Gateway by Sharon Shinn 2009 Penguin
IQ "'Of course I'll want to remember.' She said. 'The idea of losing any of my memories is terrifying to me when I think about all the ways that could happen-if I have a concussion, if I have a brain tumor, if I fall into dementia when I get old. If I'm here, if this is real, I want to hold onto it forever.'" Daiyu pg. 83
The premise of Gateway sounded so interesting (Chinese girl trained as a spy) and while the end result was a bit of a let down, the book was still an enjoyable read. Daiyu is from China but she was adopted by American parents and now lives in St. Louis. One day, Daiyu comes across a vendor selling a beautiful black jade ring and when she learns that 'daiyu' means 'black jade' she knows she must have the ring, especially because when she tries it on, the ring seems to be made for her. After Daiyu buys the ring she walks under the Arch and is instantly transported to another city (Shenglang) in another world. In this world, the wealthy are the Chinese (the Han) and the lower classes are white (cangbai) and Black (heiren). Daiyu is brought to this world to send an evil prime minsiter, Chenglei to another world. Chenglei is a servant of the gods who creates suffering and chaos in other worlds and now he has taken over Shenglang. All the Han love him because he keeps him them rich and happy, but the lower white and black classes want to overthrow him. Daiyu is trained in the ways of the rich Han in order to infiltrate Chenglei's court and send him back to his orignal world.
The downside to this novel is the romance. It happens way too fast. Basically it consists of Daiyu being transported to Shenglang, meeting Kalen (who is white and therefore of a lower class which provides conflict later on), being comforted by him and BAM! They are in love. I had to go back and re-read a few pages to make sure I hadn't missed anything. There was no deliciously slow development of romance that helps you get to know both characters as they get to know each other. Nope, Daiyu and Kalen knew they were perfect for each other right away *sigh* This wouldn't be so bad if the plot had more action, but it doesn't. The whole plot is supposed to be about Daiyu taking down an evil prime minister but it becomes her constantly pining after Kalen interspersed with some lessons on how a proper Han girl acts. After a while I was just tired of it. Since Kalen is not developed that well I don't see why she's in love with him, he's sweet but he's nothing spectacular. The author attempts a love triangle, but poor Quan (whose a rich Han) never stood a chance. And I didn't really see what was wrong with Quan anyway except that he's Han and likes to drive fast. And how bad is that? I wanted some action, if not butt kicking of prime ministers then at least some interesting romantic action but it stays safe and predictable.
The good aspects of the novel were the descriptions of the new world Daiyu is in. I found the idea of iterations fascinating and they provided a nice stretch to my imagination. The idea that there are other models of the world out there in different dimensions that are all connected by gateways is an interesting thought. An iteration is a world that was created as a copy of the original model (the original model is not Earth but that's all we learn). "The Arch you know is more than a symbol of man's exploration of the western reaches of your continent. [...] It is a magical portal to worlds beyond worlds. Every iteration constructed by every god contains a doorway in that very same spot." (pg. 33) Sharon Shinn has created a wonderfully imaginative world that I didn't want to leave. I loved the idea of there being a non-white majority because it showed that rich people act the same, regardless of race, thinking only of themselves and their wealth. I also love the way the author has with words, she describes beautifully, like "As the barriers slowly ascended, water first began seeping out, then gurgling out, then pouring through in a great frothy frenzy, leaping and joyous as a fluid pack of hunting dogs. The sound built from a mild rumble, like a hundred faucets turned at full blast, to a whooshing roar as the greatest part of the pent-up water came gushing through. And then the noise became quieter, calmer, as the river found its level and the water slowly returned to normal." (pg. 77) The words leap off the page, I can hear the roar of the water. The writing is like that throughout the rest of the book, remarkably fluid. Finally, I could relate to Daiyu's struggle over whether to blindly follow what she's being told (that Chenglei is evil and must be destroyed) or to find out for herself. She realizes that she can't in good conscience banish someone who is in her eyes innocent until proven guilty and I think that is something we all struggle with at one point in our lives.
Gateway is an entertaining read. The synopsis is a bit misleading in describing Daiyu as training to be a spy, she really isn't. She spends most of her time thinking about Kalen and learning the ways of the rich Han, which is unfortunate because I think with more spy action, Gateway could have been truly great. The world Daiyu inhabits and the writing make the story. The world Sharon Shinn has created is well-thought out and the exquisite writing will keep you turning the page. Also, I think the cover is beautiful, such bright and pretty colors! 7th grade and up.