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.

Updates: A New Gig, Stargate, Three Worlds, and More

I’m sorry for not posting more lately. I’ve been very busy. There are a lot of things going on at the moment I would have in the past done deep dive posts on, but I don’t have the time or energy these days. I didn’t want to leave this blog to rot, though, so I’ll do a quick rundown of all that’s new.

The official logo for Dungeons and Dragons, fifth editionFirstly, part of the reason I’m so busy is that I’ve picked up another new writing gig. I’m not sure how much I’m contractually allowed to say in public right now, but I can say that it’s writing Fifth Edition adventures. It’s not for Wizards of the Coast; it’s a third party producing adventures under the Open Gaming License. It’s a fairly well-established company, though. I already knew them before I even applied for the job.

It’s also not clear to me if this is a short-term thing or something that will be ongoing for the foreseeable future. I think it depends on how happy they are with my work.

Professional game design is something I’ve always wanted to do, so I’m glad to have the opportunity, but the workload is more than I’m used to, so it’s taking a lot out of me. Someone without my disabilities would probably be fine, but for me it’s taking a lot of energy. To their credit, my new employers have been pretty patient and even made accommodations to work with my unpredictable schedule.

This has delayed work on my own tabletop game, Wyrd Street. I’m unsure if I’ve mentioned it on this blog before, but I do plan to talk about it at some point. For now the short version for those who haven’t already been told about it is that it’s a D20-based RPG about ordinary heroes in a fantastical world. It draws a lot of inspiration from the earlier sections of Dragon Age II.

The idea at the heart of it is that anyone can be the hero, no matter what the rest of the world thinks of you or what struggles you might have in your life. You might not be a hero of legend, but you can be a hero to the people who depend on you. You might not save the world, but you can still save someone’s world.

That’s on the backburner while I focus on the new job, but I hope to get back to it at some point. Early play-tests were going well. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback. Several people have said they enjoy combat in Wyrd Street more than in 5E.

The Stormfall palace in Wolcen: Lords of MayhemOn the video game front, those who follow my column on Massively Overpowered may have noticed I got sucked into Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem. I just finished the campaign, and I definitely want to play more, but I also have a lot of other stuff in my backlog I want to get to, and while I think Wolcen’s polish issues have been exaggerated, waiting for a few more patches to smooth out some of the rougher edges doesn’t seem like the worst idea. We’ll see how I feel; the combat and the build system in that game are just so addictive.

I did finally break down and pick up Nier: Automata on a Steam flash sale recently, so I hope to get to that soon, as well. Still a lot left to do in Star Trek Online, too.

Speaking of sci-fi, now that I finally have a library card, I discovered they have the entire series of Stargate: SG-1 on DVD, so I’ve been binge watching through that.

Despite the fact I’ve seen every episode of Atlantis and Universe, I’d only seen bits and pieces of SG-1 prior to now. I got interested in it pretty late in the game, and it was never on TV at times that were convenient to me. Then I didn’t have a TV. DVDs are too expensive, and there’s never been a convenient way to stream it.

But now I’m finally getting to watch it all in order. I just started on season four, and the show finally seems to be find its footing.

I won’t lie; if I didn’t know for a fact the series gets better, I might have given up on SG-1 in the first few seasons. It’s not that it’s terrible or anything, but it’s not enormously compelling either, and some aspects of it really haven’t aged well. It does feel like it’s starting to find more of a voice now, though, and I know the best is yet to come.

I’m also binging Welcome to Night Vale pretty hard right now. I got tickets to a live show in my area for later this month, and while I know it isn’t strictly necessary, I want to be fully caught up before I go. I’ve “only” got about twenty episodes left now, though I also want to listen to the recordings of all the previous live shows, and I haven’t touched those yet.

Official art for the audio drama Welcome to Night ValeI also finally tried one of the other shows by that company, Alice Isn’t Dead. Only listened to a few episodes so far, but my first impression is it’s really damn good. A bit Secret World-esque, and I adore Jasika Nicole’s voice. Wish I could get her to narrate my life.

Finally, when it comes to books, I just got done reading a collection of short fiction set in Ian Irvine’s Three Worlds setting, A Wizard’s War and Other Stories. It was fine and all, but I definitely expected more. None of the stories really jumped out as being super memorable. Don’t regret reading it, but it’s definitely not essential, even if you’re a serious Three Worlds fan.