A little while back I received a review copy of A Gathering of Doorways [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon] by Michael Jasper. Mike is someone I’ve known online almost since I started writing. He’s a good guy, and a very good writer. (See my reviews of The Wannoshay Cycle and his excellent collection Gunning for the Buddha.)
In Doorways, Gil and Melissa and their son Noah are trying to make a living on their new farm, despite the strange, toxic water slowly encroaching onto their land. One of Jasper’s strengths is his characterization, making Melissa and Gil not shining fantasy heroes, but real people with real flaws. Their marriage is already strained following the stillbirth of their second child, and then Noah wanders into the forest and disappears while Gil was supposed to be watching him.
Much as I wanted to see Gil and Melissa working together, that would be the easy route. The anger and fear between husband and wife as they each try to find their son was painfully real. As usual, Jasper’s cast of secondary characters were equally engaging, with their own flaws and hidden motives and conflicts.
Five-year-old Noah, on the other hand, never quite clicked for me. It felt like Jasper was trying too hard to make him childlike, uses words like “kest” for quest, and following logid that didn’t quite ring true. It felt like an adult trying to write a child instead of a real child, if that makes sense.
I liked the surreal Undercity, the nightmarish fairy tale world beneath the forest. It’s disturbing as heck, treading that dark fantasy line between the fantastic and the horrific. But I didn’t feel like I was seeing or learning enough about the Undercity to understand it. For much of the book, it’s a vague danger. I don’t understand how things work or what’s really at risk.
Eventually, we discover what’s going on in the Undercity — the power struggle, the reason the poisons are leaking out into the world above, and so on. But I wanted to get more of that sooner. Not the whole picture, perhaps, but I needed more to ground me in this world and make it real for me.
I’m not a big dark fantasy reader, and I suspect fans of that genre would enjoy the book. If you’re less into the dark side of the genre, I’d probably steer you toward The Wannoshay Cycle first. Jasper’s a good writer; I just don’t know if I was the right audience for Doorways.