BY SEAN CLARK
[This clever YA fantasy is a C4 Great Read.]
Author: John Connolly
I stumbled upon Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things a few years ago and really loved it. At some point I’ll go back and reread it for review, then probably crown it a Great Read too. That book was engrossing, surprisingly deep, and quite dark. Despite being about demons trying to incite Armageddon and annihilate the human race through a trans-dimensional wormhole, The Gates is not a dark book. It provides levity with cheeky humor and a colorful cast of characters (both demonic and not).
Samuel Johnson, who is 11, and his personable dachshund, Boswell, while staying out past their curfew, espy a weird Satanic ritual take place in a neighbor’s basement. The neighbors are possessed by demons and set about opening a gate to Hell in order to allow The Great Malfeasance to lead his army through and destroy the planet. How did the first demons get through? Because of a tiny particle that escaped the CERN hadron collider.
Of course, no one believes Samuel at first–still, the demon leader Mrs. Abernathy, possessed by Ba’al, knows the trouble children can cause. She throws everything she can at him: monsters under his bed, giant spiders, flying skulls, demons of all ranks. But Simon and Boswell are resourceful and prove a formidable match for the legions of Hell.
This book is rife with rich characters. Connoly is creative with the demons he springs from Hell, and he uses them very well in the narrative. Many of the underworldy creatures interact with our dimension with a lovable aloofness and confused curiosity (think Napolean at the Ziggy Pig). It’s all very tongue-in-cheek and very entertaining. The whole book is saturated in a suburban charm akin to some of the great kids’ monster movies of the 80’s–Gremlins, The Monster Squad, etc.
Much of the book’s mood derives from a playful-yet-authorial writing style not unlike that of Neil Gaiman. And, indeed, Connolly is in the same realm of skill as Gaiman. The narration of this book steals the show. There are constant asides from the faceless narrator. Many made me chuckle, and most were pitch-perfect.
It is a curious fact that small boys are more terrified of their babysitters than small girls are. In part, this is because small girls and babysitters, who are generally slightly larger girls, belong to the same species, and therefore understand each other. Small boys, on the other hand, do not understand girls, and therefore being looked after by one is a little like a hamster being looked after by a shark. If you are a small boy, it may be some consolation to you to know that even large boys do no understand girls, and girls, by and large, do not understand boys. This makes adult life very interesting.
I enjoyed this book even more than I expected I would. I wish I could have read it when I was 12 or 13, because that Sean would have enjoyed it even more. It’s a funny, charming, and engrossing book; the best YA novel I’ve read in a while. The Gates is definitely a Great Read.