Young Samuel Johnson and his dachshund, Boswell, are trying to show initiative by trick-or-treating a full three days before Halloween which is how they come to witness strange goings-on at 666 Crowley Road. The Abernathys don't mean any harm by their flirtation with the underworld, but when they unknowingly call forth Satan himself, they create a gap in the universe. A gap in which a pair of enormous gates is visible. The gates to Hell. And there are some pretty terrifying beings just itching to get out...
Can one small boy defeat evil? Can he harness the power of science, faith, and love to save the world as we know it?
This was the hubbies suggested read for Giving me the Creeps October, a job he always takes very seriously. But after the year he had me slog through Tommyknockers I'm always a tad cautious about his choices (that book was crazy long).
I have to admit, although entertaining, I found the start a little dense for catching my enthusiasm. Funny, and filled with silly footnotes, it was enjoyable but a bit slow. I love humorous footnotes in fiction, but to be honest, I can find they easily start to distract from a story when they're too big or too frequent. However, at about 60 pages in, they almost entirely disappear and this rollicking adventure starts to catch its stride.
Samuel and Boswell are a seriously amusing team. Samuel is clever in a way that seems to defeat everyone around him in a constantly amusing variety of scenarios:
"Oh look, it's not that complicated. I'm supposed to become whatever scares you. I just picked the whole slushy tentacled thing because, well, it's a classic, isn't it?""Is it?" asked Samuel. "So you're a bit like an octopus, then?""A bit, I suppose," admitted the demon."I quite like octopi.""Octopodes," corrected the demon. "Don't they teach you anything at school?""There's no need to be rude," said Samuel."I'm a demon. what do you expect me to be? Pleasant? Tuck you in and read you a story? You're not very bright, are you?""No, you're not very bright, turning up here in the dead of night and being caught out by an old sock. And you haven't assumed a form that scares me. You're an octopus.""I'm like an octopus," said the demon. "But scarier. I think. It's hard to see under here."Meanwhile Boswell is a fiercely protective dog who refuses to be held back from protecting his beloved Samuel by his stubby little legs. Colour me relieved that Connolly is not one of those authors that like to kill off the beloved pets for an easy heart wrench. The way these two manage to fend off a horde of incoming demons is too funny.
How humanity reacts to the onslaught of demons is also endlessly amusing. We prove to be considerably less easy to cow then anticipated.
"It's okay, love," said Mr. Mayer, slamming the kitchen door, although he wasn't entirely sure how much good that would do, given what had just happened to the back door. "Don't be frightened." He didn't know why he was telling his wife not to be frightened, as there seemed a perfectly good reason to be very frightened, but that was what one did at times like this.The variety of reactions, beatings and colourful solutions to the rush of sinister creatures makes for pages and pages of entertainment.
"Frightened?" said Mrs. Mayer, yanking herself free from her husband's grasp and storming into the living room. "I'm not frightened. That's a new kitchen, that is. I'm not just going to stand by while some bull thing destroys it."
She moved with determination to the fireplace and picked up a poker.
"Mum," said Christopher. "It's a demon. I don't think a poker will hurt it."
"It will where I"m going to put it," said Mrs. Mayer.
Mr. Mayer looked at Christopher, and shrugged.
"You have to stop her, Dad," said Christopher.
"I think I'd rather face the demon," said Mr. Mayer as his wife pushed past him "You know your mum when she has her mind set on something."
So, when Meg handed them their first tow free pints, carefully removing a pair of vouchers from their misshapen fists along the way, they just stared at them suspiciously to begin with. Gath was about to shatter the glasses and start being properly demonic when Shan noticed a vampire take a long drink from a similar glass. For a moment, the vampire looked as though he had just been hit through the heart with a large stake, as the unusual taste of Spiggitt's Old Peculiar seared his mouth and erased a few memories. Then a strange, happy smile appeared on his face, and he hugged the nearest mummy.All in all The Gates was a super funny, raucously enjoyable ride which has made me keen to dig into the sequel (though it reads wonderfully as a one off, for those of you groaning over sequels).
Shan lifted the glass to his snout and sniffed it. Shan was uses to the stench of Hell itself, but whatever was in the glass smelled a bit odd, even to him. He took a tentative sip.
Something exploded in Shan's head, and he looked around to see who had hit him and then poked him in the eyes. As his vision began to return, and he found there was nobody nearby, Shan realized that it was the stuff in the glass that had somehow managed to hit him He was considering throwing it at the wall and laying waste to all around him when he began to feel very mellow. He took another sip, longer this time. Now Gath raised his glass and drank. He staggered a bit when the beer started knocking out brain cells, and almost fell over.
"Hurh, hurh," said Shan. It was a sound that he had never made before, and it took him awhile to recognize it as laughter.
"Hurh, hurh," siad Gath as he too began to recover.
They drank a little more. Someone began playing the piano. Meg and Billy dispensed free French fires, and Shan and Gath goth their first taste of greasy, deep-fried potato. Gath put an arm around Shan. Shan was his best mate. He loved Shan. No, he really loved Shan.
They moved onto their second pints of Spigget's Old Peculiar, and all thoughts of world domination faded away.
The Gates, by John Connolly
Published by Hodder and Stoughton, 2009
Buy The Gates on Amazon