A king thrown into a trance. A power-hungry vizier. An evil spirit awakening from a sleep of thousands of years. The discovery of what looks like a tall tower, buried in the desert sands. Archivists trying to deciphering ancient scrolls. Add them together, and you discover C.S. Lakin’s The Sands of Ethryn, the sixth novel in the Gates of Heaven series.
It may be well be the best one in the series so far, and that’s saying a lot.
The central idea behind the series is the concept of gates – that from ancient days, heaven had established seven gates to keep evil in the world at bay. Lakin has constructed a story around each of them. In The Sands of Ethryn, the city of Ethryn has developed near the established gate, but it is ailing: the city’s river is drying up, and families have begun to move away.
Nearby an archaeological dig is underway, and a remarkable discovery has been made – a tower, a very tall tower, just how tall no one can yet tell because it is buried in sand. Palace archivists are set to work searching ancient scrolls to find references to the tower and possibly translations of some of glyphs carved into the structure. Then the king of Ethryn visits the dig site to see an uncovered altar, and when he touches an altar gemstone, he falls into a deep trance.
This provides the opportunity for the king’s vizier to consolidate power. He has tapped into an ancient source of evil, one associated with the tower, and it takes over his human form. Standing against the evil are Hashubah, the king’s primary archivist and keeper of the library of scrolls; his granddaughter Ra’daf, who is a young scholar in her own right but limited because she’s prone to seizures and blackouts; and Avad, an archivist who has grown up with Ra’daf and secretly loves her.
As she has in some of the other books in the series, Lakin plays with the idea of time, that characters can slip through time or are suddenly forced to slip through. The king in his trance becomes a young man in a village, who is forced to become part of the massive slave labor gangs building the tower.
With the right mixture of action, suspense, and a little romance, Lakin has written a compelling story. She blends the Biblical account of the Tower of Babel with a work of her own imagination, and she explores how heaven operates outside human understandings of time.
The Sands of Ethryn is not a simple story; it must be closely read to catch all of what Lakin has packed into it. It is, however, a deeply satisfying story, rewarding that close reading.
Lakin was the author raised my interest inw hat fantasy writing can do. She has one book to go in the series. I can’t wait to see how she completes the stories of the gates.
Related: My reviews of the other Gates of Heaven novels:
Photograph by Lynn Greyling via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.