The Black Gate Series by Joseph Sale is a collection of novels that I’ve been fully invested in since the first book came out; it’s a genre bending, Gothic, cosmic horror which had me gripped from page one of the first book to the last page of this – Return To The Black Gate the last book.
It’s the world building which sets this series apart from other epic series doing the rounds of late; I’ve not seen such talent in creating worlds since the heights of JRR Tolkien and George RR Martin (in my humble opinion). But it doesn’t stop there. With Sale’s attention to detail (something all fans of his work will know); we also have a cast of characters which are beautifully rendered (there’s enough to fill three of four books in here) each one no matter how big or how small has a fully convincing character arch and adds depth to the story – it’s all killer and no filler here. The story is so deep it’s easy to lose yourself within the world and its inhabitants – but Sale keeps a tight reign on his cast and ensures that each one is not lost within the crowd – using specific tools to ensure each character gets their air time; and this tool also helps in guiding the reader through the intense labyrinth that is Return to the Black Gate at breakneck speed.
Return To The Black Gate was the most devastating of farewells for me – stunning poetic prose, woven around an exquisite story and a beguiling cast of characters! It’s a journey that I never wanted to end, but with all good things and every journey… there has to be an end; so I’ll forgive him.
Sale has been able to deliver a story like the Gothic masters of old; they seem to have been reincarnated and he wields the pen and the story like a man possessed by these writers. But there is more to Sale than just these Gothic heroes such as Lovecraft, Shelley, Poe and Leroux. Sale’s genre bending antics don’t stop there as he sets about crafting a genre all of his own where he sits on the throne with the crown.
Sale’s story is a unique one at that, he may have even forged his own genre, incorporating other greats of their fields (to mingle with the Gothic Gods as it were) authors such as Philip K Dick (science fiction), JRR Tolkien (fantasy), and Robert A. Heinlein (again science fiction) can be seen within his prose and craft. But please don’t get it twisted – this is not a hack job, this is not a copy and paste – what we have here is a totally original concept, a writer that is doing something new, a writer who has been forged in the flames like the one ring by these literary titans (possibly his inspiration) – and it’s breathtaking.
As I mentioned there is a large cast of characters, but each is fully rounded; story arcs flying all over the place and even across various realms – but I really enjoyed the structure of Sale’s chapters and how he was able to keep hold of the characters chains and release each one at exactly the right time; always being considerate to the reader.
I loved that an action sequence in one chapter would lead on to the next chapter, sometimes told through another characters observation of said action – or in a way that helps introduce or develop another character or story arch; and this technique helps to segue his readers to the exact point he wan’t us (it’s not jarring or head-jumping it’s just deliciously executed and a real gem of the book and Sale’s storytelling) – there is a thread running through the whole narrative if not the whole series which Sale lets you see and hold and move along with.
As with all of Sale’s work (and I’ve read a lot) his world building is second to none – it’s mouth-wateringly brought to life, you can see it all with glassy eyes, it’s awe inspiring. You fall into its depths before growing tired and being pulled down by the undertow and power of his story and you can’t help but succumb to his brilliance. There are scenes which are so big, so grand that you can’t help but visualize them on the big screen – The Battle of Helm’s Deep springs to mind with the enormity of the task Sale undertakes in a large proportion of this book; and he succeeds in doing so and it’s the perfect head nod to Tolkien’s influence on Sale’s craft.
This book, and this series deserves your attention – and the ending, I almost shed a tear, almost! A lot of time has been invested in this series and I was sad to see it end, it was like saying goodbye to some good friends!
Return To The Black Gate is published by The Writing Collective and is available here.
Joseph Sale is an editor, novelist, writing coach and co-host of Monaghan & The Mindflayer. His first novel, The Darkest Touch, was published by Dark Hall Press in 2014. Since, he has authored more than ten novels, including his duology Gods of the Black Gate and Beyond the Black Gate. He grew up in the Lovecraftian seaside town of Bournemouth.
He edits non-fiction and fiction, helping fledgling authors to realise their potential. He has edited some of the best new voices in speculative fiction including Ross Jeffery, Emily Harrison, Christa Wojciechowski, and more. His short fiction has appeared in Tales from the Shadow Booth, edited by Dan Coxon, as well as in Idle Ink, Silver Blade, Fiction Vortex, Nonbinary Review, Edgar Allan Poet and Storgy Magazine. His stories have also appeared in anthologies such as Technological Horror (Dark Hall Press), Burnt Fur (Blood Bound Books) and Exit Earth (Storgy). In 2017 he was nominated for The Guardian’s ‘Not The Booker’ prize.
He is the creator of †3 Dark, a unique publishing project born in 2017 showcasing the work of 13 writers including Richard Thomas and Christa Wojciechowski; the collection features original concept art from Shawn Langley and cover art by Grand Failure.
He is obsessed with Attack on Titan.
Reviewed by Ross Jeffery
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