Journey Through Death's Gate

At a time probably not so far in our future, two magic-using races developed from humans – the Patryns and the Sartan. The elves and dwarves came out of hiding as these two powerful cultures fought for control of the world. In their anger, the Sartan sundered the world, turning it into four realms of elements—Arianus, world of air; Pryan, world of fire; Abarrach, world of stone; and Chelestra, world of water. They created the Nexus, a realm which lay beyond the Labyrinth, where the Patryns were imprisoned, and deep inside there, the Vortex. The remaining humans, elves, and dwarves, whom they called “mensch,” were left to populate the worlds, which were connected by a magical transportation channel called Death’s Gate. The Sartan helped the worlds develop—then disappeared.

If this sounds like a fascinating story to you, you should read the outstanding seven novel fantasy series, The Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. This New York Times best-selling series, published from around 1992-1996, follows the journeys of a Patryn named Haplo after he escapes from his prison to help his lord, Xar, gain control of all the mensch worlds. Along the way, he meets up with many fascinating characters, fights magical battles, and faces up to his past.

Haplo seems like the typical dark, cunning, silent anti-hero when we are introduced to him in Dragon Wing. He is trying to goad the dwarves of Arianus into a war against the elves, who’ve been manipulating the dwarves, to throw the world into chaos so Xar can come in and take control as if he were their savior. Limbeck Bolttightener, the unsuspecting near-sighted leader of the dwarven revolution, is drawn into the trap without knowing. Haplo meets a human assassin, Hugh the Hand; a changeling child, Bane; and the bumbling assistant, Alfred, who is actually much more than he seems.

As we progress in the series, however, we see that Haplo is not all he appears. He has emotions and motives behind what he does. He is not merely Xar’s cruel pawn; he has to make decisions that conflict with his lord. He has regrets for his past, when he left behind someone he cared for and nearly died to escape the Labyrinth. He becomes a different person as we read.

This series isn’t just the story of Haplo. There are several side plots as well. For instance, Limbeck and Jarre’s revolution while trying to continue being a loving couple; Hugh’s life as an assassin; the Quindiniar family trying to keep control of their business while their world of Pryan is in chaos all around them; the royal family in Abarrach’s struggle to find a new place to live when theirs is too unbearable; a dwarven princess’s battle with her parents against marriage; the history of the dragons; and, of course, the mystery of the Sartan.

For those who enjoy the story, there is also a computer game released by Legend Entertainment, where you are Haplo as he journeys through the realms.

While The Death Gate Cycle is a dramatic and often very dark story, there are lighter moments, and some very humorous ones as well. Alfred’s antics as he tries to control his clumsiness, the insane magician Zifnab’s frequent lapses into other personalities (James Bond, anyone?), and what he claims to be his dragon’s attempts to keep him from being too crazy are quite entertaining. For those who are fans of Weis and Hickman’s Dragonlance series, there are some references to it in Elven Star, which are amusing, and it would seem that Zifnab is a much more interesting form of a character from that series. The Death Gate Cycle is a must-read for any fan of the fantasy genre.

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