Macallan does an incredible job in crafting a fully realised world, filled with details; the greatest part of the novel takes place in the Laut Besar, influenced by Indonesia both in terms of geography and culture. Macallan’s world, in fact, reads as analogous to our own; you will easily recognise Japan, China and the Russian Empire in the text, as well as several others. The historical knowledge of the author is used to imbue these reflections of real-life cultures in exciting and original ways, and Macallan’s world holds mystery enough to make each of the cultures he uses different enough from their real-world counterparts.
While the worldbuilding is unquestionably strong throughout the entirety of Gates of Stone, I found the first part of this novel to suffer from one chief issue – I took a liking to none of the three lead characters over the first hundred pages. Katerina, a princess whose inheritance has been denied her because of her gender, certainly starts off from an interesting place, but her actions made very little sense to me, and made her appear callous and tyrannical at first…a judgment I’ll admit to holding onto for the rest of the book, but there are layers to our ambitious little Cersei that well explain Katerina’s hunger for power.
Jun’s a prince on a quest to avenge his father’s murder and the ransacking of his home island. He goes through a somewhat typical hero’s journey, with all the right beats, the hardships and the change in world-view. Farhan is the third main character in the novel, a swindler, a cheat, and even something of a mastermind who is working on behalf of a government, seeking to create conflict between some of the main players in the Laut Besar.
When the only character whose head I enjoyed being in killed himself after two pages, I felt pretty bleak about the novel for a while but continued onwards in the hope it’d get better. Thankfully, it did.
Several other issues plague this novel throughout, but especially during the first 150 pages: short chapters are interrupted by chapter breaks as much as three-four-five times in the span of seven, eight, ten pages. This makes for a choppy feel, jumping from scene to scene without really getting invested in what’s happening.
Some of the dialogue between characters really stretched my suspension of disbelief, and several reveals were so painfully evident, I had real problems thinking of several characters as anything other than idiots for not seeing the obvious. Several pieces of dialogue completely pulled me out of the book, and I would like to discuss one scene in particular, that had me foaming at the mouth – but as it is at the end of the novel, and I am reviewing this before the release date, that would hardly be prudent, would it?
I also had a fond dislike for the several times when the writer decided to go PoV-hopping; what I mean by this is, at few points Macallan moves from what one character thinks, sees and feels to another within a paragraph, without so much as a line break. It’s very jarring and distracting, and
However, when Macallan does something well, he does it really well. Fight scenes are kinetic, well-described and the sort you can’t move your eyes away from. I read most of them with bated breath. The climaxes of each character’s respective storylines are also really impressive, especially in the case of Jun; but Katerina’s also feels very rewarding, and showcases all the strengths of the ruthless ruler. Farhan’s contained a reveal I truly did not expect, and absolutely loved; but for nearly all of these, there was a moment later which again somewhat diminished my renewed enthusiasm for what follows next.
For this reason, I give Gates of Stone a 3/5 stars on Goodreads. For a greater break-down on how I’d score each of these, look below:
Characters 6/10 I grew to like and care about the main characters, but it took me a long while, longer than it should’ve.
Pacing: 7/10 – After the first part of the novel, I found the pacing to be very good.
Plot Twists: 6/10 Some were really good, others really didn’t work for me and came across either as
Personal Enjoyment: 6/10
Final score: 3.4/5
A solid fantasy debut with some unfortunate issues, I would recommend Gates of Stone for anyone with a taste for fantasy outside the traditional western setting, with incredible attention to detail and excellent action scenes. If you’re looking for something that’s more character driven, I’d advise you arm yourself with patience, though – while the characters have interesting motivations on paper, there’s something that didn’t quite work for me during Gates of Stone’s first novel.
I received an advanced review copy of Gates of Stone, courtesy of the publisher, in return of an honest review.