The Gate of Ivory–Doris Egan

Gate of Ivory opens up on the only known world in the galaxy that has magic. Science can’t explain it, and there’s no reason for it.  It Just Is. Super rational anthropology student Theadora from Pyrene is stranded on Ivory, earning money telling fortunes with her deck of cards.

Thea is a gem.  She’s pragmatic. She’ll take stories as payment for work done. She has faults. She is not athletic. She counts money like a miser, totaling paid transactions down to how she can save for her passage home. She also has a very organized scientific mind and is very smart. She’s possibly the most charming protagonist of any SF/F book I’ve ever read.

Thea goes from well-ordered life in the bazaar in the main city of Ivory, using her perplexing (to her) exoticism to her advantage, to chaotic and endangered when Ran Cormallan hires her to read his future in his cards.  Ran is one of Ivory’s more powerful wizards from a powerful family, but he’s also unassumingly arrogant in the way that people with privilege are because they don’t think about it. He tends to rush head long into situations and not tell her what’s going on. Along the way, Thea meets Grandmother, the matriarch of the Cormallans and the controller of the family’s huge holdings, and Ran’s sister Kylla, who uses the men’s machismo in her own way, knowing that she will inherit Cormallon from their Grandmother and be trapped in the same role.

Doris Egan makes everyone in the book equally interesting. She deals with culture shock, Thea’s Othering and how she deals with it and how the Ivorians deal with her, and the beaurocracy of Pyrene-and oh, so many other things that many other writers usually skim over. And it has a fun plot, too!

It’s a true gem and for me, it’s right up there with Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness (in a lighter vein, yes) and The Earthsea Trilogy themes.

I can’t recommend this book enough.


  1. says

    But you can’t go around giving glowing recommendations to books that are bloody out of print! Bah!

    Has anyone else notice that the scifi/fant/horror tomes with kick ass female leads tend to go out of print in no time?

    Since I won’t be getting my hands on the book anytime soon….how about the sequels? Do they stand up?

  2. says

    Sorry about that-but it is possible to find them used. I ended up ordering the 3-in-1 compilation book from a vendor off of Amazon for around $10.

    I haven’t gotten to the next ones in the trilogy yet, but I’m working on them.

  3. The OTHER Maria says

    :) Draconismoi, we should be getting some new summer previews soon. Keep your eyes on the site! 😀

  4. says

    It’s probably for the best – I am supposed to be studying for the Bar this summer. Which means reading and memorizing laws gift-wrapped with misogyny. Sigh. I’ll have to make post-Bar reading list. All fun pro-women books all the time!

  5. says

    Oh, you’ll be getting a nice long list for after the exam is over. Assuming you’ll have the heart for recreational reading that is! I know I didn’t after college. I went through a two year dry spell where I couldn’t bear to pick up a book to read just for fun. It was agony.

  6. says

    Which means reading and memorizing laws gift-wrapped with misogyny.

    Oh, so it’s not just me that thinks there’s a lot of gender bias and outright misogyny still built into the law? 😉

  7. says

    Oh it’s definitely just the two of us – as was made clear to me during my first year of law school, when I was, quite literally, told to remain silent or leave the room. Because asking pesky questions like “um, why is that rape statutes are gendered? And how come a man can get a lower sentence in homicide if he finds his wife in bed w/ another man – but not the other way around? And why was that woman considered insane for leaving her estate to the NWP? And why….”

    Well you get the idea. There were very few days I made it through law school without wanting to scream and throw things or curl up in a ball and sob.

    As you can see, I am haunting TheHathorLegacy and a few other sites in an effort to keep a firm grip on my sanity this summer.

    • says

      :( Well, we are happy to provide that service! Geez, that is just sickening.

      Just yesterday, someone asked me if I ever thought about becoming a lawyer. I said yes, I thought I’d have been good at it, but I thought actually doing it full-time would make me insane. I didn’t realize just getting through law school would be a tribulation!

  8. Funder says

    Gategrrl, thank you SO much for a great recommendation. My (fabulous) library had the three-book volume and I just finished it. I am extremely sad that Egan isn’t still writing novels – but I suppose writing for TV pays better!

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