Tor, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-8438-6
Through the Gate in the Sea is the sequel to Beyond the Pool of Stars – same lead cast and everything – but this story has very little carryover baggage from the previous one, so in many ways it can be quite a decent standalone story. But with the pre-established relationships of the main players here, it may be better to start reading from the first book.
Since the events in the previous book, scavenger Mirian Raas and her lizardfolk buddies are working together to discover traces of the lizardfolks’ history and, hopefully, clues that Jekka and Kalina are not the last of their people. Early in the story, exploration of a shipwreck – which they found by chance – yields some exciting clues that the ship was, in fact, made by lizardfolks, and they used some sophisticated methods to power the ship. With Mirian’s estranged brother-in-law being an archeologist, our gang soon piece an interesting possibility that a tribe of lizardfolks long ago used a magical item called a tear to create a portal to another place… somewhere… and established some kind of lizardfolk utopia. This could mean that Jekka and Kalina could find more of their own kind after all! But first, they have to locate the tear, and the whole thing is complicated by the fact that other parties, including an old enemy, want to thwart the gang for all kinds of reasons.
This one is, in a word, fun. It is quite old school in the sense that while the characterization isn’t too deep all across – I have no idea what some of the characters, like Ivrian, are doing here because they just seem to show up for the sake of showing up – but the pacing is solid and there is a noticeably lack of filler combat encounter scenes – unlike the previous book, which suffers from way too many of such scenes. Scenes that are meant to be exciting are just that, and to my pleasant surprise, I find myself feeling a little choked up inside when, as we go towards the inevitable happy ending, the characters’ bonding and various epiphanies about they are all a fellowship and family full of love and what not actually make me go all “Aww! That’s so sweet!” inside.
The relationships between Mirian, Jekka, and Mirian’s estranged sister are all pleasant heartwarming surprises here, all the more so considering how detached I felt about the previous book, and I like how these characters are all smart and capable without coming off as too overpowered. In fact, the author has Mirian losing her powerful weapons early on, which is a good thing as it allows a good degree of suspense and vulnerability for the rest of the story. The rest of the cast are sort of just showing up to fill up space, but they are alright, as they add to the whole “big, solid friendship” feel of the whole story. Thus, in a way, while the characters are not too deep, they still manage to serve up a few emotional punches here and there.
Through the Gate in the Sea is one of those rare sequels that are far better than the original – so much better – and it’s definitely a solid thrill ride of a read worth a look if you are in the mood for a no-nonsense action-packed fantasy story.