I was quite thrilled when I heard that Through the Gate in the Sea was available. I’m a fan of Howard Andrew Jones’ work, and while I consider his non-tie-in fiction to be his strongest, I will always buy a book with his name on it. As such, I have all four of his Pathfinder novels. As you might imagine, I’m positively inclined toward his fiction, so that’s the bias I bring to this review.
I have a hard time deciding if I like this or its predecessor, Beyond the Pool of Stars, better. Like Beyond the Pool of Stars, Through the Gate in the Sea reads much more like heroic fantasy with touches of epic fantasy rather than gaming fiction. There are hints throughout that yes, this is rooted in the rules and expectations of a role-playing game, but this does not dominate the flavour of the book. If you cringe at tie-in fiction – which I honestly generally do with a couple of exceptions – you needn’t fear this novel. It is not as strong as the Desert of Souls or the Bones of the Old Ones – Howard Andrew Jones’ two novels with Dabir and Asim, his best works for certain – but it is riveting.
Basically, Through the Gate in the Sea takes off soon after Beyond the Pool of Stars ends, with main character Mirian Raas, a marine salvager, trying to help the lizardfolk with whom she has forged a familial bond, find more of their lost people. This allows for one of the best POV characters in the novel: Jekka, a lizardfolk warrior. Jekka is Mirian’s blood brother, and while he is a cool customer, the chance to find more of his people after losing all of his clan save his cousin, fires him up.
There’s a great villain, a fantastic anti-hero with whom I can definitely sympathize, the playwright-hero Ivrian, and much more. The characters are all excellent and believable, but this – along with brisk, exciting pacing and swashbuckling action – is one of Howard Andrew Jones’ strengths.
The only quibble I have with the novel is that there is a group of adversaries that seem unnecessary. They have a function in the story, but then kind of drift off and don’t have a really impactful exit. I was expecting more given how well Howard Andrew Jones sculpted the main character of this group, and I don’t really want to say more so as not to spoil anyone’s suspense. It’s funny, because I can easily imagine in real-life this exact situation – oh jeez, those guys are pretty tough, this could be a problem . . . wait, what happened to them? In fiction, though, one carries expectations. So maybe I’m talking myself out of the quibble in that it’s actually believable in the way that reality is crazier than any fiction, but for the story I would say I didn’t find it satisfying.
That one quibble apart, Howard Andrew Jones delivered exactly what his name on a cover promises – strong plot, exciting action, and great characters. That’s what I love.
I give Through the Gate in the Sea 4.75 non-submersible, highly mobile, undersea transports out of 5. If you dig fantasy – and especially if you dig heroic fantasy with a hint of high magic and epic threats – you’ll dig this. As with all of his books, I highly recommend this Howard Andrew Jones novel.
You can learn more about Howard Andrew Jones here.
I reviewed Beyond the Pool of Stars here.