Paula Volsky – The Gates Of Twilight

Many fantasy authors build their world on analogies of Earth cultures as they make it easier to set up familiar environments and traits. This is not a bad thing although some cultures are overly popular like the Celtic, Norse, Roman and Greek ones. Paula Volsky takes on something different in The Gates Of Twilight (1996) by setting the novel in a land that resembles India in many ways although it has enough differences that cannot be called an exact copy. The era in which it takes place could be somewhere in the nineteenth century. There are some railroads but technology is sparsely available or mentioned so that it is hard to guess. What is similar is that the lands of India are occupied by a Western power that exploit it for its wealth although the rule can be considered benevolent and the occupied people live as they always have. Their former rulers have simply been displaced. The Western power however does not resemble any familiar culture and we learn too little about it to make some sound judgement.

The story revolves around two main protagonists with one on either side of the opposing nations. Both seek a peaceful solution to rising problems and are pushed into preventing escalation. Volsky touches on many themes within her story. There a different shapes of religion in which ones requires worship while the other aims for personal development. There are social conflicts and misunderstandings, tradition versus change and several others. Volsky presents them in a clear way without pushing them to the front. It is for the reader to recognize or discover them. While the two main protagonists are confronted with these situations it is not all clear how their development is shaped by them as we see little of how they were before. Both were already somewhat different and they simply adapt to the events that unfold while remaining who they are.

The plot follows a steady pace but it does not develop very fast. It does not slack down but events do not seem to occur very rapidly and there are few twists. In a way it is a fairly straightforward story that mainly aims to put the themes it wants to tell in it without making too much drama. Even so, we are not without certain powerful events that do captivate and make an impact. There is a bit of magic in the story and it mostly revolves around the religious element. It is both a curious and a mysterious thing as it plays a peculiar role that makes it stand oddly within the story. This is because it remains of a minor importance to the plot and the plot itself is, while engaging enough, not that special. As mentioned before Volsky could just have written a historical story taking place in India during British rule. It is only the magical element and the peculiar religion build around it that make it something different. If it had had a stronger presence within the story where it would make a serious change in the unfolding of events a true fantasy tale could have been written.

The Gates Of Twilight tells a well told story that will work well for readers who are not very familiar with Indian culture and its peculiarities. For those that do it will not tell many new things while the more defining differences in regard to the religion and the magic do not carry the story as they could. They play a central role but within the greater story their importance is low. The novel does not hold any real flaws. It is solid and well written while not creating any notable sparks.

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