Curt Benjamin,
Seven Brothers #3:
The Gates of Heaven

(DAW, 2003)

The Gates of Heaven is the concluding book in Curt Benjamin's thrilling Seven Brothers trilogy. It may sound like typical fantasy fare, with a young slave who is really a prince leading a struggle to reclaim the kingdom of his father, but the setting makes this book and this series something special.

The action takes place in a world steeped with the mythology and legendry of the East; gods walk the world in human form, magic is real and war is a constant and bloody part of life. Prince Llesho, enslaved at the age of 7 when Harn raiders conquered his peaceful mountain kingdom of Thebin, learned eight years later that the seven brothers he thought dead were very much alive; charged by the ghost of his loyal former administrator, he sets out to find his brothers, raise an army and reclaim Thebin -- after he finds a way to gain his own freedom.

As The Gates of Heaven opens, Llesho has found several of his older brothers, but authority has devolved fully onto his own shoulders. He has put together a band of loyal followers, including childhood friends, the trickster god in the form of a washerman/teacher, the impish god of mercy, the powerful emperor of Shan, a powerful mage and his equally powerful daughter, and a young Harnish prince named Tayyichiut -- not to mention a jinn named Pig who basically started the whole mess to begin with, a few wyrms (dragons) and several goddesses including the Great Goddess herself, Llesho's rightful lady wife. Like any noble hero, he also has his mortal enemies, principal among whom is the dark magician Markko. The story has gotten much bigger than Llesho, Markko and the fate of Thebin by this point, though; if Llesho fails, darkness will claim the very gates of Heaven, where a demon is poised to destroy the very gardens of the Great Goddess.

Only a journey across the waters separates Llesho from his destination, but getting there is easier said than done. The first half of the novel bogs down to some degree as Llesho executes a rather ill-conceived plan to rescue Prince Tayyichiut from pirates. One of the hallmarks of this series is Llesho's independence -- and the many mistakes this leads to; he does not always trust his companion gods, especially the trickster god, but luckily they are always there to help get him out of the messes he falls into. Llesho is truly on his own at this point in the story, though, and it looks like his quest may end prematurely and rather ignominiously. Once he and his followers make it to Thebin, however, the story reclaims all of the potential it showed earlier in the series. Llesho's reentry into Thebin is unconventional at best, setting up an ending that takes the story to a more spiritual level.

Some of the surprises that emerge in the latter half of the novel are more surprising to the characters, especially Llesho, than to the reader, but that takes little away from the reader's enjoyment. Just as Llesho was not the simple slave he once appeared to be, so is he also more than just a prince and ordained ruler of the kingdom guarding the Gates of Heaven. Many fantasy series drag on book after book, but Seven Brothers is a series you will not want to see end after a mere three volumes. Benjamin has created such a rich and exotic world that the reader hates to bid it goodbye -- fortunately, though, the author is returning to this magical world and the future of Prince Tayyichiut in his forthcoming novel Lords of Grass & Thunder.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 30 April 2005

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