C.S. Lakin’s series of fairy tales for adults, influenced in equal parts by the Bible, various mythologies, and the fairy tale books we all grew up with, continues with two more stories about the Gates of Heaven and those who serve as their Keepers: THE CRYSTAL SCEPTER and THE SANDS OF ETHRYN.
In THE CRYSTAL SCEPTER, the story focuses on Pythius–who is, in contrast to the other book’s protagonists, a villain’s villain. Having ascended his father’s throne through murder and deceit, Pythius learns of a mystical land called Elysiel where kings live nearly forever through the power of a crystal scepter.
Plagued by his own guilt and fear of death, Pythius steals the scepter, unleashing a terrible curse in the process and unlocking the depths of depravity in his own soul–even to the point of attempting to murder his own wife and son. When his wife runs and her clothing is found near the sea, Pythius assumes with the rest of the kingdom that she and the boy are dead.
Years later, Perthin, long-lost son of Pythius, will come “back from the dead” to discover his own destiny and right the wrongs his father has done.
THE CRYSTAL SCEPTER is not my favourite of the Gates of Heaven books, partly because it focuses so much on a villain–who never does redeem himself, although his journey has its fascinating aspects–and partly because it felt as though the real meat of the story, Perthin’s tale, did not start until late in the book and then wrapped up rather quickly. But its take on an old Greek myth (Perseus and Medusa) and a few fun fairy-tale elements make it memorable in its own way
My favourite element was the mystical land of Elysiel itself, with its deep connection to its kings and the near-immortality that bestows. The kings of Elysiel are among the most fascinating of the Keepers, and so I was happy to see them reappear–
–in THE SANDS OF ETHRYN, itself one of my favourites in the series, in the pages of which the series begins to show signs of concluding. Brief cameos of characters from THE WOLF OF TEBRON, THE MAP ACROSS TIME, THE CRYSTAL SCEPTER, and even THE UNRAVELING OF WENTWATER took me back nostalgically over the last three years that I’ve been reading this series. C.S. Lakin shares in the concluding essay that the final book in the series will bring all of the books together in some way, and I’m very much looking forward to it.
THE SANDS OF ETHRYN takes us back to the first of Heaven’s seven Gates, supernaturally erected to protect mankind from the evil that desires to rule them. But it takes us back by taking us forward–to a kingdom suffering from drought and decline, where an ancient tower is found buried in sand. When the young king, Kael, falls into a coma after touching a gem at the top of the tower, excavation hastens as his people search for a cure.
As the sand is cleared away, secrets are discovered–a scroll written in puzzling script, dried flowers, secret rooms, and living gryphons. A dark spirit seeks to take control even as Kael’s faithful archivists, including the brilliant young woman Ra’daf, do all they can to unlock the secrets of history.
But for Kael, the journey into the past is the most personal–and literal–of them all.
THE SANDS OF ETHRYN plays with time in a way reminiscent of THE MAP ACROSS TIME, another of my favourite stories in the series. Like its characters, it goes deep into the past to find inspiration, taking some of its elements from the more mysterious early chapters of Genesis. And as I mentioned above, it begins to bring the disparate tales of the series together in preparation for the final book.
C.S. Lakin’s Gates of Heaven books are billed as fairy tales for adults, although readers of many ages would enjoy them. I look forward to seeing the series wrapped up!