Peril’s Gate is the third book in the Alliance of Light arc and the sixth in the whole series, making it the central volume not just for this particular arc but The Wars of Light and Shadow as a whole – so, from its structural position as a lynchpin alone one can expect significant things to occur here. It also stands out from the other volumes in the series in that intrigue and political machinations are almost completely absent and it generally is unusually sketchy on the bigger picture; instead, it strongly focuses on exploring character, following the straight narrative path of a chase story. But, much like a Maze that plays an important part in this novel and that for the greater part appears as nothing more than a straight tunnel, there is more to Peril’s Gate than meets the eye.
And it is, once again, not on the level of plot where things are happening – in fact the narrative comes to a grinding standstill in places, to give way to long, mostly dialogue-free passages describing a solitary flight across a barren landscape locked in winter. I can not think of another book that depicts with equal intensity just what it means to be hunted – the sheer misery of it, the toll it takes on mind and body, the utter weariness and the seemingly never-ending struggle against exhaustion and despair. Peril’s Gate has everything other chase scenes like to gloss over and Janny Wurts’ command of language is such that the impact of her descriptions becomes almost physical. Which also means that this is not a pleasant read – anyone looking for fast action is likely to be bored out of their mind before they make it even halfway through the novel, but anyone able to stick with it will be rewarded with one of the most intense reading experiences to be had in fantasy literature.
Things get even more harrowing in the finale of the book when Arithon passes through Kewar’s Maze and is forced to relive all his past mistakes, experiencing every single death he caused. As hard to bear (and to read) as this is, it marks a pivotal point for his character development and the series in general, as now he finally gains full self-knowledge and comes to terms with himself (and hopefully sheds his at times very annoying tendency towards wallowing in self-pity).