Lolly's Library's Reviews > The Third Gate

The Third Gate by Lincoln Child
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's review
May 16, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: amazon-vine, action-adventure, contemporary-fiction

3.5 stars

This is not one of those adventures that plops you into a conspiracy or conundrum on the very first page, takes off at warp speed, and doesn't give you a moment's rest until the very last page. This is what is known as a 'slow-burner'. The plot gradually builds up, clues and hints are dropped at random points, and the picture develops chapter by chapter until we reach the final thrilling conclusion.

I've read a few of the Pendergast novels Lincoln Child has written with Douglas Preston and enjoyed them; however, this is the first of Child's solo novels I've read. As anyone who knows even the slightest bit about me could've guessed, the Egyptian setting of this novel was right up my alley due to the fact that I'm mad about Egypt and especially ancient Egypt. Not only do I love reading books set in ancient Egypt, I love reading about modern or near-modern individuals discovering that ancient country's hidden treasures, buried by time, sand, and memory. The Third Gate introduced me to a new aspect of that area's geography, being set in the Sudd, a vast swamp formed by the White Nile in southern Sudan and one of the largest wetlands in the world. Although the Sudd is quite treacherous, choked as it is with grasses, reeds, papyrus, water hyacinth, and other aquatic plants, forming mats of vegetation which can shift position and block waterways and are in various stages of decomposition, not to mention the ever-changing water levels as well as the dangerous animals, mosquitoes, and parasites, it's an important resource to the rural populations for whom it provides valuable grazing land for their livestock. However, the Sudd as pasture isn't what's presented in The Third Gate. The novel's Sudd is an almost living thing, dark, ominous, fetid, choked with a foul miasma which is nearly solid in its potency and pervasiveness. Add in the discovery of the tomb of Narmer, the first king to have unified Upper and Lower Egypt, a string of inexplicable accidents which some believe to be powered by the powerful curse attached to Narmer's tomb, and the enigmatic leader of the entire expedition, Porter Stone, and you've got a situation ripe for danger, discovery, and death.

Yet, despite all these intriguing ingredients, as a whole the book felt slightly lacking. As I said in the first paragraph, this is a slow-burner of a novel, which is fine; I like stories which build to a climax. Yet this was almost too much of a slow-burner. Though the expedition suffers from traumatic and horrific accidents through the first half of the book, to make the tension build and to lead to the biggest event which makes up the climax of the novel, the persons involved are minor characters, so we're not really invested in either the person or the horrible event happening to them. It's only toward the end that things ramp up and the characters around whom the story is revolving get mixed up in the disasters. There just don't seem to be enough thrills or action. I think part of that comes from the narrator, one Jeremy Logan, a professor of medieval history and a self-proclaimed “enigmalogist” (an expert in deciphering enigmas). (Well, he's not really the narrator as the novel is told through the 3rd person P.O.V., but his eyes are the ones through which the reader views the action.) Because he's hired as an observer to Stone's expedition and thus witnesses all these events as an observer, it creates a distance which sets the reader apart and diminishes the drama. However, what really torqued me off about this novel is what always sets me off when authors reference ancient Egypt: the use of Greco-Egyptian terms rather than the true Egyptian words. ***Slight spoiler alert*** One of the characters is supposedly channeling an ancient Egyptian. Yet, when that Egyptian speaks, does s/he speak of being “The Mouthpiece of Heru”? No, s/he says they're “The Mouthpiece of Horus,” Horus being the Greek interpretation of the Egyptian divinity. Argghh! That sort of thing annoys me to no end; it's not only one of my pet peeves, it's my main pet peeve, the one I dress up in little sweaters, take out for walkies, and feed only the best organic pet peeve food.

For all that, though, the history, the supernatural aspects, the Egyptological discoveries (even if they are fake) are quite entertaining; in fact, they're the strengths of the novel and are what make it work when other aspects fail. Not to mention the writing itself, the technical makeup of it, is strong: vivid descriptions, realistic dialogue, well-paced scenes. What does that add up to? A book that, though slowly-paced, compelled me to keep reading to discover how it all turned out.

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Reading Progress

May 15, 2012 – Started Reading
May 16, 2012 – Shelved
May 16, 2012 – Shelved as: amazon-vine
May 20, 2012 –
page 181
May 21, 2012 – Shelved as: action-adventure
May 21, 2012 – Shelved as: contemporary-fiction
May 21, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Iset (new)

Iset Not for me, this one. I actually don't like "archaeologist/quest" books - I stick to pure historical fiction in the historical setting. Mainly because of two reasons; 1) these kind of books always tick me off as an archaeologist because the characters do things like yank the artefacts right out of the ground or walk indiscriminately through the excavation pit, and other acts that actual archaeologists would be horrified at, and 2) they often try to pull a Dan Brown and introduce some magical element or some silly conspiracy theory, and that's just not my thing, I find history plenty exciting enough unadorned and magical/conspiracy additions to be unnecessary and eye-roll-inducing.

But I loved your review and it sounds like this might be one of the better books in that genre. I could point out that Narmer's tomb is actually in Abydos, and even if it hadn't already been discovered it seems unlikely it would be in the Sudd, completely removed from Egypt... but there you go.

Lolly's Library True, most books of that type do present those elements. However, the interesting thing about this book is there was one character, the Egyptologist, who railed against the archeologist, who was removing the artifacts. She, the Egyptologist, wanted to study all the elements in situ and then leave them there. So that was a nice twist. Also, while there were some supernatural elements, they were presented in a scientific frame. Less voodoo and more logic.

Yes, I know and that was actually part of the plot. The novel hypothesized that the tomb in Abydos is a fake and that Narmer went outside the boundaries of Egypt and to the Sudd to create his real tomb. Because of the Sudd's ever-shifting boundaries, which Narmer would've been aware of at the time, having a tomb there, in just the right spot to be covered by the Sudd, meant it would never be desecrated... that is, until GPR and other technological tools came along. So, once again, an interesting twist.

message 3: by Iset (new)

Iset :p Naturally I still don't by into that hypothesis. But a nice nod to the in situ thing.

Lolly's Library Of course. I mean, it's a fiction book. But it does present the idea in a realistic fashion so even though it is a fictional idea, it's one that can be easily swallowed, at least enough to continue reading the book.

Fred Lombardo This is turning out to be an enjoyable book. Like the author of this comment, I have read a great many Pendergast novels. I love Egyptian history and this works for me. About half way through at the moment.

Lolly's Library I hope it stays enjoyable for you til the end. :)

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