Rider at The Gate

by C.J. Cherryh

Reviewed by Coral

I first read this book when I was in my teens, probably not long after it was first published. When I was sorting through my books recently I picked it up and vaguely remembered liking it, even though I couldn't really remember what it was about. So, I decided to re-read it, fully expecting to like it the second time round.

How wrong I was.

This book offers up to us a world where certain humans can meld with creatures called Nighthorses, so that they have a telepathic/mental bond between them. Even those unbonded humans can sometimes sense the feelings of unease from Nighthorses, with deadly results, which is why it's so dangerous when a Nighthorse goes insane.

I find the world an odd mix of old and new, that's sometimes very hard to picture. The people seem to live rustically, like you would picture in the middle ages, or maybe colonial times. The Riders (those bonded to Nighthorses) are often described in a way that brings to mind cowboys. But their cities boast telephone lines and factories though, not as far as I can tell, ovens or fridges. It's like a whacked out version of the Wild West.

The story is told from the point-of-view of a few people, chiefly among them one Danny Fisher, a junior rider, pretty much unable to control his horse through most of the first half of the book. Danny's the annoying kind of rookie who thinks he knows everything and ignores the good advice from the pros. What's worse is that he often seems to be fighting common sense and his childish tantrums only make things worse. It's never a good thing when you can't like the main character.

Which brings me to Brionne. With her entitled attitude she'd find herself right at home with the reality stars of Survivor. At only 13 she's like every "cool" girl you knew at High School. "I'm so pretty. All the boys love me. All the girls hate me just because they're jealous." Of course the fact she's a raging bitch never even enters her mind.

Then there's how the Riders are treated by people in general. The convoy owners and town mayors seem to view them as saviors, while the villagers fear them and are revolted by them, and the priests damn them to hell. Of course, with religious institutions attacking fantasy and sci-fi it's no wonder they get lumped in with these not-so-flatteringly portrayals. Only, in this story, the priests aren't really that central, so they're not so much dangerous as damn irritating.


Grade: D