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Listening at the Gate (The Seeker Chronicles Series)
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Listening at the Gate (The Seeker Chronicles Series)

4.8 6
by Betsy James

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In her father's village Kat is scorned for her fiery red hair, the legacy of her father's shameful marriage to a native woman. Her only true home is with Nall, a man who appeared to her from the depths of the sea, an outsider too.

Now a war is breaking out, and Kat's beloved brother, Dai, is taken prisoner. Kat



In her father's village Kat is scorned for her fiery red hair, the legacy of her father's shameful marriage to a native woman. Her only true home is with Nall, a man who appeared to her from the depths of the sea, an outsider too.

Now a war is breaking out, and Kat's beloved brother, Dai, is taken prisoner. Kat realizes that the only way she can save him is to join Nall on a dangerous quest that will take them to the last boundary of all — the Gate where the world was born. It is during this journey that Kat must confront not only the earthly battle that is tearing her world apart, but the struggle within herself and with the man she loves.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Listening at the Gate by Betsy James brings to a close the trilogy begun with Long Night Dance (about which PW wrote, "The author has constructed a fantasy world as rich and complex as Lloyd Alexander's Prydain"). Here 17-year-old Kat returns to her seaside home, where she first met Nall, one of the Rigi or seal people. But when tensions rise between the Rigi and the Leaguemen, and her brother is taken prisoner, Kat impetuously decides to go with Nall as he returns to his people. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Written in luminous prose, Betsy James' Listening at the Gate is a unique addition to the growing world of young adult fantasy. Listening at the Gate tells the story of Kat, a spirited teenage girl raised in an oppressively orthodox-capitalist home. One stormy night, she feels called to the beach near her house where she rescues a boy from the surf. Nall comes from a far-off, nearly mythical island whose people are reviled and feared by Kat. Kat's relationship with Nall eventually drives them both to reflect on, confront, and transform their respective cultures. The plot is, for the most part, fairly predictable, and there are several confounding plot holes where it literally feels like pages have been left out of the book. Also, at 495 pages, Listening at the Gate is long enough to put off faint-hearted readers. Despite these problems, I found this book worth the read. The strongest points in its favor are James' voice, which captivates the reader by seamlessly marrying myth-like simplicity with reflective eloquence, and the way she uses that voice to articulate the relationship between Kat and Nall. Their relationship is one of the most realistic and potentially empowering romantic relationships that I have ever encountered in YA fiction. The reader experiences the relationship from Kat's point of view. We watch as it forces her to deeply examine herself, change, grow, and, eventually, challenge and change her world. While I think this book may be difficult for some readers, I believe the ones willing to stick with it will find it rewarding. This is James' first book, and leaves me interested to see where she will go next. This book is part of the "SeekerChronicles" series. 2006, Simon & Schuster, Ages 11 to 15.
—Courtney Angermeier
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-In this expansive, adventurous sequel to Long Night Dance and Dark Heart (both S & S, 2005), James continues the story of Kat, daughter of a scandalously mixed marriage who has been raised among the Leaguemen, her father's repressive, male-dominated merchant society. Kat fell in love with Nall, an outcast Rig, or seal/man, whom she called from the sea by singing an ancient song. She left him in the happy, improvident village of Downshore and went to live with her mother's Hill people. In this story, Kat goes back to Nall and discovers that Leaguemen have been using terror to dominate their neighbors. Hoping to find a way to transcend the escalating conflict and bring peace, the young people head out to sea in a tiny boat. Nall intends to go beyond where his half-seal kin eke out a meager living on tiny offshore islands to listen at the Gate, a sacred place in the sea "where one can hear the world coming into being." This mythic quest reverberates like the thundering sea with reconciliation of opposites: sea and earth, seal and bear, silence and sound, male and female, Rig and Leagueman, hatred and understanding. Kat's shifting, often conflicting emotions anchor this epic saga of the human heart. Once the summary of past events is over, the unfolding adventure makes compelling reading. Far more ambitious than its predecessors, at once more philosophical and sensual, and written with a sure poetic hand, this title redraws the pattern of the classic hero's quest.-Margaret A. Chang, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, North Adams Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
This wondrous and mournful epic uses myth and song to carve the weight of the world. Lonely Kat, raised by a cruelly puritanical father, sings a man out of the sea without knowing the implications. The man is one of the Rigi, a people portrayed in Kat's culture as legend, but actually fully alive, resembling selkies, but more complex. Kat and Nall become the center of a war between desperate cultures, including the Rigi, the many land tribes and the repressed and brutal Leaguemen who control money and murder. Kat and Nall journey together to the Rigi and then to the Gate in the ocean, where everything on earth passes through as it comes into being. James's heavily romantic tale never romanticizes, burdening love and life with warmth but also doom. Stunning philosophical insights emerge while myths, songs, chants and hand slaps show groundedness and culture. James shatters certain key expectations yet remains profoundly archetypal-full of pain, beauty and heft. (glossaries, author's notes) (Fantasy. YA)
From the Publisher
"Tightly plotted, tautly written, bursting with passion and poetry, Listening at the Gate will transport you to a world both hauntingly familiar and utterly new — full of love, grief, hope, and wild adventure." — Ursula K. Le Guin

Product Details

Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date:
Seeker Chronicles Series
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.62(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Listening at the Gate

By Betsy James


Copyright © 2006 Betsy James
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0689850689

Chapter One

Aash, aash,

Huss, huss,

Shuu, shuu,


Lullaby from Seli. The Rigi.

A summer night, black and starry. The wind blew from the west, urging the waves onto the shore, chasing veils of sand stinging and scouring up the beach. The short grass bowed to the east in the darkness, whistled, and bowed again.

Underground, though, all was still. In the great warrenhouse of Seli, in a low, driftwood-beamed room that was her own, an old woman sat on a reed mat, spinning by candlelight. A little naked boy lay against her, as near as he could get but for the spindle, watching her hands work.

Odor of beeswax, whirr of the spindle, rattle of the whorl in the clay cup. A cricket creaked. Away down the corridors of the warrenhouse the voices of the clan were indistinct. The surf said suff, suff on the beach below.

As though to herself, the woman sang,

Thou art a man upon the land,

Thou art a beast upon the deep,

Thine the fin that hides the hand,

Thine the dream that riddles sleep . . .

The boy stirred at his great-grandmother's thigh and whispered, "Ama."

"Bij." That was not his real name, just a little name he had.

"Ama, I hear the Gate."

She frowned. "It is the wind you hear, my mouse. You cannot hear the Gate from here. It is far away, and out in the great sea."

"I hear it."

"What does it sound like?"

He listened, his head raised from her thigh. "Like Tinga."

The gray cat sleeping by the fire pit heard her name and opened her eyes.

"Shaking," he said. He sat up and shook himself to show her how it was. But he could not purr as fast as Tinga, and he said crossly, "No."

"Shu-shu-shu." His ama pushed the brown curls from his face and looked at the eyes raised to her, gray as rain -- her granddaughter's eyes, which she had gotten from a father nobody knew, a spirit, maybe, or the sea wind, or rain itself. "The Gate is not for you, mouseling," she said. "Leave it to the Reirig."


"It is his now."

"Was it mine before?"

"Maybe. But now it is his, and if you meddle with it, he and the elders will take away your skin and your name, and they will kill you."

His round face showed only interest. Killing was common, but not the other part. "Take away my skin?"

"Yes. The skin of your seal, the one that your father hunted for you when you were born." She pointed to it, folded on the goods pole: a dark, smooth pelt. "They would burn it, and burn your name, and lay you in the caves. You would not be anymore," she said.

He gazed at her. "I would still be your nani."

"And I your ama." She caught him to her old breasts. "When I am dead, I shall be my seal again and play in the sea; and someday, my nani, when you are old with many children and you die, you shall be your seal again, and we shall play together. Will that be good?"

His nodding head bumped her collarbone.

"So you must not meddle with the Gate or the Reirig," she said, "for to lose your skin is to lose your seal. You would not be one of the Rigi anymore, only a man, no better than a Black Boot. And then where would your ghost live, eh? In the east with the sun and the seal-killers?" She tried to make him look at her, to be sure he heard.

He stood on her thighs with dirty brown feet, looking not at her but westward, where the sea itself shook, the whole world trembled at once. "What is the Gate?"

"Tcha!" She lifted him down, turned him round, and spanked his bare bottom. When she was done, he straightened his back and said again, "What is the Gate?"

"You are a demon child!"

He said nothing. His chin stuck out.

"You have seen the Gate. It is two stones in the sea." She took up her spindle again, but the gray stare defeated her, and at last she put the thread aside, muttering, "Better from me than from your mad mother!" Taking him on her lap, she said, "The Gate is where the world is beginning to be."

He frowned. His great-grandmother amended it to, "Where the world is coming from. Where do you think you came from?"

"Mother found me in an oyster shell."

"And you are my pearl! But that is not how you came. This is how. Your mother dreamed you. In her heart she could feel you longing to come. You were at the Gate, but a little on the other side, just beginning to be. Your mother could make a body for only half of you, so she lay with your father, and he made your other half. Then you came through the Gate into your mother's belly, and you grew there, and came out yelling, and here you are."

The boy stared at himself. "Which half of me did Mother make?"

"Your halves are all spiraled together, like water in a tide race or your father's tattoos."

"Where was I before Mother dreamed me? Before I longed to come?"

"You are too young to wonder that!"

He gazed.

She dropped her eyes. "I told you. You were swimming in the sea just beyond the Gate, to the west, with everything that is not yet."

"If I was not yet, how did I swim?"

"What seal priest's ghost is speaking through this baby's mouth?" The old woman looked at the roof beams as though some spirit hovered there, but there were only the shadows cast by the wavering candlelight, the boy's shadow made big by it.

"I am not a baby," he said. "I am a man, and I will go to the Gate."


"I will go."

She tried to snatch him up and spank him again, but he dodged her, nimble as a minnow. "I will go west to the Gate and east to the sun," he said. "I will go everywhere in the world, and then I will come home to you."

"Nobody comes home from those places," she said with wet eyes.

"I will," he said.

Copyright ©2006 by Betsy James


Excerpted from Listening at the Gate by Betsy James Copyright © 2006 by Betsy James. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"Tightly plotted, tautly written, bursting with passion and poetry, Listening at the Gate will transport you to a world both hauntingly familiar and utterly new — full of love, grief, hope, and wild adventure." — Ursula K. Le Guin

Meet the Author

Betsy James is the award-winning author and illustrator of more than
a dozen books for children and young adults. She continues to write, paint,
teach, and hike in the deserts near her home in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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Listening at the Gate (The Seeker Chronicles Series) 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The third book in a series and a great leap ahead. Kat and Nall, the main characters, are each outcasts from their own groups: a red-haired daughter of a Hill tribe/trader marriage and a seal-man from the islands at the edge of the world.. Drawn together in the midst of conflict, they must bridge the huge differences in what they have been taught and what they have found to be true. One of the best recipes for fantasy is to bring a carefully rationed amount of magic into a meticulously real world. Betsy James has made a such a world, down to the ecology, the folk songs, the children's games, and a complex social network where the bad guys are not all bad and the good guys are divided, challenged, and complicated. These details are not just painted background, they are part of the energy that makes the story move. This one won't put you to sleep and it won't go down with 'a little bit of sugar.' Highly recommended
writer6 More than 1 year ago
If you're looking for a summary, you're not going to find one here. "Listening at the Gate" was an unforgettable book. The writing was powerful but simple and let you imagine the setting for yourself, while the plot was slightly confusing. I had to read some parts over three or four times before I could make sense of them, though I otherwise enjoyed the book. Each character is strong and unique, but the book takes a while to read even for fast readers because you have to stop and think about things. This book took me three days to finish, which is a lot considering I've finished much longer books in a shorter time. You should read this book if you have lots of time on your hands and want a challenging read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was great I saw it sitting in the libray and I almost didn't want to grab it, but something about the cover caught my eye. Then when I read the back the book sounded like a boring history novel or someting so i decided to put it back down. When my mom started to rush me out of the libray i couldn't take my eyes off the cover of the book. Not thinking twice about it i grabed the book and checked it out. Come to find out the book was wonderful. I read it in 3 days! I'm a writer and would love to someday publish a book this good. My advice everyone should read this book. Right now i am trying to get my little sister to read it so i hope she likes it too.
silentfairy19 More than 1 year ago
This book was the perfect ending that held more than was expected. It definitely went above and beyond the standards that were set with the first two and had twists and turns that surprise just about everyone. An amazing book no matter who you are.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An EXCELLENT read! Lots of culture and wonderfully deep poems!
Guest More than 1 year ago
My mom was rushing me out of the library and handed me this book. When I first opened it I couldn't put it down. I read it over and over. This book has everything a good book needs love, adventure, and so much more. I would recommend this book to anyone that loves reading.