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The Spanish Gatekeeper
Empire of the Ulfair
      Gwellem's Hitch
      Og'yre War
Bernard Dukas
      Bernard Dukas
      Bernard Dukas
Kaladar Books, 212 pages
      Kaladar Books, 222 pages
      Kaladar Books, 220 pages

Empire of the Ulfair
Gwellem's Hitch
Og'yre War
Bernard Dukas
A 2011 Compton Crook Award finalist, The Spanish Gatekeeper Empire of the Ulfair is the debut science fiction fantasy adventure novel by Bernard Dukas.

The Spanish Gatekeeper Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

'Osir, Gwellem and Gno'men built it, together. Centuries later, petty rulers, descendants of the great kings that established the city, found themselves pitted against the Og'yre. Weakened by years of internal strife, they found themselves powerless to prevent the Og'yre depredations and reached out to my people for help.'
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The Spanish Gatekeeper trilogy is primarily a coming of age story, featuring a 15-year-old English schoolboy named Peter de Soto, and his Spanish cousin Bonifacia Espasande. The initial setting is northern Spain, in the summer of 1900, where Peter is on holiday at the home Bonnie shares with her mother. While out butterfly hunting, the pair happen upon local broken down ruins, where they find what eventually proves to be a portal to another place. Access is gained via the use of a family heirloom, and in the deep dark of night the pair vanish from Spain, to emerge in a world not their own. Publishers Kaladar describe the story as "an entwined tale of adventure, romance, ignominy and courage, flush with creatures both familiar and unfamiliar." The work is simultaneously published as both printed books and as digital editions, the latter being available via Barnes & Noble and Amazon Kindle. Prospective readers should note that the Barnes and Noble version requires their Nook e-reader hardware, and the Kindle edition can be read either with a physical Kindle, or via Kindle for PC software. Fans of digital publications should also be aware that Amazon are now encrypting titles individually, thus making it more difficult -- though far from impossible -- to convert legitimately bought titles to other convenient formats.

The story soon gets into its stride, plunging Peter and Bonnie into the opening stages of a civil war on the unimaginatively named TNX-37B, a world light years from Earth. We learn that an ancestor of the children once trod the same road, only to find himself elevated to the high office of Lord Arbiter; a position of vital political importance. TNX-37B history records that it was the Lord Arbiter who brought about a negotiated peace between warring factions, a peace which has lasted until recent times. In an attempt to keep that status quo, the ruling Queen of the Ulfair asked the one remaining "wizard" to open the last working portal to Earth, thus facilitating the expected return of the Lord Arbiter. Unfortunately for all, the wide-eyed pair of teenagers who arrived in his place are not up to the job. However, this does not hinder one faction from staging a partially successful kidnap attempt. The result separates the children and sets in motion a sequence of events that irreversibly changes their lives as they grow to adulthood, and eventually play their respective parts in redefining the world. TNX-37B is not so very different from Earth in the Middle Ages, except that the population know they are on a planet, and that life from other worlds occasionally emerges from mysterious portals. The Ulfair it turns out are a displaced race, translocated after experiments by an alien race called the Osir accidentally wiped out their part of the galaxy. Ulfair are lupine humanoids, who understand genetics, space travel and high tech, but no longer have access to such things. This too is the fault of the aforementioned Osir, who allowed them to take very little from their original world. The point being established -- both from the perspective of the Ulfair and from that of Peter and Bonnie -- is that knowledge of technology is very different from having the ability recreate it from scratch. The Ulfair, we learn, are now comparatively few, and on their last legs as rulers of an empire. The rebellious and factionalised majority population of TNX-37B consists of four native species, one of which is never actually seen in this sequence. Those we do meet are the Gwellem, who to all intents and purposes are humans with much larger eyebrows, Gno'men, smaller humanoids similar to Gnomes, and the Og'yre, who are big, violent critters, which no one reading this will be in the slightest bit surprised to learn, resemble Ogres. I should at this point make it clear that the trilogy is not another Narnia type adventure. The only magic on TNX-37B is actually high technology, and the one remaining "wizard," Thomajun, is in fact an Osir scientist. Thomajun, now an old man, is more interested in his ornithologically based experiments than any problems that his race may have created for the planet's inhabitants.

Throughout, Bernard Dukas gives the impression of having chosen to create something that, while not blessed with an overabundance of originality, presents a refreshing retro feel. It's a tale rooted in a more gentle, comparatively innocent age, before the wholesale destruction of world wars changed everything. This helps the work to stand out, and may appeal to inquisitive younger readers for whom period style vocabulary is an undiscovered country. It will also interest parents who like to read to their children, secure in the knowledge that the work contains none of the incessant swearing, soulless sexuality, or gratuitous street savagery so prevalent in today's literature. Not that it is all sweetness and light. There are passages that depict gritty, violent and sometimes tragic events, although mostly in a Boy's Own fashion. The author is also not shy of using words of more than one syllable, and what his publishers rightly term historical allusions, both of which may challenge some young readers to make inquisitive use of Google.

In summary, The Spanish Gatekeeper is a deliberately anachronistic, sprawling adventure with twin lead characters, the female half of which is every bit as involved and interesting as her male counterpart. Indeed, one Gwellem nation is a matriarchal society. The series is as much about growing up, finding out who we are, and the consequences of the choices we make, as it is a work of fiction. While many aspects of the plot are standard fantasy fare, there are twists which definitely do not conform to any 'happy ever after' scenario. Author Bernard Dukas has written a period piece, full of the quaintness and charm of a bygone age, and which in its own way goes back to the future.

Copyright © 2012 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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