The Gates is suspense writer John Connolly’s first foray into young adult fiction writing. While his previous entry The Book of Lost Things featured a young adult, that book’s overall tone is far too dark for the category. The Gates, on the other hand, is an effervescent romp that combines science, religion, urban fantasy, and a generous helping of humor. It reminds me of Good Omens (by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman), without the heavy satire.
On October 28, dressed as a ghost and toting his loyal dachshund, 11-year-old Samuel Johnson sets out for an early start on his trick-or-treating. While his pre-Halloween bounty is decidedly non-existent, Samuel witnesses his neighbors (partially) opening the Gates of Hell—and promptly being devoured by a hungry demon. As the demon Ba’al grows in strength and prepares to open the Gates fully in order for the Great Malevolence to enter, and destroy, the world, Samuel must stay alive, convince the adults that his neighbors really are evil, and stop a rampaging demon horde.
Fast paced, surprisingly educational (there are several pages dedicated to the Large Hadron Collider, which has a starring role in the plot), and full of heart, The Gates is the perfect curl-up-under-a-warm-blanket-with-a-flashlight book. The characters, while not as complex as those from The Book of Lost Things, are well-drawn and entertaining, from the flummoxed CERN scientists, to the bumbling army of darkness (some of whom would really just rather be down at the pub), to Samuel’s perplexed mother, to his plucky friends (including the dog, Boswell, who steals the show). Samuel himself is both likeable and relatable (you have to love a boy who brings a straight pin to school to show everyone the infinite number of angels dancing on its head). Even Nurd, a demon who yearns to be the Scourge of Worlds, is really just a big softie who’s looking for friendship. After all, you can’t stop an apocalypse without making a few friends.
My one complaint is that this book is far too short. I’m looking forward to the sequel, Hell’s Bells, which is supposed to be out in May 2011.