If you’ve read the blurb for Juliette L. Dunn’s Gateway, you’ll see there’s a lot going on. A tale set within an alien world featuring humans and reptilian, dragon-like race coexist, a school with secrets, mysterious underground organisation and a conspiracy, a world besieged by terrorist attacks and a threat of a powerful weapon. With this much going on, the book touches upon a variety of genres, including science fiction, young adult coming of age story, a conspiracy thriller, with a dash of cyberpunk thrown in for good measure. It’s a fair amount for the book to get through, especially with a number of characters throughout, an intricate plot and strong themes. It is a testament to Dunn’s storytelling that these elements come together so well throughout the novel.
Set on the planet Migax, it tells the story of Summer, a girl living a life of poverty, dreaming of a better future. This hope leads her to the prestigious school Askel, courtesy of a contract she signed with weapons manufacturer MiliLabs. At the school, she meets a skeefer—a reptilian species coexisting with humans on Migax—named Leafsong and her brother, Moonwafer, and together they navigate the issues at the school and a conspiracy associated with it and MiliLabs.
To provide more detail about Gateway’s plot would be to spoil the fun of the story. Throughout its 386 pages (estimated at 388 on Kindle, or eight hours and 26 minutes if you listen to the audiobook), the novel tells a story with plenty of twists and turns and revelations that will keep the reader eagerly turning the page, up until its shock ending—something I did not see coming. While it certainly tells a young adult tale and a large part of it is Summer’s coming of age, the turns this story takes do not fit within the genre’s tropes and provide a breath of fresh air.
Also a breath of fresh air is Gateway’s themes. Dunn has packed the novel full of thematic resonance. The book’s content warnings include gun violence, animal cruelty and death, genocide and eugenics, ableism, classism, medical experimentation and police violence. These themes are heavy, particularly so for a young adult story, and the book doesn’t shy away from them. However, the author treats these with sensitivity, ensuring it is suitable and accessible to younger readers. The book touches upon humanity’s propensity to treat those different to ourselves, whether it be race (as the skeefers endure) or class (as Summer endures), abuse of corporate power, propaganda, a sense of nationalism and patriotism, and the lengths people will go to when fearful of terrorism. It also features characters across the LGBTQI+ rainbow, including asexual and gender queer representation, which is always great to see, especially when treated with the level of sensitivity Dunn applies.
The characters throughout Gateway are entirely engaging. The two protagonists, Summer and Leafsong are a delight to follow, and their camaraderie is a joy throughout. Regardless of whether the character is human or not, Dunn brings a sense of humanity to them. The book’s antagonists are layered, and while readers will likely have a strong distaste for them, they are strong characters to follow. Gateway packs a number of other characters into the book, and even those with little space dedicated to them feel fleshed out and fully formed. Their dialogue is engaging, and the characters all sound distinct from one another. The dialogue is entertaining, and often brings a sense of levity to the story, which works nicely, especially given some of the book’s darker subject matter.
The prose, however, was less successful for me. Some passages within Gateway are beautiful, but at other points, I found it lacked colour, recounting events rather making me feel what was happening. Throughout, Dunn’s prose is easy to follow, though at times, it felt like an extra round of editing could have improved its flow.
Throughout Gateway, the author has built a three-dimensional world that feels entirely lived in. The book provides history about Migax that adds a sense of (not entirely happy) realism to it. But while there are plenty of science fiction elements to it, many of which feel futuristic, the planet felt very much like twenty-first century Earth. As it’s set on an alien planet and features some technology beyond our own, I would have liked it if the book put a stronger focus on its science fiction elements, creating a planet that feels alien, with technology completely separate to ours.
While Gateway’s cover doesn’t mention it (although its Amazon listing does), it is the first book in a series, The Migax Cycle. If you’re a reader wary of starting a book series, concerned that you won’t get a complete story, rest assured that Gateway tells a complete tale. The book stands on its own merits and is a satisfying read, however the knowledge that it continues acts as an enticement of more stories to come. I’m looking forward to reading the second book, The Seserance, and I’ll present my thoughts about that in the coming days.
While some of Gateway’s prose doesn’t work for me and I would have preferred some heavier science fiction elements to the story, this book remains a great read. It is packed with memorable characters who move through an excellent plot. The true star of Gateway is its themes, which the author has realised beautifully, elevating it from an enjoyable young adult story to something that truly resonates.
The whispers began. Hundreds, thousands, millions, but Leafsong’s mind soon channeled them, and as before she could feel the tethers open before her, each one stretching to somewhere else. What would it feel like to travel down one and see where it led? There were hundreds of worlds at her fingertips.Gateway, Chapter Sixteen
Gateway was provided by the author for the purpose of an honest review.
Gateway is available in physical and audiobook formats, exclusive to Amazon and Audible, and eBook, widely.
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