The bar was raised quite high for me after reading The Shards of Heaven, the first installment in this trilogy. I thought the novel was absolutely brilliant. When my expectations are that high, the sequel generally doesn’t live up to my expectations. Not so with The Gates of Hell. I can’t decide if I liked it better than the first novel, but it’s a terrific and enjoyable book.
Part of it is the writing style. Michael Livingston is a terrific writer, a master of prose. His character development is truly something. An example of this is the character Octavian or Caesar Augustus, who was quite villainous in the first novel but becomes more sympathetic and likable in this book. Even the more loathsome characters like Tiberius and Thrasyllus are well done. But it’s also the way he blends fantasy with history in such a seamless fashion that sets this novel apart.
There are two separate storylines in this novel and they alternate from chapter to chapter. One storyline follows Juba and Selene as they journey with Augustus in Northern Spain, where they encounter a guerilla leader who controls another of the shards. The second storyline takes place in Egypt with the Ark of the Covenant. They are both compelling storylines with lots of drama and tension. I expected the two stories to eventually converge, but it never happened. My guess is that it will in the final installment of the trilogy.
This novel is well worth the read. It’s a winner and I can only hope that the final book in the trilogy can live up to the first two.