Final Thoughts on The Gates of Good and Evil

After many delays — both on my end and the publishers’ — I have finally gotten around to finishing the last two books of Ian Irvine’s The Gates of Good and Evil quartet, The Perilous Tower and The Sapphire Gate. The Gates of Good and Evil is itself the latest continuation of the sprawling Three Worlds Cycle that began with The View from the Mirror.

Cover art for The Gates of Good and Evil, book four: The Sapphire Gate by Ian Irvine.

Look, ma, I’m a cover quote.

Ian Irvine is one of my favourite authors, and I’ve loved the Three Worlds setting since I was a teenager, but this latest series underwhelmed me in the first two books. Sadly, that remains true for the final two, as well.

Irvine remains a master of action and pacing. The books are still page-turners, and there are some genuinely thrilling and epic moments, but overall, the story fails to reach the heights achieved by previous books in the saga.

As with the first two entries in Gates of Good and Evil, the villains remain one of the most fundamental flaws. The Merdrun simply aren’t compelling. They’re just unusually nasty humans. They’re too evil to have much nuance, but too mundane to have much flavour.

There is an attempt made to add some depth to them via a new character through which we can see the Merdrun’s point of view on things, and it helps, but it doesn’t really do enough to change their fundamentally uninspiring nature.

I also continue to be disappointed by how much Maigraith has been squandered as a character. The entire Three Worlds saga has been building her up into this epic, terrifying threat, and in this series she’s just… petty and pathetic. She does get a halfway decent conclusion to her story, but overall I’d still consider her treatment in this quartet to be an incredible disappointment — perhaps the greatest error Irvine has made with this entire franchise.

In theory the most exciting part of these last two books is that (thanks to some time travel shenanigans) they bring back nearly every major protagonist from the entire Three Worlds Cycle. This should make for a really epic experience, and it has its moments, but there’s just too many characters and not enough for them to do. Many iconic figures are squandered as irrelevant cameos.

Most egregiously, Nish — arguably the greatest and most memorable hero of the saga — does literally nothing. He could have been removed from the story entirely, and nothing would have changed. He’s just… there.

On the plus side, we do get a lot more time with Xervish Flydd, who never fails to be entertaining. Gods I love that cranky old bastard.

In a vacuum, the Gates of Good and Evil is not a bad series. It’s got some definite rough edges, but I’ve read and enjoyed worse. On its own merits, it’s a decent fantasy action-adventure.

But compared to the quality of the previous entries in the Three Worlds Cycle, and considering all the potential of bringing together plots and characters from the entire saga to date, it’s hard to see it as anything but a disappointment. It pains me to say it, but it’s true. It’s not that it’s bad; it’s just that it could have been so much better.

Confusingly, the ending to book four declares it the conclusion of the Three Worlds Cycle, but Irvine has already announced his intention to write another series (albeit an interquel and thus not technically a continuation, I suppose), and one of the final chapters foreshadows the return of a major villain. So… I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

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