Ossus Library Index
Fantasy Index


A novel by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
(1994, Bantam Spectra)

The Death Gate Cycle, book 6

As Xar travels to Pryan searching for the seventh gate, Haplo fights his old lover, dragging her from world to world, and finally into the Labyrinth, where they learn some surprising truths.


-- Second reading (paperback)
April 11th to 26th, 2011


As with the previous book, I remember almost nothing about this novel -only two distinct aspects- ideas, really, which we encounter only in the Labyrinth.

Spoiler review:

Of all the books, this is the only one so far that takes place in all the worlds, with the exception of the Nexus. It also introduces Xar as a character, rather than just Haplo's lord. Xar is on Abarrach, the world of fire, where he hopes to learn the secret of necromancy. There has been little advance among the Sartan on that world since Fire Sea, as the lazar have pretty much taken over. There are still some living on that world, but the lazar can't get at them, because Jonathan knows how to kill the lazar. They try to kill the Patryns, but can't penetrate the magic of their former foes.

I wonder how many worlds Samah got to visit before he was captured. Probably none, as Zifnab was going to Chelestra in The Hand of Chaos, and both Sartan are brought in completely wet with that world's magic-nulling water. Sang-Drax, the one-eyed dragon snake, tortures Samah and ultimately kills him, but Xar brings him back to life as a lazar. Jonathan, however, is back in the castle, and manages to free Samah's spirit before it reveals too much information to Xar. Because Kleitus, former ruler of the living on Abarrach, has revealed the existence of the Seventh Gate, and Xar is now obsessed with it. He has finally realized that his plans of ruling the worlds will be more difficult than he planned -there is nothing to rule on Abarrach, for example, and he can't even travel to Chelestra. He needs the Seventh Gate in order to reorder the worlds again. But Zifnab escapes the prison on Abarrach, mysteriously, and Sang-Drax tells Xar what has happened to Haplo on Arianus, that he has turned traitor against his lord. Concerned, Xar sends Marit, Haplo's former lover and mother of his child while in the Labyrinth, to kill him.

So we go to Arianus, where Haplo is still having trouble healing himself after his battle with Sang-Drax in the last book. The dwarves are about to start the Kicksey-Winsey, in a big ceremony which all three races are peacefully attending. Hugh the Hand joins them, having realized that he cannot be killed, nor can he kill. This is a strange side-effect, which I don't understand, because those raised from the dead on Abarrach could certainly kill. I still disagree with holding him to Bane's "contract", since he could never accept payment. What kind of organization is the Assassin's Guild, then? Still, they possess a very dangerous weapon, created by the Sartan at the end of the war for use by mensch against the Patryns. The weapon gets by Haplo's defenses twice as designed, but Haplo is lucky both times.

Here Marit plans an ambush for Haplo, too. She observes him, takes what the mensch say about him at face value (he is of course a hero to them all), and scowls at how he has betrayed his lord. Hugh uses the dog to get into Haplo's ship. The few scenes from the dog's point of view were quite hilarious, as all it really thought about was food. But as Hugh the Hand is about to deal the killing blow (which is impossible, but we don't know that at this point), Marit appears, and the knife, which has a sort of sentient magic about it, attacks both her and Haplo. In the ensuing fight, they travel to Pryan, where the knife becomes a titan!

But Haplo refuses to go back to Xar, who Marit reveals is waiting for him on Pryan, so he sends the ship back through Death's Gate, this time going to Chelestra, where he douses it with water. Near the end of the book, it is revealed that the knife has a self-preservation aspect to it, so it turned itself into Hugh's pipe, where it hid until later. I don't think it was necessary, and that the knife should really be so powerful as to be able to know about the effect Chelestra's water would have on it, and make the switch in the time allotted. It was necessary to a point in the cell in Abri, but I'm sure a similar effect could have been managed with something else at that point.

When they are being shoved and tossed about by the dragon snakes on Chelestra, Alfred somehow opens Death's Gate from the inside and grabs hold of them, bringing them into the Labyrinth -to a safety of sorts. At this point, we've traveled to all the worlds, which is great fun. I wish we could have seen more of the Labyrinth, but I guess we've seen it in flashbacks, and here is a completely different aspect of it, that some Patryns could have settled down and created a city! This is one aspect of the book that I remembered from reading it once before. The other is revealed just before the climactic battle -that some of the people in the city are half-breed Patryns and Sartan. They actually came to a peaceful agreement and accepted each other enough to fall in love and learn from each other!

Marit, who is in constant contact with Xar, has doubts about Haplo after seeing the dragon snakes in their true form, but she is also terrified about returning into the Labyrinth. The labyrinth is apparently afraid of them, too, as it tries everything to keep Alfred out, a first, as far as Haplo is concerned. It sends a bunch of tiger-men to kill them, but a band from the city of Abri comes to their rescue. I think the city was way too close to the center of the labyrinth. Did they go no further before deciding to settle down? It's less than a day's hike (injured, it took them longer in the book) from the Vortex (the center of the labyrinth, the sixth gate).

The headmaster of the city takes them in, asking questions about why Marit turned Haplo in to them as harboring a Sartan. But then, why the deception, if he is half Sartan himself? Does he pretend for Marit's sake? Pretty soon, the dragon snakes reveal themselves, allowing Marit to overhear them talking about the war they will start in the Labyrinth, trapping all the Patryns in a land of fear, where they will grow strong. They grow stronger with the fear she passes on along with the information. The battle begins the next morning, but not before Alfred has conversations with both Haplo and the headmaster, Vasu. He reveals his true Sartan name to Haplo, which is Coren. And his talk with Vasu about the peace wrought between Patryns and Sartan in the labyrinth causes him to take action. When the dragon snakes batter themselves against the walls of the city, breaking the rune-magic holding the armies out, Alfred turns himself once again into the Serpent Mage, battling them and the evil dragons of the labyrinth. By the end of the book, he is missing.

Haplo and Marit go out to attack the dragon snakes, but their victory seems way too easy. They call kill these beasts with a single knife-strike to the head? I don't believe it. How can they be so defenseless, more so than the Patryns, really. It is in this battle, however, that Xar arrives. Haplo is gravely injured, and Xar takes him easily away, planning to kill him and restore him to life as a lazar, so he can lead Xar to the Seventh Gate. I don't know why Haplo, even as a lazar, would do that. If the other lazar like Kleitus wouldn't do it, don't you think Haplo would be even more stubborn?

Regardless, I wonder how Xar plans to get out of the labyrinth. Through the battle at the final gate? Alfred said Death's Gate in the vortex leads one way only -in, but that begs the question of how he was able to jam it open and reach out to bring Haplo and Marit from Chelestra. Maybe Xar can cross the other way? Hopefully the next book will reveal this.

Much of the rest of the book, interspersed with Haplo's trials, takes place on Pryan, the world of energy, and which I enjoyed thoroughly. Xar, of course, was deceived into thinking that the citadels held the Seventh Gate. Once there, he is let into the city and Sang-drax abandons him, taking Xar's form and his ship back through Death's Gate. So Xar has to deal with the bickering of Drugar, Aleatha, Paithan, Rega and Roland, whom I wondered about back in Elven Star.

How were they supposed to propagate their races, if they were only siblings, and one dwarf, I asked? It turns out that Zifnab was not saving the remains of a people, but only one small part of it. Other citadels were already working, because the other humans, elves and dwarves told the tytans to enter the citadels and do their jobs. I guess Zifnab and his dragon must be very disappointed with this group, because they have done nothing since he left them.

Here we actually get a history of Zifnab, and he turns out to be a character very much like Fizban of The Dragonlance Trilogy, and especially Simkin from The Darksword Trilogy -he was there at the beginning. He saw the reshaping of the world, and tried to stop it. He was sent into the Labyrinth, and escaped, and he wrote the books that Xar found in the Nexus, prepared everything for the Patryns. I wonder what he's been doing all this time. His dragon is the counterpart to Sang-drax and the dragon snakes, a force for good.

For their part, the mensch actually grow. Aleatha learns about love through Drugar, even though she teases Roland to fury. Typically, Paithan is obsessed with the mechanical machine in the tower, and typically Rega is intensely jealous of the thing. When Death's Gate opened, the machine came to life, though it seems like the other citadels had been functioning for a long time prior, as they were the stars in the sky of those who lived in the trees.

When Xar arrives, they let him in, but are almost immediately scared by him. Fortunately, Zifnab arrives at the same time, and confounds them all. Drugar and Aleana go into the Sartan maze, where they sometimes see ghost people. After watching them for a while, Aleatha suggests that Drugar use his Sartan charm, and he does: it fits directly into an imprint in the tiles, and he travels to another citadel! When he returns, Xar has decided to poison them all, so he can resurrect their bodies and get them to open a Sartan ship that lies nearby.

Here is a point of question I have. Who came in that ship? And who were the others who used to live in the citadel with the five who came with Haplo? Apparently they saw the ship land and left the citadel, only to be killed by the tytans. Was it one of Samah's people, come to check on Pryan? And I guess that when Haplo left at the end of Elven Star, the elves and humans stopped fighting, didn't get trampled by the tytans at that time, and were let into the city. But I wonder why bother, if they weren't to find a part in this story?

Xar's plans in this book are always thwarted, and it makes him look less powerful. Zifnab drinks the poisoned wine, and pretends to be killed by it, so his dragon gets angry and tries to have vengeance on Xar, which allows Aleatha to escape (though he's a little late, because Xar already killed Drugar, but the dwarf protected the elf with his Sartan rune). Aleatha, meanwhile, trusts Drugar enough by now that she agrees to let the tytans into the city, something he learned from the other citadel he visited magically in the maze.

The tytans come into the city and start to operate the machine, sending energy to the other worlds. But Xar steals Drugar's Sartan pendant and leaves, no longer afraid of the tytans and with the ability to open the Sartan ship. He now goes in search of Haplo in the Labyrinth, to find the Seventh Gate.

The only thing I really didn't enjoy about this book is the way the authors stop the story cold several times, to give us some backstory that the characters cannot have known. It would have been better if the characters could naturally come by this information, the way that Paithan discovered books about the machine, even if he could only decipher some of it.

Still, it is certainly one of the best books of the series, with action, revelations, and peace on two worlds, at least. Next comes the grand finale, of which I once again remember very little -only the last resolution, in fact. I'm interested in rediscovering how we get to that point, because if it's like this book, it will be a lot of fun.


-- First reading (paperback)
August 20th to 24th, 1994


No review available.


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