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Reading: The Anubis Gates

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Despite being a time travel story there’s a reason The Anubis Gates falls under the Fantasy Masterworks umbrella instead of science fiction, as the time travel element is very much the result of magic, not technology or science. Indeed, it shares a few elements with Powers’ pirate story, On Stranger Tides, in that ancient beliefs about magic are actually true and have simply been diminished thanks to the rise of Christianity and a waning belief in such things.

The book’s protagonist, Brendan Doyle, inevitably finds himself lost in time, trapped back in the early 1800s, but doesn’t find this to be a terrible thing. There’s little angst about his circumstances beyond worrying that a simple illness could kill him in this time period but would be curable in his time. As a biographer of the mysterious poet William Ashbless Doyle is familiar with the time he’s been stranded in and in some respects embraces the chance to be around poets like Coleridge, Byron and Ashbless.

The main conflict for Doyle then isn’t a desperate struggle to return home but to simply survive the various factions who are after him and his knowledge of the Anubis Gates, which includes elaborately organised clans of beggars and the Egyptian sorcerers who were involved in the creation of the gates. The latter group have their own plans for the gates, England and Egypt, and Doyle’s knowledge could be instrumental to their plans or, left unchecked, could bring about their undoing.

An inevitably of any time travel story is the presence of paradoxes, events where the effects of an event can occur before the cause, creating a loop where something happens only because it has already happened, or things occurring that never have an original cause. The Anubis Gates is no exception, and Powers’ approach is to have Doyle be as bewildered by them as the reader and then just move on quickly to the next part of the adventure. In fact, other than being the means for Doyle to go back in time and the reason so many people want to kill him the gates themselves aren’t a major part of the story, it’s more about Doyle’s struggles with the villains and the unique experience of him being a biographer of a historical character who then gets to go back and see how the reality matches up with historical record.

Mixing historical events and characters with fantasy elements, with heroes and villains alike being unique and memorable, all with personal motivations, The Anubis Gates makes for an exciting adventure story.

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