Book and Movie Reviews

The Gates

by John Connolly

March 21, 2019.Beth.2 Likes.0 Comments
I really enjoyed the concept of the book but after the first few chapters I found it overly long and the constant quips coupled with the lack of character development grew wearisome.

This review contains spoilers

Simon Boswell and his daschund Boswell are trick or treating three days early when they witness the summoning of a demon at 666 Crowley Lane. The Abernathy’s demon-summoning perhaps would have gone unnoticed if it didn’t coincide with what scientists described as “a bit just whizzing off” within the Large Hadron Collider. This “bit” creates a gap in the universe that just so happens to be where the Gates of Hell are, setting the Great Malevolence’s goal of escape in motion. Simon is now tasked with saving the world, that is, if he can make anyone believe him.

I’m not sure if I would classify this book as Young Adult or Junior Fiction. It started out very Young Adult-ish, with some clever writing and some quite advanced scientific concepts. However, as it went on it increasingly seemed like it was meant for younger audiences between 13 and 15 years old, despite some very dark moments.

This book started so strong that it’s a shame that it ended up only being a three star read for me. It had a very Terry Pratchett vibe, which is one of the highest compliments I could give a book. It was clever, sharp, witty and the social commentary was funny and on point. The character of Simon was great, and Connolly wrote the precocious child very well. I loved the tiny English town being the location of the opening to hell, and the science that was included was informative and interesting. Connolly managed to interweave mundane humanity with humour seamlessly, making a game of battleship while bored at work, or a small boy trick or treating three days early, completely hilarious. His use of footnotes create a tongue-in-cheek commentary regarding the strange events happening.

It was a shame that the Abernathy’s die so early on because they were great characters. Bored, middle aged and summoning a demon as a double date on a Friday night was a fabulous start to the book. I wish they’d been in the rest because I think their reactions to their actions would have been great. I also really enjoyed the failed attempts at terrorising once the demons began to enter the village. Once again, mundane humanity was made funny with scenes of beating a demon with a poker because they were destroying your new kitchen or hitting away flying skulls with a cricket bat.

It was a bit jarring though to read amongst all of this that in the village people actually died. This bit of seriousness didn’t seem to fit with the light hearted humour of the rest of the book, and when the demons were defeated the timeline wasn’t reset or people brought back to life. It gave the book an odd sadness, especially as it was never really addressed as more than a passing comment. I couldn’t help wonder how those families would be feeling having had people die in an event that, by the end, had no evidence it had ever happened.

I really enjoyed the concept of the book but after the first few chapters I found it overly long and the constant quips coupled with the lack of character development grew wearisome. I guess opening the gates to hell would have a lot of prep but the beauty of fiction is that it could be sped up and the reader doesn’t have to suffer through the boring bits as well. Instead each wave of demon’s and the destruction, or lack thereof, were described in unnecessary detail. The opening of the gates was the sole plot of the book, but needed either more content to fill the pages or an additional side plot to invest in. Nurd, the Scourge of five deities could have been this but as a character, he fell flat for me. He just wasn’t very interesting and the fact that he was a different kind of demon didn’t really make much of an impact.

Nurd was annoying in another way as well because he was one of the things that lessened Simon as the main character. Simon began as a very strong main character, but as the book went on, he kind of drifted away as the other characters crowded him out.

The demons seemed particularly useless as well. I can’t understand why Mrs Abernathy wasn’t able to kill Simon, apart from the fact that if she had the book would have been over. She is supposed to be the second most powerful demon in hell, and yet one small boy eludes her. She sends demon after demon to kill him instead of ever going herself which just didn’t make sense, especially as she could apparently see through their eyes and sense when they died. Simon was either a huge problem that needed to be resolved before the Great Malevolence appeared, or he wasn’t important at all and could be entirely ignored. The weird personal vengeance storyline with no real resolution was annoying and tedious. A lot of the characters were this same mix of completely useless and yet seemingly important. Simon’s mum did nothing of real importance to help, the police drove around the countryside and killed some demons and then not mentioned again, the vicar did nothing, and the scientist sent to resolve the problem seemed to just be a complete waste of words. 

Maria was shockingly the most useful, and she was only an eleven year old girl. She seemed to have an innate understanding of both Master’s level physics and the demonic Gates of Hell that had only existed for a day. She was also the only one who was able to apply this information to a solution and save the world. The Scientists around the Collider had no ideas, and the one they sent spent the majority of his short page time cowering under a blanket. While I do appreciate that Connally had the girl solve the problem and be the smart one, there were enough other people who could have helped her with this. 

I began by really enjoying this book but that faded to the point where I was reluctant to pick it up to finish it. The book started off strong with hilarious writing, interesting plot and a great main character but petered out into a tedious story. The characters were useless in various ways, and the plot dragged causing the resolution to feel unsatisfying. I felt there could have been a lot more to the story to fill out the time, or a more active pursuit of a resolution with things actually attempted to stop the end of the world. The odd mix of sadness within the humour wasn’t addressed satisfactorily and just left a sour taste. Overall, a 3/5 from me.

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