Hell’s Gate is a newish military sci fi/fantasy series by prolific writer David Weber and Linda Evans. It’s about two separate earth-like universes exploring portals into other similar universes, leading to an unthinkable meeting in one of these alternative universes, by accident. And, to everyone’s shock and horror, both men who see each other shoot at each other simultaneously (although the Arcanan – the “bad” guys – actually shoots first) and kill each other. Unfortunately, the Sharonan team is a small civilian survey team while the Arcanans are a much larger military force and they go after the Sharonans. And they slaughter them, while taking heavy casualties.
Something of note. The interesting premise of this book and series is this: Sharona runs on the standard technology of the early 20th century, complete with standard weaponry such as rifles, revolvers, machine guns, etc., although a certain percentage of the population has “Talent,” and are “Voices” – mental abilities to speak over long distances, etc. They are invaluable for communicating over incredibly long distances in the empire. However, Arcana uses magic to function as a manufacturing/military society. Everything is run by spells and their weapons are both ancient (crossbows) and mythical (fire breathing dragons). The utter shock when both sides encounter each other is huge. Especially when they ultimately find they can’t even communicate, nor can they understand how either civilization can even work.
The only two Sharonian survivors of what turns out to be a mistaken Arcanan attack, Shaylar and Jathmar, are taken prisoner by Sir Jasak Olderhan, an honorable officer who seeks to protect their lives from his own people. He is helped by Magister Gadrial Kelbryan, a Gifted sorceress, for lack of a better description. Unfortunately, it seems the Arcanans are a war-like people, while at the same time, word of this disaster has reached Sharona and people are outraged, especially since Shaylar was the most popular woman in their universe and they mistakenly believe she was killed. Their whole world is shocked, outraged, and terrified of a possible war coming to them and preparations are made for war — troops, logistics, a worldwide Conclave of all the rulers leading to a demand for a universal government, most likely lead by Ternathian emperor Zindel chan Calirath.
The end of the novel is a cliffhanger, as the Arcanans have sent “diplomats” out to seek negotiations with the Sharonans while they move thousands of troops and dozens of dragons to the front for a surprise attack. Sharona won’t know what hit them. And there the book ends. Weber is so good at ending his books like this. It’s damned maddening! So I immediately had to go out and buy the sequel and I’m already halfway through it.
This is a great book with a unique and great premise, but I’m only giving it four stars because there are so many wasted pages of descriptions and explanations of kingdoms and territories and populations and peoples, none of which really matter to the story – they’re just filler. And this book is almost 1,300 pages! It’s the biggest damn book I’ve ever read! If they had cut out the unessential stuff, it probably would have been closer to 800 pages or less. But as I’ve always said of Weber books, I’m convinced he’s paid by the word/page count. He writes really, really long books with tons of completely unnecessary infodumps that you learn to just skim over to save your own sanity. Four stars for what should be a five star book. Definitely recommended.