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.

Pacific Rim: The Black Is Solid Gold

I emerge from my blogging hiatus because I have something nerdly I need to gush about, and I just can’t keep it in.

A promotional image for Netflix's Pacific Rim: The Black.Pacific Rim is a franchise I want to like more than I do. The fantasy of giant robots punching alien kaiju appeals intensely to my inner six year old boy, but the films somehow never managed to be as fun as that premise should be. They’re decent time-wasters, but largely forgettable.

I’m also not a big anime guy, so when I saw Netflix had produced a Pacific Rim anime, my reaction wasn’t exactly feverish excitement. But there really isn’t a lot to watch right now (I’ve been watching Resident Evil let’s plays on YouTube for lack of anything more interesting), so I figured I’d give it a shot.

The first episode of Pacific Rim: The Black is a bit shakey, but it showed enough potential for me to try another episode. It was then that the show really took off, and my low expectations were completely shattered. This show turned out to be incredibly good.

The Black takes place in the ruins of Australia after the events of both films (though prior knowledge of the films isn’t really required). The continent has been abandoned and left to the kaiju, but pockets of survivors remain.

Among these survivors are teenagers Taylor and Hailey, children of jaeger pilots who left to find help but never returned. Early on, they discover an abandoned jaeger, and… y’know, shenanigans ensue.

The jaeger Atlas Destroyer in Pacific Rim: The Black.In a lot of ways, the arc of the show follows what you’d expect, but there’s enough surprises and twists to keep things interesting, and it’s in the execution of the show’s concepts more so than the concepts themselves where The Black really shines.

Going in, I saw that all the main characters were kids and assumed this was going to be a very sugar-coated, family friendly series.

It is not. The Black is a very intense, dark, and often brutal story that does not pull its punches.

But what really makes it special is that The Black doesn’t fall into the trap so much grimdark media does these days. It’s not all horrible, all the time. It’s not a show where every character is an unlikable monster. The challenges faced by the characters may be harrowing, but the characters themselves are good people who are worth cheering for.

The Black hits the exact tone I want in fiction. It’s dark, but it’s not cynical.

Not much else I can say without spoilers, but I will mention that I love how this show handles issues of abuse and PTSD. There’s some fantastic character work in this series.

My one major frustration with The Black is it’s yet another example of TV seasons becoming ever shorter. Seriously, seven twenty-minute episodes isn’t a TV season; it’s a movie with a bunch of credit sequences jammed into the middle.

Taylor, Hailey, and Boy in Pacific Rim: The Black.I will say, though, that as much as I’m hungry for more of this show, its quality doesn’t really suffer from the shortness of the season, unlike most shows these days. They somehow managed to cram an incredible amount of plot, action, and character development into very little time without it feeling rushed.

I’m just glad season two is on the way. I’m struggling to even remember the last time a new show impressed me this much.

I haven’t been doing numbered reviews as much lately, but this is definitely 9/10 territory. There are a few weird choices here or there, and the short season is disappointing, but there’s so much to love that faults like that are easily overlooked.