a Bad Thing; hard to get back in after a break like that.



Here’s another book (and trilogy) I know I’ve mentioned before, because I really love this book and the sequels, TWO BIT HEROS and GILT EDGED IVORY. I’ve mentioned Doris Egan’s books before, no doubt on more than one occasion, but here we are again because GATE OF IVORY was published 25 years ago, in 1989. It definitely belongs to the (vast) category of old books that really ought to be hauled back into view, but I don’t expect it will be. It and the two sequels were reissued in an omnibus version at least once; I remember making a friend buy it at that time.


Even that was a good while ago, though. Let me see. Yes, 2001, that counts as a while ago by this time. Once again, I see the books are out of print and not available in ebook format. Used, the paperbacks are available for pennies, though. That omnibus edition looks like it costs an arm and a leg right now, at least at Amazon.

Now, Doris Egan, also Jane Emerson, had a brief writing career and then went on to write scripts for all kinds of TV shows. I’ve always regretted that she didn’t go on with her Ivory series, though, because these are really fun books. (I also regret she never went on with the CITY OF DIAMOND, which I thought was a bit cluttered but good.)

Anyway, in the IVORY trilogy, Theo – Theodora – is a great protagonist with a wry, somewhat self-deprecating voice. Here’s how GATE OF IVORY opens:

I was laying down cards in the marketplace when I got the latest job offer. “Here comes money,” Irsa, the vender next to me had said, and moved away so as not to scare him off. So I’d told him his fortune, all the usual nonsense, and out he came with this. I hadn’t expected it of him; he’d looked too respectable. True, he hadn’t mentioned the exact nature of this job. But I’d been in the Square long enough – I thought – to know what that meant.

“I might want to hire you,” he repeated, as though he expected a dim-witted foreigner like me might need it said twice.

“Move on,” I said, picking up my Tarot cards. “Your fortune’s been told.”

“I’m serious,” he protested.

“Please, noble sir. I’m well aware that people hired by the Street of Gold Coin procurers are never seen again. Unless you want me for one of the Great Houses?” I smiled with polite rudeness. It was obviously out of the question. By Ivory standards, I’m not even pretty. Eight centimeters shorter than everyone around me, hair auburn instead of black – they wouldn’t let me into a Great House as a domestic servant. Not that I felt I was really cut out for prostitution.

And then, of course, Ran Cormallon hires her. Not as a prostitute, of course. To read his special deck of Tarot cards. Because Theo may be just faking fortune telling in the marketplace to make ends meet, but real actual magic – or something – definitely does work on Ivory.

Possibly one reason this book didn’t really take off, not that you really need a reason because of course almost no books actually do take off, but this one is squarely in the awkward middle ground between SF and fantasy. Science fantasy, say. It reads like fantasy, but there are SF elements.

In this universe, Ivory is the one world in known space where “magic” exists. Theo – Theodora – is from one of the other worlds. She came to Ivory to study folktales and got stranded, turned to fortune telling, met Ran Cormallon, and things take off from there. Adventure, mayhem, betrayal, wizard’s duels, and romance ensue. The romance is just right for me: slow-burn and more than a bit rocky in places. Here’s one of my favorite bits, from a time when a forced march over rough ground has worn Theodora right out. She sits down, refuses to move and tells the men to go on without her, and we get this exchange:

“I’ve slowed everyone down. I’m not the stuff heroes are made of, Ran. I’m not even the stuff Karlas and Tyl are made of. I’m not worth wasting your time over.”

He was quiet for a minute. Then he said, “I have often had difficulty understanding you, Theodora, but never more than right now. I don’t see what the question of how quickly you can travel through the Simil Valley has to do with how good you are. You’re not a hiker, at least not with these people and in this terrain. Too bad, but I always took you for a city girl anyway, tymon. . . . you’ll probably never be called on to do something like this again, and in the capital, who cares if you take shorter steps when you walk?”

I hadn’t thought of it that way. Still, it was easy for him to be polite about it – he hadn’t failed.

Then he was going on. “I know you have no reason to listen to me. I fell apart just when you needed me. When I found out I wasn’t going to have every move I made backed up by my family, I just gave up living. . . . Don’t think I haven’t thought about that every day since Tenshin –”

“Are you crazy?” I don’t know how long he would have gone on with that nonsense if I hadn’t stopped him.

You see. They’re both much harder on themselves than they are on each other, a very good sign in a developing relationship, wouldn’t you say?

Each book in this series goes on from the previous one with the same protagonists and supporting characters, but each is self-contained. It would be hard for me to pick a favorite from the three: all three are strong. I always enjoy the first book where you get to explore the world for the first time, but in this case I might pick the second, which hits some tropes that particularly appeal to me. The writing is good, the characters are delightful, and hey, even the covers are good!

Okay, weigh in if you’ve read these. What did you all think? And if you haven’t read them, well, since they’re out of print and may never be re-issued, this might be a good time to pick them up.

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