Monday, October 7, 2013

INTO THE LABYRINTH by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Into the Labyrinth is a 1993 fantasy novel by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, the sixth in the seven-volume Death Gate Cycle. Here, Xar, on Abarrach to learn necromancy, sends Haplo’s ex-lover to kill him.

There are some serious and damaging problems here, the likes of which we haven’t before seen in this series. First, Xar does not live up to his billing. Rather than the wise patriarch of a proud people, this is an insecure, short-tempered leader of a cult of personality with dumb-as-rocks followers (this effect is compounded by the tiresome Marit), and sometimes, frankly, Xar’s kind of an idiot. This makes it hard to take him seriously as a credible threat to any faction, and it detracts from his character arc of growing obsession.

Far too much time is spent with the Pryan crowd. It seems like the authors felt obligated to get Pryan back into the story, even though there was really no pressing reason to. I, for one, didn’t need to see these folks ever again: they squabble like little kids every chance they get. This, coupled with the preponderance of recap provided, may lead the reader to skim a significant number of pages.

There are issues with the Labyrinth, too. For one, it makes no sense for Haplo to think that his child might be in a city near the very beginning of the Labyrinth. There are also significant inconsistencies with the use of magic, particularly concerning the fact that the Patryns, who can magically multiply their weapons and food stores, always seem to be scraping by.

There are some lesser problems. We could have used more from Samah, and less sentimentality from the authors, including but certainly not limited to all the hand-holding and Kumbaya-singing on Arianus well after the resolution of those storylines in The Hand of Chaos (the reader is given to believe this is included because the activation of the Kicksey-winsey is significant, but nothing of consequence is done with this plot thread).  

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. There’s a lot of action here, and it’s handled well. Alfred receives some of the development we’ve been waiting for since Serpent Mage. The authors also do a surprisingly good job of explaining and incorporating Zifnab, the walking deus ex machina, into the world. With the exception of all the bickering on Pryan, the authors keep the pages turning.

It may set things up nicely for the conclusion, but Into the Labyrinth itself is a weak entry in the series.