The Third Gate
Lincoln Child (read by Johnathan McClain)
Random House Audio, 2012
If there is one thing I’ve learned about reading fantasy it’s that it has sort of ruined the way I approach most mainstream popular fiction particularly when said mainstream fiction contains sfnal elements. That isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy the lighter science fiction and fantasy fare that populates the mainstream market but I think I tend to take a harsher stance on it than other readers. I rather enjoyed Lincoln Child’s 2009 novel Terminal Freeze, a sort of action packed monster movie type thriller that was just perfect for the long car ride on vacation. So, with a vacation looming once more I decided to give Mr. Child’s latest, The Third Gate, a try.
The Keep by F. Paul Wilson is precisely the type of novel that my 8th Grade self would have absolutely devoured and loved. That isn’t to see the 29 year-old me didn’t enjoy but rather that some of its flaws become a bit harder to forgive. First of all you can’t really fault the initial premise in which Nazis take shelter in a strange keep only to unleash something horrible that begins to prey on them. I mean everybody enjoys seeing Nazis get there comeuppance. While this initial premise serves to get the reader through the door it also leads into a deep mythology revolving around a aeons old struggle between order and chaos that is further explored in the rest of Wilson’s Adversary Cycle.
Hugh Howey’s Wool might not have the most descriptive of the titles but over the course of several short novels its double meaning becomes readily apparent and rather fitting; even if it might be a little off-putting. This title was recommended to me by a friend and a little research revealed the self-published title, now in omnibus form, was optioned for film by Ridley Scott and Steve Zaillian and has been picked out by Random House UK for publication in hardcover in 2013. In this post-apocalyptic novel readers are introduced to a society of humans living in what seems to be a silo transformed into an underground habitation. One hundred levels the deep the people of this silo are focused on living their lives on surviving below ground. In those instances when dissatisfaction, or even optimism about the outside world, occurs the people are given what they want: the chance to go outside.
Laird Barron is one of those authors who I always feel like I should read more of. I have delved, several times, into his Imago Sequence and Other Stories and the first story from that collection, “Old Virginia” ranks somewhere in the upper echelon of my favorites though and is one the more well regarded horror collections released in 21st Century. As I’ve said in the past I am not the best of short fiction readers so when I saw that Barron was slated to have his first full novel released in 2012 I was suitably excited to see what he could do in the long form. While I initially grabbed the publisher’s eARC via Netgalley I was dismayed to note that it was a PDF which I quickly abandoned to wait for the final version to hit shelves. Publishers remember this: PDFs are bad. Seriously, they do not conform well to e-readers unless your goal is annoy readers and give them headaches with tiny print. Thankfully The Croning was released without a hitch in the imminently more readable ePub (or in my case, Nook) format.
The Croning is a languid story about one man’s encounter with the dark, hidden side of the world. A dark, hidden side of the world that is born almost directly from fairy tales we think we know but watered down by years of adaptation. Over the course of the novel the novel’s protagonist Donald Miller incesantment and foolishly scratches away at the gloss that hides the truth not only of his wife and marriage but of the very foundations of the cosmos itself. This is not a happy novel, there is no optimism here, no light at the end of the tunnel. The Croning, in the traditional of supernatural horror writers like H. P. Lovecraft and Algernon Blackwood (the languid prose in many sections reminded me of the slow build of tension and dread in “The Willows”), is about the uncovering terrible truths sort of like opening Pandora’s box except wherein not even hope remains.
The Spirit Eater, Rachel Aaron’s thrid novel in The Legend of Eli Monpress series, once again picks up immediately after the previous book. However, whereas the previous two volumes placed a strong emphasis on Eli himself this latest volume places a stronger emphasis on both Nico and Josef. The events of The Spirit Rebellion and the Nico’s newfound ability to hear the voice of her demon have shaken her to the core. The demon’s decision to withhold Nico’s special abilities and Nico’s reluctance to talk to Eli about what she is going through shakes the thief’s trust in her and further pushes her into the arms of the demon. While the book focuses on Nico and the machinations of the Demon in the Mountain it also further explores the nature of the Shephardess, Eli’s mostly unwanted patron, and the enigmatic Sara the Council’s spymaster and troubleshooter. The Spirit Eater is so far the most fleshed out entry to the series and makes further strides in fleshing out the world Rachel Aaron has created and does so without sacrificing the energy and excitement of the previous volumes.
Listen, if you like hardboiled mysteries with quirky characters and an offbeat plot you should really just stop reading and go pick up Daniel Friedman’s debut novel Don’t Ever Get Old. In a bizarre twist Don’t Ever Get Old is one of two novels this summer to feature a geriatric protagonist (the other being Barry Fantoni’s Harry Lipkin, Private Eye) but don’t let Buck Schatz’s eighty-odd years fool you he is as mean and as tough as he was back when he was policing the streets, even if his memory isn’t as sharp as it used to be. The novel open’s with the deathbed confession of one of Buck’s former army buddies. The Nazi officer who tortured Buck during their internment at a POW camp survived the war and apparently escaped with car load of gold. This revelation nags at Buck and while he is initially reluctant to search for the offending Nazi a cavalcade to criminals, spies, and troubled individuals seemingly force him, and his grandson “Tequila,” into tracking down the gold.