Growing up in the slums, Kai has learned to keep her magical abilities – abilities humans aren’t supposed to possess anymore – a secret. But when her adoptive brother, Reev, goes missing, her world is thrown into disarray and her search for him reveals more about her city, and her magic, than she could have anticipated. At two books so far, the Gates of Thread and Stone series is fast becoming one my favourites.
I found the worldbuilding a little confusing at first, which is entirely down to my own assumptions. From the flap copy, I expected straightforward primitive-tech high fantasy, but then there were references to things like trains and pre-prepared sandwiches, which suggested it might actually be a dystopic future. Once I got settled into the world, though, I loved the blending of magic and technology, of fantasy and dystopia. It’s particularly interesting in The Infinite, when another country’s more primitive technology is contrasted with Ninurta’s magical technology. For instance, the people from LLSoemthing ride horses, while Kai and her colleagues are on metal steeds, known as Grays, powered by magical energy stones.
By far, though, my favourite part of the worldbuilding was the concept of the Infinite. They’re god-like beings who are embodiments of concepts like decay and strife, but while they don’t age like humans do it is the concept that is eternal moreso than the being; that is, if one of them dies, they will be replaced by another embodiment of the concept. The correllation between the existence of the embodiments and the existence of the concept is clear – things like strife and conquest will always exist as long as there are people – but it makes for some fascinating characters who do not display the same normal range of human emotion.
As you can probably tell, there’s a lot packed into the worldbuilding in these two books. A lot happens between them, as well, with plenty of plot twists and surprises. Yet it never feels rushed, either; between the plot twists and the revelations there’s a chance to get to know the characters and understand their relationships.
This is important, because it’s the characters’ relationships with each other that form a core part of the story. The plot of Gates of Thread and Stone is kicked off when Kai’s brother goes missing, and everything she does for that entire book is with the goal of rescuing him. Even into The Infinite she is driven by her love for her friends and family. What I love about Lee’s treatment of this is that, while it’s clearly an admirable character trait, Kai can be short-sighted when it comes to the people she loves, opening herself up to betrayal because she trusts too readily. It’s a very nuanced portrayal of an intense and natural human emotion, in that Kai’s willingness to do anything for her brother is balanced out by the dangers of letting her affection for others cloud her judgement.
Gates of Thread and Stone and The Infinite are a pair of engrossing, vividly-imagined novels, perfect for fans of high fantasy or dystopia who are looking for something a little different. And the best bit? There’s even more to come, with a third book listed on Goodreads (though no title or release date as of yet).
Nicola can probably be found this Easter weekend curled in a corner with a book.