The saga of Allison Beckstrom is an intriguing one. Author Devon Monk must be going somewhere with the overarching storyline in these books; it's not a "continuing adventures of Ally Beckstrom" kind of series. The story is moving toward some sort of conclusion, but at what pace? Magic at the Gate, the latest novel in the saga and also the best of the ones I've read (I missed the first two), perfectly blends the storytelling, character and atmosphere that I'm sure Monk has been going for all along.
Allie’s lover and fellow magic-user, Zayvion Jones, lies soulless after a battle with a rival faction of wizards that has sundered the Authority (a group of wizards who govern how magic is used). Allie has gone through the gate that Zayvion's soul was banished to, a realm of death and darkness. In order to save Zayvion's life and soul, she may have to give up something else of great importance to her. When she gets back, she discovers that evil hasn't taken a break. Dead souls walk the earth again, hungry for magical energy.
Once again, there are two parts to the novel: the beginning and the rest of it. The beginning of the previous books has been kind of slow: character build-up, relationship building, that sort of thing. This time, Monk starts with a bang. Allie is already in Death's realm, looking for Zayvion's soul and trying to figure out how to rescue it. She has to depend a bit more on her father than she would like, since this is his world. Her moral dilemma when finally offered a chance to succeed is almost heartbreaking.
Things get even better when Allie returns from that realm. The action heats up, but so does the characterization. The interaction between Allie and Shame is wonderful, a kind of brother-sister camaraderie with a hint of flirting. Shame's got his own issues: he's magically bonded to another wizard in the Authority, and he's not happy about it. The relationships among various characters veritably sing off the page.
Monk does a great job switching between action and characterization as well as mingling the two. The final breathtaking battle moves the story forward in ways that whet the appetitte to see how Monk will adjust. The action is hot, the spells fly, and Allie learns a lot about herself in the process. Others do, too, since they've mainly been trying to keep her in the background, unsure if she can handle herself. Yes, she's too impulsive at times (actually jumping through a gate into the death realm without really thinking), but she's good at what she does. I foresee some major characterization shifts in future books as other characters come to terms with that.
Monk's prose here is the strongest I've seen so far. She really gets the reader into the action, or caring about the characters if it's a slow scene. She mixes up the plot, hinting at a possible traitor in the mix or perhaps a secret that one of the characters is holding back. She keeps the hook in the reader, wiggling on the line and unable to get away. Any negatives regarding Magic at the Gate are pretty negligible and don't detract at all from how fun it is.
If you're not already reading about Allie Beckstrom, you should start. This is another great entry in the series.