An engrossing dark fantasy with epic world building and lyrical prose, Beyond the Black Gate is a completely different kettle of fish to its predecessor.
Craig Smiley has made it beyond the Black Gate, but it’s not the paradise he was promised. Angry at his betrayal, Smiley decides to do what any self respecting serial killer would do – take his revenge by killing the seven gods. Along the way he gathers a motley crew from the different tribes that worship each of the monstrous entities that rule the hellish lands with iron fists. His companions, and his experiences beyond the Black Gate, change Smiley, and could it be that his character now vacillates on the spectrum somewhere between villain and anti hero?
If you read my review yesterday, you will know that I loved Gods of the Black Gate, and I wasted no time after finishing it to dive into the sequel. I received quite a shock when the thriller, science fiction and horror mashup of the first book transformed into a dark fantasy horror epic, complete with intense world building, unearthly creatures and a meta interconnected universe. What was more, Craig Smiley, not so nice serial killer antagonist from the first book, was now the protagonist with a redemption arc.
If Gods of the Black Gate was an apple, then Beyond the Black Gate would be an obsidian dagger. Or, to put it another way. If Gods of the Black Gate was a honey badger, and you picked up Beyond the Black Gate expecting more honey badger antics, or something honey badgerish, or at least mammalian, and instead you found the aquatic cooperative organisms known as the Portuguese man o’ war, you would have some idea of how different the two books are from each other. Both very good books, but so dissimilar as to be from another solar system.
With that out of the way, Beyond the Black Gate made me realize why I like Sale’s writing so much. It deals with despair; broken characters seeking redemption in a grey world full of horror. It’s about looking for the light when all you can see is darkness. These are themes close to my heart; I like to write about them, so it makes sense that I like reading about them too.
Beyond the Black Gate is a fantasy masterpiece, complex and satisfying. It introduced me to the author’s interconnected universe, which makes me want to read all his published works several times so I can decipher all the meaning and suck the marrow from its bones. That’s not to say that it isn’t a very good stand alone story, because it is.
If I have one criticism, it is that the beautiful prose gets away from the author in the middle of the book, causing it to sag ever so slightly. Sale has a gift with words, and he can write a beautiful sentence, so beautiful in fact that at times the words take over and float away with a lyrical property that makes the characters seem peripheral. With something as high concept as this novel, it is important to stay grounded with the characters, because otherwise it can become somewhat like a dark dream you are observing, and it is easy to disconnect.
Because of this, I award Beyond the Black Gate…
This review was originally posted on 3rd March 2020.