Ossus Library Index Fantasy Index

THE SEVENTH GATE

A novel by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (1995, Bantam Spectra)
Book 7 of The Death Gate Cycle

Patryns prepare to defend the Final Gate to the Labyrinth, as Xar takes the dying Haplo to be raised and Alfred tries to rescue him, while trying to stay away from the Seventh Gate.

 

 

+

Read March 1st to 7th, 2012, for the second time  
    A fitting conclusion to the Death Gate cycle, giving us an unexpected resolution to the war between the two major races. Unfortunately, a lot of the book was filler, and the battle at the end felt a little forced. The fact that an appendix was felt to be necessary to explain what went on says something about the resolution. The series as a whole, though, was great, and this book did a good job in tying it up.


Spoiler review:

The Seventh Gate picks up the morning after Into the Labyrinth ended, that is to say, after the battle for Abri against the dragon snakes and the terrible things the Labyrinth has created. Marit and Hugh the Hand have gone in search of Alfred, who was taken down in his dragon form by a terrible red dragon of the Labyrinth. The first section of the book follows their adventure as they track down his battle damage, then follow the dragon back to its layer. The dragon is curious because it's never encountered a Sartan before, or any man who could transform himself into a dragon. Alfred is near death; I wish the character was stronger, but I suppose the story is about Alfred redeeming himself by not allowing him to faint and actually take responsibility for his actions. The dragon knows Marit and Hugh are following it, so it lays a trap, while it tortures Alfred. They sneak in, and Hugh uses the Cursed Blade to help them rescue him; the blade turns itself into a ferocious dragon to battle the red dragon, and it seems that it wins.

Marit heals Alfred, and as they discuss what to do next, Zifnab and his dragon partner show up and offer to transport them to the Final Gate. I have a lot of trouble believing the trip to the Final Gate could be so short, for the dragons (who do not use magic to transport themselves as the dragon snakes did) nor Xar in his flying ship. The Patryns use gates instead of years to mark their age, and have been imprisoned for generations, which implies that it takes decades to travel the distance by foot. By air it shouldn't be a matter of minutes (or even a couple of hours).


The Patryns of Abri have come to help out, on the backs of the good dragons of Pryan, in the fight to save the final gate. But Marit, Alfred and Hugh travel through the gate, into the burning Nexus (the dragon snakes burned the whole city), and off to Abarrach, where they want to rescue Haplo. So this is where the second part of the book takes place. Unfortunately, this is my least favorite world, and we keep returning to it, over and over and over again.

Alfred and Marit meet Balthazar, who has still survived from Fire Sea, and who wants their ship. Alfred, in the meantime, heals Marit, after her encounter with a deadly lazar, and he replicates food for the starving Sartan under Balthazar's rule. Balthazar, of course, gathers his people to go out and capture the ship, though it is being tampered with by Kleitus, former ruler of Necropolis and lazar who wants to spread his kind out among the three other worlds. I find it disappointing that Alfred couldn't release the soul of the lazar, the way he put the dead soldier back to death at the end of Fire Sea. I supposed it is a different situation, as the soul is still attached to the lazar, but he didn't even think of it, didn't try. The authors keep telling us that Alfred is a powerful mage, but he lacks confidence. At the end of Into the Labyrinth, he took on the persona of Coren, his true self, whom I really enjoyed. But here he spends most of the book as bumbling Alfred again. I don't like the reversal.

I wonder if throwing the lazar into the fire sea would end their lives altogether. If their bodies physically disintegrate, how can the soul be tied to anything anymore?

But Alfred's battle with the lazar is interrupted when Ramu shows up, the son of Samah from Serpent Mage, who died in Into the Labyrinth, in Xar's first try at necromancy. I find it rather contrived that the Council would elect Ramu after his father died, considering that Ramu is not even a councilman. It seems more like an afterthought, as the authors needed an obstinate Sartan to rule, and they forgot to create a councilor like that when they wrote the previous one. Suddenly the rule has become a family legacy, when it wasn't before (there is even a footnote to that effect, noting the unusual situation).

Back on the water world, Zifnab showed up, and reverted for a moment to the Sartan he was before the Sundering, so long ago. He is serious, in his persona as James Bond, until he tells Ramu to get to the Final Gate as the Patryns are trying to blast their way through! Oops, he just created more of a rift between the two species. It seems the good dragons had the same idea as Haplo, even before he did; otherwise there would be no point in bringing all the Patryns and Sartan together. I suppose Zifnab was transported by the magic of the good dragons, as they seem to be able to get in and out of all the worlds at will. I guess they must use Death's Gate to do this, but they don't seem to require being near the gate at all. And given the fear the dragon snakes have of being trapped in the Labyrinth, I'm guessing the good dragons won't be able to travel out either, as they have been doing in the last two books.

Although Haplo dies with Xar at his bedside, he is not really dead, as his soul lives on in the dog. And so Xar is furious when his necromancy doesn't work -again! Alfred and Xar have a short battle, which Alfred wins by surprising his enemy (by trapping him in a sarcophagus instead of trying to kill him- something Xar woud never have suspected, which is hilarious). Alfred then transports them to their ship by magic, where Xar is waiting for them. Another short battle ensues, where Xar leaves, Ramu's Sartan take the ship (including Marit) to the Nexus, followed conveniently by another ship taking every single one of the Patryns on Abarrach. This way, surprise, every Sartan and Patryn in the entire four worlds are now converging on the Final Gate.

Haplo's soul can talk to Alfred, and to Jonathan (the good lazar) and Hugh, since the two latter are more in the Death plane than the living. He first directs them to escape, then forms a plan to rid the worlds completely of Sartan and Patryns, so the mensch can live in peace (or not) without interference, without a race of supermen who wanted to rule them. The rest of the book follows and implements this plan. The problem is that it takes so very long to implement.

First they have to enter the Seventh Gate, after which Alfred has to travel back in time to the Sundering to find out how to shut Death's Gate (not as interesting as it sounds). They reason, correctly, that shutting Death's Gate would close off all the worlds from each other, as well as any exits to the Labyrinth. Alfred dithers and dathers, trying to rationalize what is doing, Haplo reappears, Hugh is at some point replaced by Xar (the last time we knew it was Hugh would have to be on the back of the dragon, when Alfred uses his magic to help the man breathe and Hugh finds out he can hear Haplo -Xar couldn't hear Haplo). Speaking of Hugh, the authors don't seem to know what to do with him in this book. He can't breathe Abarrach's air, so he spends most of the book out of the action on the ship. When he does reappear, he's replaced by Xar, and gets no real page time, either, though he does help summon Kleitus to be killed by Jonathan when he uses the Cursed Knife again (he wanted to protect Marit, but the knife thought she was an enemy -a Patryn). All through the last two books (The Hand of Chaos and Into the Labyrinth), we are told that only Alfred can help Hugh achieve true death, and when the gate is closed, he does die, but it is also more of an afterthought, given how much was invested in him through the series.

Alfred enters Death's Gate from the Seventh Gate. I suppose it's a different form than the one he entered to get from the Nexus to Abarrach, or the other worlds he's been traveling to in the last books. And he needs the power of the Seventh Gate to help him close it. On the other hand, Samah opened the gate in Serpent Mage - another world - all by himself. How can closing it be so different?

The dragon snakes realize the danger Alfred presents from their battle at the Final Gate of the Labyrinth, and one of them gets through, injuring Alfred, and Haplo, and getting the jump on Xar, who is trying to reform the four worlds into one. Haplo, through love for his lord even now, warns Xar of the snake's attack, and Xar allows it to consume him, destroying the magic he worked his whole life to create, to rule all the worlds. I guess it was Haplo's love that taught him that lesson. The dragon snake rises up in anger and physically destroys the Seventh Gate (how convenient), at the same time as Alfred and Haplo join their magic (the first time this has ever been tried, apparently) to shut Death's Gate forever.

There is an appendix, written by Alfred, describing the situation before and during the Sundering, and the reasons why the intended effect of Samah's magic didn't work, from the Uncertainty Principle applied to magic (love that) to doubts the other Sartan had as they realized there was a Higher Power in the universe. He also gives us an accounting of how Ramu relinquished command of the Council (bitten by the dog, apparently, and it's a lasting wound...), and Balthazar has taken over. There is to be peace between the Abarrach Sartan and the Patryns of Abri, though there is a group still led by Ramu who opposes this. And my favorite part of this appendix: Zifnab now thinks he is god, the Higher Power -he went insane while witnessing the Sundering, which is why he is such a funny character.

So the Death Gate Cycle ends. The first time I read this series, I thought it was absolutely incredible. Now, with a more critical eye, I think it is still really good, especially in its complexity. I do enjoy these authors, and wonder if this is not the pinnacle of their writing.
 

 

4 stars

Also read September 16th to 20th, 1995  
   

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