I have a confession to make: as far as I can remember, Spirit Gate is the first book by Kate Elliott that I've actually ever read. Don't misunderstand me, I've picked up a bunch of her books, to the point where she almost has a shelf to herself on one of my bookcases, but the sheer heft of each one has made me reluctant to get on with reading them - anyway, I decided that this was ridiculous and that I ought to get on with this trilogy at least, since it's the background for one of the series of books she's writing now.
Spirit Gate is the first book of the Crossroads trilogy, based in a world where part of it had a system of justice dealt out by the Guardians, a semi-mythical bunch of folks who apparently disappeared some time ago, and aided by folks who use giant magical eagles as transport. Those folks, known as reeves, had been respected by the population but now it seems that something is going on with that system as more and more villages are starting to bar their doors instead of welcoming them. One of the reeves in particular has all the typical Detective With A Tragic Past tropes going on: made a bad decision, got his partner/lover killed, now a semi-alcoholic mess who sometimes has good days and is still attractive at times.
In an adjacent country, the Qin are conquering all who stand in their way and we meet them in the shape of one of their captains and the woman he falls in love with in the market, a woman from the people they've just conquered and now rule. Anji and Mai are soon married but then have to flee the country as Anji's heritage is discovered and his life is in danger from his extended family. Anji and his soldiers end up escorting a caravan into the land where the reeves are and eventually coming to the aid of a beleaguered city as it faces total destruction. Mai's brother also comes along on the journey and we get some perspective on all of this from him as well.
Thirdly, there's also a storyline featuring Keshad and his sister Zubaidat, who'd been sold into slavery as children: as time goes on, we discover Keshad is now working for a merchant in the city Anji and his soldiers are protecting and Zubaidat plays a significant role in rescuing the reeve Joss when he's thrown into prison by its corrupt officials.
Anyway, as you can imagine there's a lot going on and at times it gets quite complicated. Maybe it's that which makes me give Spirit Gate 3 stars instead of 4, the feeling that it's all been made a little more complicated than it actually needed to be for the story to make sense. I think if the overall writing and characterisation hadn't been so good, then I probably wouldn't have stuck with it at all and I already have Shadow Gate, the next book in the series, so it's quite likely I'll continue and see if my tolerance for hefty epic trilogies has a limit.