When three friends, Sophie, Jun and Aisha, suspect they are opening up a game to play on a rainy Saturday afternoon, there is nothing to prepare them for the adventure of a lifetime. On the cover of an old box, two mystical figures seem to follow their moves. Once Sophie opens the book inside, the children are surprised to find empty pages but follow the few instructions to begin the game.Thrust into a mystical land, they meet Eda, an old source of good magic. With her encouragement and directions, the trio set off to travel along a red-brick pathway in hopes of finding and crossing ten special gateways to bring them home once more. Magical charms in their pockets and armed with The Book, will Sophie and her companions answer the riddles they face? Can they best the evil Malefic and return home?
The Tenth Gateway by Maidie Reeve
Reviewed by Dave Leys
Maidie Reeve’s The Tenth Gate begins with the image of its three main characters – Sophie, Aisha and Jun – staring at a wooden box. The intrigue and compulsion they feel informs the way they go about experiencing the world they enter. The three children are determined and this fantasy novel written for young readers is itself a plot-driven vehicle that allows its author to play out her own fascination with games, riddles and the trappings of fairy tales.
The wooden box, it turns out, is a portal that, triggered by the plucky threesome, leads them into another world. In this world they face a number of challenges, which they must overcome in order to return home. In doing so they take part in a battle between the forces of good, represented by Eda and the forces of evil, led by a shape-shifting Malefic. I note that the medieval fantasy mythos that provides the backdrop to this adventure could be painted in a more vivid array of colours.
One form of challenge they face in moving from one part of the world to the next through magical gateways, and one of the more successful elements of the novel, is the solving of riddles. For instance:
My life is from the earth and air
I am sometimes full and sometime bare
I am necessary for you to live
An important life force is what I give
My feet are in the land I love
My hands reach out to the sky I love
What am I?
Readers will enjoy trying to figure out these extended clues alongside the characters and it is apparent that Maidie Reeves has a special love for this ancient form of art.
There is also some fun had with the evil characters, for example Slithe and Weezle, who provide an entertaining support to the thoroughly nasty Malefic.
At times readers may wish that the three main characters were more fully fleshed out and that their dialogue was a little lighter in touch, however their sense of resolve in the face of danger is propulsive and positive.
The world Sophie, Aisha and Jun must traverse, using their wits, to return home is structured very much like a board game, and it is no surprise to learn that the author and her sister had a special love for those games. Readers, especially those who enjoy fantasy board games, will find it really satisfying to progress through each gateway with the characters.
All in all, The Tenth Gateway has established a fantasy landscape with a successful central trope – the playing of games with very real, and potentially deadly, consequences. In this it works well, and I look forward to reading on in the series.
Dave Leys has a novel for young readers, The Institute of Fantastical Inventions, due to be released by Harbour Publishing in 2018.
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