Wonder-Striking: The Pomegranate Gate by Ariel Kaplan

Posted 1st September 2023 by Sia in Crescent Classics, Fantasy Reviews, Queer Lit, Reviews / 0 Comments

The Pomegranate Gate (The Mirror Realm Cycle #1) by Ariel Kaplan
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fantasy, Portal Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Jewish cast, major bi/pansexual character, queer MC
PoV: Third-person, past-tense; multiple PoVs
Published on: 26th September 2023

Ariel Kaplan’s The Pomegranate Gate is the lyrical first installment of the Mirror Realm Cycle, a vibrant and heartfelt Inquisition-era Jewish epic fantasy in the vein of Naomi Novik, Katherine Arden, and Tasha Suri.

Toba Peres can speak, but not shout; she can walk, but not run. She can write with both hands, in different languages, but has not had a formal education. The only treasure Toba has dared to keep is a precious star sapphire, set in a necklace she must never take off.

Naftaly Cresques sees things that aren’t real, and dreams things that are. He is a well-trained tailor, but a middling one, and he is risking his life to smuggle a strange family heirloom: a centuries-old book he must never read, and must never lose.

The Queen of the Sefarad has ordered all Jews to convert, or be exiled with nothing. Toba, Naftaly, and thousands of others are forced to flee their homes. Toba, accidentally separated from their caravan of refugees, stumbles through a strange pomegranate grove into the magical realm of the Maziks: mythical, terrible beings with immense power. There, she discovers latent abilities that put her in the crosshairs of bloodthirsty immortals, but may be key to her survival. On the other side of the gate, Naftaly, intent on rescuing Toba, finds his new companions harbor dangerous secrets of their own.

Now, hunted by an Inquisition in both worlds, Toba and Naftaly must unravel ancient histories and ancient magics in order to understand the link between the two realms. More than their own lives might be at stake.

Brimming with folkloric wonder, The Pomegranate Gate weaves history, myth, and magic into an exquisite tale of fate, legacy, and friendship that will leave readers spellbound.

I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


~a surprising number of lentils
~respect ruthless grandmothers
~girls made of magic
~fish made of magic
~defenestrate your expectations, nothing will conform to them here

This book was exactly 600 pages long on my ereader, and that was not long enough.

I wanted The Pomegranate Gate to go on forever.

Usually when you see a book getting comped to writers like Naomi Novik, Katherine Arden, and Tasha Suri, that book fails to live up to the comparisons. It’s not even the book’s fault, because that’s just too much for anyone to live up to (publishers, seriously, you’re setting up so many of your books to fail when you market them like this). The Pomegranate Gate, though, more than justifies those comparisons: it bursts out of the gate incandescent, gorgeous and strange as a dream caught in a jewelry box.

Instant new favourite – and instant new auto-buy author. I’m saying it now: I will henceforth read anything and everything Kaplan writes. May her works be many!

The Pomegranate Gate sets out to confound and delight, and does both superbly. Kaplan’s prose feels warm and familiar, but everything about this story is deliciously different, imbued with a lush, unique fantasticality that makes it stand out from the very first page. You could argue that it’s partly because Kaplan draws inspiration from a part of Jewish folklore with which I’m not familiar (and I doubt many other gentiles are either), but that’s really not it: firstly, because she really only took a tiny piece of the folklore, and what she spun out of it is immense and intricate and wholly her own; and secondly, what really makes The Pomegranate Gate a constant surprise to the reader is the plot, which not once – not ONCE! – goes the way you think it will.

Not even ONE TIME!

I really, REALLY want to emphasise that, because – look, I read a lot, okay? A lot. 200+ books a year a lot. And anyone who reads a lot eventually notices that stories have patterns. Templates. Whatever you want to call them. (These templates vary across genres, languages and cultures, which is SUPER COOL AND INTERESTING, but just take it as read that in this case I’m talking specifically about the predominantly-white Western English-language fantasy stuff, okay?) It gets so that you can often guess where a story’s going, what a character’s arc is going to be within it. Thing A is going to happen, because it always happens. There’s no way Thing B is actually going to go down, because it never does. And so on.

Now, sometimes your guess is wrong! Sometimes an author sets you up to expect What Always Happens…but surprise! This time it doesn’t! This is always (at least to me) Very Exciting. It’s one of the things that will make me fall hard for a story, almost without fail.

But when this does occur, it’s generally only one or two deviations from The Pattern. There might be a handful of surprises, but the story still, overall, goes where you knew it must be going.

The Pomegranate Gate does not.

Not even a little.

Not even once.

Kaplan strips your heart of its calluses with all these impossible twists and turns, leaving it raw and vulnerable to the lightest brush of story. Every page is a surprise; a delight, a gut-punch, a shock, a wonder, a devastation, a revelation. And all of it builds upon the rest, entwines with every other gasp-worthy moment, so that every curve and curlicue of the plot forms the most breathtaking filigree.

“I don’t suppose you’d be decent enough not to bleed on me if I cut off your head?”

“No,” she said quickly. “I’ll make a point to bleed out all over your lovely boots. It will be horrible. Gore, everywhere.”

And within the plot? The magical elements, what the book’s actually about, everything that Kaplan created for the story she’s telling? Wow. I don’t know how she dreamed all of this up, but I take my hat off to her, because all of it feels new and fresh but also ancient and intricate, rich and bewitchingly unfamiliar. There are so many odd, gleeful little details that give The Pomegranate Gate a sense of magical otherness that can’t be compared to any other book I’ve ever read: the square pupils of the Maziks, the dried lentils, a girl who can’t run. From the very first page, it’s clear that this book is, in ways both subtle and outstandingly overt, something very special.

Naftaly was dreaming again, in that strange dream-landscape where the stars whirled over head like snow on the wind and the people he met all had square-pupiled eyes.

This does, however, make it very difficult to talk about while also avoiding spoilers. The Pomegranate Gate is like a dream; beautiful, breathtaking, but impossible to put into words. Something you have to experience for yourself. I can tell you that there is magic, and political intrigue of many kinds, portals and dreams and assassins and semi-sentient shadows…but I can’t tell you more than that. I don’t want to ruin the surprises for you, because the sheer joy of encountering each one unprepared is just…intoxicating, astonishing, wonder-striking.

Especially if you feel as though you’ve seen all there is to see of this genre; if you, gods forbid, feel jaded. If that’s where you’re at…then, my friends, I promise you: this is the book you need to make you fall in love with magic again.

muttering a series of numbers best known only to some creatures that live in the deep sea

The Pomegranate Gate is jewel-toned, rich, decadent in its beautiful strangeness. It dances, impossible to predict; and like the best kind of dance, it sweeps you up into it, with it, whirling you through the air and the story. I cannot love it more; honestly, I feel like I can’t love it enough. It is heart-breakingly perfect, and I implore you – no, I need you to read it. I need everyone to read it.

And then come sit with me and tell me how it brought wonder back into your heart again.

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