This is an ambitious undertaking. At 705 pages The Last Gate is a large book, yet it is, according to the author, just Book One in a planned trilogy. Book One is successful at what the author wants it to do, and is a wonderful achievement.
The Last Gate is a fantasy, set in a world far from ours yet a world with a medieval feel to it. It was George Lucas' stroke of genius, when creating his "Star Wars" movies, to combine medieval sensibilities (and weaponry) with a futuristic theme. Merz has done the same here, and is equally successful in creating a world replete with wonderful characters and with a sense of long history. For the first few pages, new names and new words to define other worldly things come at the reader a bit too quickly. I felt like a new teacher in a
classroom forced to memorize the names of new students on the first day of class. But happily, that sense of being overwhelmed by strange names and words dissipates quickly as we are introduced to the main characters of the book, the men and women of the Ver dala Ven, a race of beings with golden eyes and magical powers, chief among them the powers to read minds and control the thoughts of others.
Merz now leads us into a tale of palace intrigue, in which a jealous son plots to kill his parents and/or his brothers and sisters and anyone else that would hamper his desire for power. Taen, the evil son of the good Cobo (one born with the golden eyes) and Jishni, wants power more than anything. He has inherited some of the power to read minds and so is aware of his mother's hidden secret. That is, that his supposed father, Bail, the husband of his mother, is not his true father. His true father is Cobo, the Ver dala Ven who seduced his mother. There is enough infidelity here in The Last Gate to make one think Merz actually lived in a palace in England, hobnobbed with princes and princesses for a time and from that experience gleaned material for this book.
The writing is expert and, unlike many of the bloated novels we see today which are puffed up beyond their natural size, this novel fills every one of its more than 700 pages. It is writing marred a bit by some lax editing. Typos appear here and there like stains on a white linen tablecloth put down for a feast. Still the feast is intact. Readers who like their fantasies large and broad, with many characters and many subplots, will enjoy this book. A word of warning to those few to whom such things matter: there are a couple of scenes which are fairly sexually explicit, although these are tastefully handled. The book may therefore not be appropriate for the very young teen.
Here is one scene in which Lodan, a master of the kai'gam (a magical sword) battles the giant Blaec:
"The laughter became shocked silence as Lodan swung his kai'gam upward, it screeching its song, and he disappeared from their sights. Cobo could still see the master. He ducked under Blaec's blade and through the giant's legs. Emerging behind him, Lodan swung his weapon upwards, swatting Blaec's hanging genitals soundly with the flat side of his blade."
Hooray! Come on, girls, how many times have we dreamed of being able to do that? Maybe they should market the kai'gam here in this world?
The Last Gate is filled with intelligence, imagination and, here and there, good humor. A reader who lets him or herself become absorbed into its world will find it totally enjoyable.