Imagine Christopher Moore channeling Lemony Snicket to write a book about demons. Or perhaps Eoin Colfer collaborating with Terry Pratchett, though I can’t address that as I haven’t read either of the latter two authors. That’s The Gates1.
In a small town in England, our protagonist (boy named Samuel Johnson) decides to get a jump start on Halloween and starts trick-or-treating a couple of days early. He happens to see his next door neighbors at 666 Crowley Road, the Abernathys, conducting a demon calling ritual. A successful one. With a snap and crackle of blue light resulting from the accidental release of tremendous amounts of energy from the Hadron Particle Accelerator at the CERN labs in Switzerland, the adults open a portal into Hell, releasing four minions of the Great Malevolence which take over the Abernathys and the Renfields. No one believes him until the forces of darkness overrun the town.
This is a blend of humor with some genuinely frightening imagery–the description of the Great Malevolence could come straight from a medieval sermon (albeit with modernized language) and nearly had me crawling under the covers. This is a bureaucratic hell, with some very specific minor demons: “Schwell, the Demon of Uncomfortable Shoes; Ick, the Demon of Unpleasant Things Discovered in Plug Holes During Cleaning; Graham, the Demon of Stale Biscuits and Crackers; Mavis, the Demon of Inappropriate Names for men; and last, and quite possibly least, Erics’, the Demon of Bad Punctuation.” Just Samuel’s negotiation with the ineffective demon Nurd under his bed left me giggling.
Tastes in humor vary as widely as tastes in literature; I can’t promise that everyone’s going to find this as hilarious as I did. Not the most sophisticated book going, true, but then much tween literature isn’t terribly so. The primary plot point–the forces of hell using a particle accelerator to generate enough power to cut a gateway between the human realms above and the hellish regions below–amused me and I’m impressed at the amount of physics Connolly worked into the book. The names of the characters2 might wear on adults, but then I appreciate books that don’t condescend to children and include references that are going to go straight over the head of your average grade school kid3 in the hopes that a) some few of them might get the references and b) some of the more eager up and coming readers might be prompted to actually go look the references up to find out what their parents are giggling about.
One of the things that impressed me about The Gates is that I didn’t realize that this author wrote both The Gates and the Charlie Parker series of thrillers until I saw the author’s publicity still on the back flap. Very different books, to the point that there’s no overlap of writing style that I could detect. Best of all, there appears to be a sequel, The Infernals. We’ll see if it matches the charm of the first book.
Overall, I’d say it’s a tween book for kids NOT prone to nightmares, specifically those who’ve outgrown A Series of Unfortunate Events with a reading level up to, say, Douglas Adams and a humor which appreciates Monty Python. Christopher Moore or Tom Holt might be authors to try if you like the humor aspect of The Gates, with perhaps a taste of Lovecraft or Derleth if you liked the horror/hellish components.
1full title: The Gates of Hell are about to open. Want to Peek?
2a dog named Boswell?
3sometimes over the heads of the adults, such as the character Kilometer Davis in the Chet Gecko series (whistles innocently)