Isaac Hooke wants you to know that he has sleeves. Full-color sleeves. I think that’s a naked woman on there. Looks a bit Picasso-esque.
The Forever Gate Compendium is not Picasso-esque. More Boschian, if we’re doing fine-art comparisons. But it is very definitely the work of a man with full-color sleeves.
When our heroes aren’t hacking up hordes of Direwalkers (sorta like vampires), they’re climbing Everest-height walls, battling “gols” (sorta like robots), or flinging lightning bolts from their fingertips. From time to time they pause to philosophize, thusly:
Was it really possible that none of this was real? That the mirror, herself, the floor she stood on, the very air she breathed, was all illusion? Was she merely the reflection of some distant being, connected to this body by thin strings that existed in dimensions she couldn’t see? The puppet of an invisible puppeteer?
Don’t get the idea that it’s all like this. There are only a few passages of this sort, really, and you can skim them after the first one. Insofar as The Forever Gate has a theme it is this: “Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?” But I ask you, who the hell needs thematic complexity when you’ve got gols and Direwalkers and electricity and bronze bitches and dead dinosaurs and dwarves and, and, and …
The problem with this book from a reviewer’s point of view is that after about page 50 it is all spoilers. I can’t say the tiniest thing about the plot without giving away the surprises, and the fun of this book rests largely on the surprises, so I’m kinda struggling here. I can vouch that I was taken off guard over and over again. The big reveal involving Hoodwink? Hats off to any reader who saw that coming. Hooke doesn’t cheat on his withholds, though. He cunningly switches points of view so that we’re usually in the head of the one character who has the least idea what’s really going on.
What is going on in this book? Erm, let’s see, what I can tell you without giving it all away? The central character is Hoodwink, a regular guy in a regular medieval fantasy world whom we meet on the eve of his execution by guillotine. Hoodwink has a daughter, Ari, and an ex-wife, Cora. His commitment to protecting Ari will take on Shakespearean proportions during the drama that follows. Little is what it seems in this world, even this central father-daughter relationship–but the good guys stay true to one another, the bad guys are satisfyingly fiendish, and the Direwalkers keep on coming, man, they just keep on coming until their corpses are piled in a rampart higher than the eye can see! 600 pages later, everything is wrapped up neatly, and if you’ve hung on for the ride, you too will feel like you’ve got a knowing smirk, a tribal necklace, and full-color sleeves.
Don’t overthink this one. Don’t analyze it. Just enjoy.
* It is instructive to compare The Forever Gate Compendium to One’s Aspect to the Sun, by Sherry D. Ramsey, which I reviewed in this space a couple of weeks ago. TFGC is not very well written on the sentence level. The prose is serviceable, and that’s about it. OAthS is a much slicker read. So why am I recommending TFGC, where I could not recommend OAthS? Story, story, story. The characters in TFGC may be a bit on the archetypal side, but they’re real people with real feelings who act and react understandably. Read the two side by side if you want to experience the difference between a successful indie-pubbed book and an unsuccessful one.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t inform you that TFGC, at $5.99, is a dollar cheaper that OAthS, and you get twice the pages for that price. This is no small consideration if, like me, you buy books by the yard.