Elton Gahr’s The Thirteen Gates: Apprentice reads like a juvenile novel.
When I say that, I don’t mean that it reads like a novel for juveniles or young adults – though that is obviously the age group it is geared towards—but rather the juvenile production of a young author, one who still hasn’t grasped the nuance of ‘show, don’t tell’, the finer points of foreshadowing, or the basics of plot structure.
In many reviews, this is where I would say something about how writing a novel is hard, it’s an arduous process and finesse comes with practice but Gahr has upwards of 15 distinct works according to his Goodreads page, so I’m not sure practice is the answer here.
The plot of Thirteen Gates follows teenaged Quinn, an accidental apprentice wizard, his best friend Tim (a Samwise Gamgee allusion who is introduced as such in literally the first chapter), and Hanna, an ifrit who maybe wants to kill the boys. Guiding from beyond the grave is Nate, a real wizard who sets the friends on their quest through a series of journals bequeathed to young Quinn in Nate’s will. Over the course of the novel our protagonists bound easily in and out of Gates that we’re told take decades to learn to traverse easily. These Gates lead to alternate worlds that we’re told can be deadly to the uninformed, but seem to mostly be populated by beings willing to help our protagonists once things are explained to them. The entire novel culminates in a showdown in New York City against the denizens of Olympus where, again, Quinn saves the day by doing something we’re told is extremely difficult and takes decades if not centuries to learn.
There are some interesting pieces to Thirteen Gates, but there are also strong intimations of other, better, YA fantasy books, like Lord of the Rings, Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, and The Mortal Instruments. If the author could mature into his writing and shape those pieces properly, there might be an exciting novel somewhere in the mix, but for my own preference, I’d just as soon re-read The Lightning Thief instead.