The Pomegranate Gate by Ariel Kaplan (Mirror Realm Cycle #1)

Three things about Toba Peres are strange: she can speak but she can't shout; she can walk but she can't run; she can write faster than she can speak, in multiple languages, with both hands at the same time. Three things about Naftaly Cresques are strange: every time he dreams, he dreams of square-pupiled strangers in a magical world; when awake, he sometimes sees things that aren't real; and his family has passed down to him a book, seemingly of nonsense words, which he knows it's essential never to lose and never to read. 

One thing Toba and Naftaly share in common: they are forced to leave their home in the city of Rimon after the Queen of Sefarad orders all Jews to leave the country or convert. Driven off the road by a bandit, Toba stumbles through a magical gate in an unseasonable pomegranate grove on the night of the full moon, and finds herself in the world of Maziks: mythical square-pupiled immortals. With nowhere else to go, she follows a pair of Maziks -- a taciturn academic and an orange-eyed rogue -- back to the ruined castle where they live alone, until a dangerous chance encounter reveals the cause of Toba's strangeness: she is half-Mazik, the child of a mortal mother and a Mazik father. And, as such, her existence is forbidden by Mazik law and she is a target of La Cacería, the Mazik Inquisition -- which is also hunting for an ancient lost book of mysterious power. 

Naftaly, left behind at the gate, leaves the pomegranate grove to find himself fifty miles off course, with no money, no food, and only the company of an old woman who followed him into the woods. But Naftaly's problems are only beginning: he learns the Inquisition isn't allowing books out of the country, and he seems to be falling for the handsome orange-eyed Mazik who haunts his dreams -- a Mazik whose identity will place all of them in danger from La Cacería. 

To survive, Toba and Naftaly will have to uncover secrets about magic, myth, and how Toba's parentage and Nafaly's book are tied to an ancient conflict in Mazik history, the mythical lost city of Luz, and the mysterious connection by which events in the human world are reflected in the realm of Maziks.

CONTRIBUTOR(S): Vivienne Leheny (Narrator)
PUBLISHER: Recorded Books
YEAR: 2023
LENGTH: 544 pages (18 hours 30 minutes)
AGE: Adult
GENRE: Fantasy, Historical

Queer Rep Summary: Gay/Achillean Main Character(s).

THE POMEGRANATE GATE is a portal fantasy set in a mythical version of Spain during the Inquisition. It asks questions of personhood, interchangeability, and sacrifice through a lens of found family and Jewish identity during hardship. 

As the first book in a series, it resolves several major plot points related to character identity and backstory, initially, but not only, the question of why Toba can neither shout nor run, as if something hobbles her the moment she exerts herself to be noticeable. Some even bigger events in play aren't get resolved by the end, as Toba and Naftaly are not yet able to solve such huge problems.

Toba is constrained by a mysterious set of rules that have no obvious origin but which mean she spends almost all her time at home. Naftaly, for his part, is muddling along as less than what his family wants but not knowing what to try instead. His father warned him never to speak of his dreams, but this need for secrecy has cut him off from connections that could help him flourish, despite the dangers. When their families are forced to flee or convert, they get lost in a strange wood and Toba disappears into another world, while Naftaly finds himself miles away from where he started.

The world building is intricate and cohesive, consistent in a way that means it makes sense without having to resort to infodumps. Because Toba is new to this other world, whenever she figures something out, or has something explained to her there’s some reason why the reader would want to know it at that time. The explanations feel very natural because they are literally explanations in the text to someone who does not already know the situation, as well as, her own investigations of what’s happening, especially since the Maziks are reluctant to give her any information at first. I’m very impressed with how well the balance is maintained between short-term goals, and long-term stakes. The romance between Naftaly and the mysterious Mazik is very cool, I like how it's handled and it's one of my favorite parts. I also love Toba's arc, especially the questions that are raised about identity and personhood, and how those are handled. It's a set of tropes I'm used to seeing in sci-fi but a are especially unusual in fantasy, let alone to be taken this seriously and handled this well.

I enjoyed this, and I’m looking forward to the sequel. 

Graphic/Explicit CW for religious bigotry, confinement, injury detail, torture.

Moderate CW for antisemitism, fire/fire injury, blood, violence, child abuse, murder, parental death, death.

Minor CW for bullying, genocide.

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A large opening with two pomegranate trees on either side of a column of light. A girl is silhouetted in front of the light.


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