Spoiler Alert: The below post contains many spoilers about The Death Gate Cycle series by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman. Do not read this if you haven’t read the books. You have been warned!
Overall impression: started off very promising, but then it all went downhill…
If you want a full synopsis, I’m not going to reinvent the Wikipedia wheel. Try this: Wikipedia’s The Death Gate Cycle page.
Book 1: Dragon Wing
The first book is called Dragon Wing and starts off as an introduction to the main characters and the setting of the world. The book has a good plot set up, albeit a little confusing at first, interesting characters, a compelling story line, and loads of depth. The only major complaint I have about this book is the random foot-notes (which get worse as the story line continues) and the complete lack of need for them. If the writers were good enough, foot notes wouldn’t be necessary to give us the back story.
Book 2: Elven Star
My first thought on starting this book was, “Wtf?” None of the characters I knew or loved made an appearance with the exclusion of Haplo much later. The characters are transparent and I honestly couldn’t care less about their ‘moral dilemma’. The only good part was the elf vs. human aspect, overcoming their hatred much the same way Haplo and Alfred are destined to do later. But bringing back Fizban? (Or Zinfab, as he is here…) Really??? The guy doesn’t even have a point in the story line. He’s a cop-out. Don’t go all Deux Ex Machina on us for what you call your “most ambitious project ever”, Margaret & Tracy. That’s just lazy.
Book 3: Fire Sea
This one’s a little bit better than the last. The characters are actually more worthwhile, and you feel for them somewhat, but the whole concept of this book is some prophecy that you never hear. What’s the point? It would’ve been much better to have bits and pieces of the prophecy given by various characters – so that the main characters of the story don’t really know what they’re dealing with – but the reader does. Don’t leave your readers in the dark. Bad form.
Book 4: The Serpent Mage
I have very few complaints about this one. Best in the series, I think. The characters are deep and have a purpose. If the entire series was as strong as this book, it would be on the bestseller list for the rest of time. I have little to nothing bad to say about this book.
Book 5: The Hand of Chaos
So, the snakey folk* are out. Good for them. Boring for the story line. For being the ultimate embodiment of evil, they were terribly under-developed characters. Back to the first world, the Gegs, the Kicksey-winsey. We learn more about Hugh, which is great, and we’re finally rid of Bane. Plot twists that make no sense, out of left field, and the amount of foot-notes increases steadily. Yes, like someone would randomly pick up book 5 and, after seeing the foot-notes in the prologue, really need them further on through the story? They’d probably go back and read book 1. Spare us your manifesto.
Book 6: Into the Labyrinth
Once again, “Wtf?” This book was largely pointless. Again, we’re stuck with
Fizban Zifnab to make up for the authors’ lack of imagination as he pops in out of the blue. And on top of that, we’re back to the horribly boring story line of the characters from Elven Star. SO much more could have been done with this story line, but instead we get the cheap way out. This book and the next book honestly could’ve been combined into one book and we’d be fine.
Book 7: The Seventh Gate
A terribly disappointing end to what started out as an awesome series. Almost no story arcs had a true resolution, random stuff that doesn’t make sense showing up from left field, and an epilogue that’s some dumbed down version of the story’s original premise. Hint: If, when you’re done writing a saga, you need to simplify what you were trying to say the whole time in the epilogue of a seven book series – you fail. Your readers are not idiots. If you wanted to preach to us, do it outright and don’t waste our time.
Here’s what should’ve happened…
- Haplo should’ve died for real.
They were building up to it for the entire story. The Seventh Gate could have brought him back anyway, but to have his dog/soul hanging around and still giving advice to Alfred was just cheap. Xar should’ve been told he needed to wait three days before trying to raise a body, Alfred should have had to look at Haplo, consider bringing him back to life, but change his mind because of what he learned from Hugh, and then the
Great and Powerful OzHigher Power in the Seventh Gate should have brought Haplo back while commending Alfred on learning that he was not a deity.
- We needed to experience what happened to Hugh.
Instead of a “Where’s Hugh?” “Oh, I don’t know, dead or something.” “Yep, definitely dead.” we needed to see him finally get accepted into the world that Alfred tore him from, watch him ascend to the heavens (or whatever the heck it is they do), and experience his relief from his point of view. Not come back and see him randomly dead on the ground next to a spirit that shouldn’t have been in the Labyrinth to begin with.
- Leave Marit out of it.
Yes, she was Haplo’s woman. But the last thing you need in the final book of a seven-book saga is to introduce some random character, try to make your audience feel for her, and give her point of view more precedence than the other characters who we were already close to. Nobody really cared about Haplo’s baby momma. The only relevance she had to the story was the way Haplo grew from his relationship with her. It would’ve been just as effective to have him want to search for her when he ended up in the Labyrinth again at the end.
- Ditch Zifnab. Really.
The guy had no point. The only reason to use him in the story was a throw-back to Fizban and to help explain things that the author was too lazy to bother with. He ruined the idea of the greater powers of Good vs. Evil (beyond the Sartan vs. Patryn) since the “good guys” were some wingless snakes that don’t really do anything. Leave out the crazy guy who ruins the immersion of your story. Bring on the intelligent good dragons to fight the dragon snakes. Otherwise why bother with the “This is our fight!” pronouncement by the Pryan dragon to the Sang-drax at the citadel?
- Deal with Xar before getting inside the Seventh Gate.
It would have been much more meaningful if Haplo and Alfred had a moment of peace to decide what to do with the Seventh Gate on their own, instead of trying to fight some guy who shouldn’t have been there to begin with. Xar forced their hand, which means that neither of the two main characters (Haplo/Alfred) got a chance to learn anything. Have Alfred go to the Seventh gate alone, have the Greater Power raise Haplo to help him, Haplo has to shut Xar out of the Seventh Gate without knowing what his Lord was planning while he was dead, and then we see true character development. The way it was done instead was a cheap and shoddy end.
- Ramu just gives up from a dog bite? Really??
The Patryn vs. Sartan conclusion could have been SO much better. Instead, the leader of the Sartans gets bitten by Haplo’s dog (presumably) and then all the Sartans and Patryns forget years of bred hatred to end the series with a cheesy laugh. COME ON. I did not waste that much of my time reading all these books for an ending like that.
*’Snakey folk’ is a term from the Wheel of Time series, used by Mat to describe the people beyond the doorway. I had to find a way to add a footnote of some kind in a Death Gate Cycle review. It didn’t feel right, otherwise.