Monday, October 21, 2013

THE SEVENTH GATE by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

The Seventh Gate is a 1994 fantasy novel by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, the conclusion to the seven-volume Death Gate Cycle. Here, as the dragon-snakes wage war against the Labyrinth Patryns, Alfred and company race Xar to the Seventh Gate.

As a novel, The Seventh Gate is an engaging page-turner. As a conclusion to this series, however, it’s merely adequate. This book is substantially shorter than the others in this series, and it tends to center on action rather than character. This action is good but unspectacular; nothing wildly unexpected happens, and there’s nothing approximating a “wow” moment, but it is all appropriately high-stakes and climactic. All the storylines are resolved in passably satisfying ways, all the character arcs are taken to more or less logical places (however, a more satisfying resolution for a number of characters would have been nice, most notably Xar).

The Seventh Gate feels sloppy sometimes, much in the way that Into the Labyrinth did. We’re still playing fast and loose with the magic rules established in the first few volumes, for example, and Haplo’s willingness to seal his people inside the Labyrinth feels too easily arrived at.

However, the biggest problem with The Seventh Gate is that it’s self-indulgently sentimental; hand-in-hand with this, the handling of the “higher power” the characters have been seeking throughout the series is eminently disappointing. Instead of any meaningful connection with the divine, we’re ham-fistedly presented with a muddled postmodern, Oprahesque power-within denouement that, while fitting the character arcs of Haplo and Alfred, makes little sense theologically within the context of this series (the last chapter is particularly cringeworthy in this respect). Unanswered questions remain regarding God, the origin of evil, and the purported deity of Krenka-Anris. All this decreases the impact of this book: since the end of Elven Star, we’ve been working toward a big theological payoff, and we don’t get anything close. 

Faltering steps over the last few volumes knock The Death Gate Cycle out of consideration as one of the all-time great fantasy works, and deservedly so, but it is, overall, a very solid, very imaginative series, and one with some truly great highlights; it’s just too bad that nearly all of them came in volumes 1–5. In short, then, The Seventh Gate reflects the series as a whole: flawed, but worthwhile.