The Orphans — at least in their current incarnation — had proven to be a chatty group. Hardly anything, from something as minor as what to have for dinner, to the planning of major expeditions did not get talked over — sometimes, she suspected, to the frustration of their allies from the Lands.
Sometimes to the frustration of the reader, too. The “talkiness” of this cast of characters was an issue in Thirteen Orphans, and it hasn’t gone away in Nine Gates. The characters still expound to each other at every opportunity. Sometimes they’re imparting useful information, albeit more pedantically than necessary. It’s less justified when the subject is, say, the definition of “homonym.”
However, I found Nine Gates to be more enjoyable than its predecessor. The book starts with a bang: a combat scene that drops the reader right into the action. This excitement doesn’t last, but Jane Lindskold intersperses talky scenes with more suspenseful sequences throughout the novel, so Nine Gates has a lot more forward momentum than Thirteen Orphans did.
Another aspect that fascinated me: the journey through several of the Chinese supernatural realms. I especially liked the hell dimension. Lindskold‘s research and imagination are used to great effect in these scenes, and the realms test the characters in interesting ways.
Speaking of characters, I’m pleased to report that Brenda is much less annoying in Nine Gates. The bad news is that the catty Honey Dream, who was introduced in Thirteen Orphans and becomes a point-of-view character in this installment, is twice as annoying as Brenda ever was. There’s a point to it — she actually has a really interesting character arc — but she got on my last nerve along the way.
So, the downsides are Honey Dream’s obnoxious ‘tude, the ongoing problem of the didactic conversations, and an odd dialogue tic that just bugged me. Lindskold sometimes puts dialogue tags in places where they disrupt the flow of the sentence, as in:
- “I’m not wasting,” Pearl said, “time to run upstairs.”
- “I have recruited,” Loyal Wind said, “horses to carry us swiftly to our destination.”
This may seem like a silly gripe, but it happened enough that I started noticing and being thrown out of the story by it. The problem isn’t that they’re placed midsentence; it’s where in the sentence they’re placed.
But, Nine Gates is worth it for the sake of the hell scenes. I now have the urge to do some reading about Chinese mythology and learn more about the folklore behind Lindskold’s creation.