The Seventh Gate by Geraldine Harris
The Seventh Gate by Geraldine Harris
4.09/5 Average | 162 Ratings
This book—this whole series—destroyed me.
Last night at one in the morning, I read the last page of The Seventh Gate. Then I turned off the light, snuggled into bed next to my husband, and as the sleepy sounds of our dogs filled the small room, I quietly sobbed.
And I’m not a crier.
Why, you might ask? That’s a good question that’s a bit hard to answer. I think the best I can articulate it is that the whole series, from beginning to end, was just so damn real. Universal truths shone through the fantastical world with such intensity that I cried for the beauty and the horror of life.
I feel like that alone sets the stage for what to expect from this series, but, well, you might not agree. So I’ll try to write a real review.
Though the writing is meticulous, The Seven Citadels isn’t neat and tidy. Characters aren’t reduced to solitary arcs—change isn’t guaranteed. More than this, there are no true villains. Every ‘bad guy’ has a sympathetic reason for his actions. Each antagonist is clearly just trying to do the best they can with their lot in life.
That hurts. I regularly found myself wanting Kerish to succeed, but not at the expense of those that opposed him. I fantasized about a sudden twist in the story that would put everyone on the same side. I wanted things to be happy and easy.
But that’s not how things work with people or with the world at large. Questions—lots of questions—go unanswered. And while I desperately want to know the answers, I don’t feel cheated. Every day of my life I encounter questions that I can’t answer. All it does is make me want more. Cod, I would love a second series in the same universe!
I’ve read reviews that claimed that The Seventh Gate went off the rails and lost its direction. I couldn’t disagree more vehemently. The Seven Citadels feels a bit like take a raft downstream. It starts off slow enough for you to pick up every detail along the way. As the river gains momentum, you have to focus on the task at hand—rafting—and let what’s happening on the banks whip past.
In this analogy, Kerish is the rafter. We’re merely watching through his eyes.
And then, suddenly, the trip is over.
Others have complained about the ending of the novel, but I think what they’re really complaining about is the fact that it didn’t end the way they wanted it to. Hell, The Seventh Gate isn’t how I wanted the series to end, but by all the writing gods, it’s the appropriate ending to the series. And frankly, if it had ended in a conventional, predictable way, it would have cheapened everything leading up to it.
More than that, it’s meaty. I chewed on the ending for a solid hour after closing the book. Occasionally, the … reality of it made me tear up again and I’d reflect back on the series, wondering how a certain character handled things after our heroes left them.
There is so much to love about The Seventh Gate and The Seven Citadels series in general. It’s the sort of book I would have adored as a child. I feel like its blunt portrayal of the world would have been a balm to my soul as a I aged into the realization that life isn’t a fairy tale or a nightmare. It’s both, with a lot of average days in between.
As an adult, there are a few themes in this book that seem poignant, especially to an its intended YA audience.
The first theme is that of physical beauty.
Gidjabolgo, the cynical side-kick, is described by pretty much every character in the book as repugnantly ugly. Though it takes a while before it’s clearly stated in the book, this deeply affects Gidjabolgo. His dis-ease with his appearance comes to a head in The Seventh Gate when he meets the final sorcerer on their quest: a woman so ugly that as a child she willingly scarred herself to make her ugliness seem less natural and, in doing so, less mockable.
After she became a sorcerer, she had enough power to change her appearance. And so she did. But as sorcerers in this world are immortal, she also had generations to come to terms with her natural-born appearance. And, as perhaps you’d expect from an author as real as Geraldine Harris, the conversation between Gidjabolgo and the sorceress about beauty isn’t full of empty platitudes about loving yourself and the insubstantiality of appearance. The sorcerer clearly knows just how much appearances matter—and that’s how she can help Gidjabolgo find peace.
The second theme is that of friendship.
I know friendship is a common theme, but I also think most fictionalized friendships are simplistic. Fun, but simplistic. Think Harry Potter. Ron, Hermoine, and Harry are clearly meant to be friends. They’re very different, but they’ve got chemistry and the second they meet something seems to happen. Sure, there will be disagreements and trials, but you know they're friends and that's it.
Conversely, Gidjabolgo joins Kerish on his quest late in the first book, Prince of the Godborn. As Gidjabolgo is a hedonistic, cynical atheist, and Kerish is on a religious quest to save his people, they have no common ground. They don’t even stand on opposite sides of a divide, where they are two sides of the same coin and their relationship rests on that scant space between them.
Gidjabolgo is caustic, cynical, cutting. He loves to knock people down simply because it makes him feel better, and he’s not shy about saying exactly that. Kerish is well-intentioned but naïve and spoiled. He wants to be the sort of person to turn the other cheek, yet he’s not. When Gidjabolgo lashes out at him, it’s not a pithy showdown between equals. It’s awkward and often one-sided and leaves the reader unsure of whether either of them was in the right.
Which means that their progression to friendship doesn’t follow the traditional trajectory of slowly, almost unwittingly covering the divide between them until one shocking day they struggle to remember how they ever didn't get along.
No, with a scant quarter of the book left, Gidjabolgo viciously pokes holes in Kerish’s consolatory self-deception. And Kerish sobs and takes Gidjabolgo’s comments with no less pain than he did in the first book. But as Kerish cries, Gidjabolgo wraps an arm around him and holds him until he falls asleep.
Their friendship is far from easy, but how could it be anything else? Under any other circumstances they simply wouldn’t be friends, and yet here they are, at the end of a seemingly hopeless quest, bitterly devoted to each other. It breaks your heart. Especially at one in the morning on a Tuesday when you really should be sleeping.
The third thing that felt significant to me isn’t a theme like friendship or beauty. It’s an act.
Gidjabolgo—a grown man—rolls over and holds Kerish—another grown man—as Kerish sobs. Gidjabolgo provides physical comfort to a man who is struggling emotionally. Just let that sink in. Those handful of lines feel revolutionary. Kerish is allowed to sob, no one thinks less of him for it, and Gidjabolgo provides the only sort of comfort he can: he makes sure Kerish knows he isn’t alone by holding him.
This might be the pinnacle of emotional physical contact, but it’s far from the only one. Kerish regularly touches or hugs his brother. The three of them—Gidjabolgo, Kerish, and Forollkin—interact like three people inexorably linked and emotionally close, not like three bros out on an adventure.
I could go on—I’d love to, in fact—but I feel like any more words might bore you out of reading this remarkable series. When I set out to find forgotten gems, The Seven Citadels was exactly the sort of story I hoped to find. I sincerely hope you give it a chance.
Cover art by: Unknown :(