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The Gate to Htrae

Young Adult; Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror; (Market)

As fifteen-year-old Alex Naman and his younger brother Drew sit at the foot of a locked, weathered old gate that seemingly leads nowhere, a strange riddle comes to Alex’s mind. \tOld wooden gate, you don’t lead anywhere, \tWhy in the world are you even there? \tYou are locked tight, and there is no key. \tWhat is your secret, your mystery? \tI do believe that this poem is a sign \tThat the key will appear on the count of nine. While he recites the riddle, beautiful, symphonic music emanates from a shimmering, floating silver orb. The music drifts on the warm currents of the air and when Alex gets to nine, a golden key materializes within the orb, passes through it and floats onto Alex’s lap. As he starts to pick it up, his hand becomes translucent; he can see the thin bones of his fingers and bluish veins along the back of his hand. He is terrified by the sight. Drew yells at him, “Pick it up, scaredy-cat, pick it up.” Egged on by Drew, Alex picks up the key and is transfixed by the sight of his whole arm becoming translucent. Drew keeps yelling “scaredy cat.” Alex yells “No I’m not,” opens the gate and steps through. \tHe disappears. Alex has entered Htrae, Earth’s mirror image world. Xela, Alex’s Htraean mirror twin, dashes from his hiding place above the gate, picks up the key, falls and drops it, then gets up and runs to Alex’s house to pretend that he is Alex so that Alex’s disappearance does not panic his parents, Matt and Liz. Drew, however, is not fooled very long and tells his mom and dad that Alex is on Htrae. Old man Raz had been on his deck watching Alex and Drew trying to open the gate. He gestures to Alex and calls, “ereht nwod ,olleH“ Alex doesn’t understand a word, but always curious about Raz, he joins him on his deck. “What on Earth did you say?” I spoke on Htrae, not on Earth, replies Raz. He hands Alex a Debabeler, a device that translates spoken Htraean to English and English to Htraean. He explains that he is the Gatekeeper, known as Raz on Earth and Zar on Htrae. He explains that Alex has been chosen by Mā-I to fulfill an ancient prophecy that an Earthling would rescue Divad, Htrae’s warrior leader, from a black hole prison where Natas, king of Sedah, has imprisoned him. Fortunately, Zar explains, Natas did not capture Divad’s Protonic Sling, a one-of-a-kind weapon named in honor of Earth’s David. “Why only one sling?” Alex asks. “It is a matter of faith,” Zar responds. “David required but a simple sling to defeat Goliath. I have faith that we shall prevail against Natas with what Mā-I has provided.” On Earth, Matt is desperate to find Alex. Drew and he go to the gate, recite the riddle, and the golden key floats to Drew’s hand. Matt enters Htrae. He runs up to Zar’s house and agrees to allow Alex to join Divad’s rescue team. Xela returns to Htrae from Earth with Liz, leaving Drew behind, to be cared for by X-Droid, an android Xela created in his own image, complete with an artificial intelligence that mimics Xela’s brain. Drew, upset at being left behind with an android, enters Htrae with X-Droid. Slegna Nellaf Bahar and Sacruf capture X-droid and imprison it with Divad, but Drew evades capture and reunites with his family and the Htraean Namans, Zil, Ttam, Xela and his Htraean mirror self, Werd. He delivers the golden key to Zar, who returns it to the silver orb. The orb drifts freely about and kibitzes with Drew and Werd while they are learning chess on Zar’s computerized chess board, which repeatedly says, “You may regret that move.” Discovering that the orb will not let them touch it, the boys invent Orb-ball; they can kick at the orb and propel it as if their feet actually made contact. They spend an afternoon playing orb-ball and never suffer a hand ball penalty. When they tire of playing, they go inside, forgetting to touchlessly guide the ball into the house. At dawn a squad of Htraean rebels find it. They trap it under a weighted net and bring it to General Leamas, head of Natas’ army. Natas is delighted. His scientists have repeatedly failed to make a floating golden key. Leaving Liz, Zil, Drew and Werd at his home, protected by a retractable Repelium dome, Zar takes Alex, Xela, and Sergeants Ffej and Eiram, of HAGS, the Htraean Armed Guard Service, to his subterranean laboratory in the hills. Zar’s supercharged, hyper-driven, prized 1940 woody Drakcap sedan vehicle has no problem towing the horse trailer containing Nagrom, Sgt. Eiram’s horse that she insists that she will ride into Sedah. Zar shows the youngsters his amazing invention, the Jumpgate, with which he creates wormholes to other worlds. Clad in Repelium armor and armed with the Protonic Sling and Axion guns, the team of rescuers, including Nagrom, speed through Zar’s wormhole to Sedah and the black hole prison. Alex wants to kill the prison guards with a blast of protons from the Protonic Sling, but reminded by Eiram of Mā-I’s command that the deadly sling may be used only to save innocent lives, Alex immobilizes the guards with blasts from his Axion gun. They will regain unconscious for a few hours filled with nightmares of timeless, yet eternal, damnation. After blasting a hole through the dark energy prison wall with their Dark Matter Dissipator, the rescue team enters the prison. They are dumfounded and cannot believe their eyes. The prison appears to be a rich chamber fit for royalty, with a golden, bejeweled throne and thick, soft carpets woven from silk, upon which rest crystal tables laden with fruit, vegetables, and meat dishes of every nature and ethnic variety imaginable. But as Divad had discovered, that magnificence was an illusion. When he bit into what appeared to be a luscious peach, it crumbled into sandy grit. A juicy chicken drumstick became a piece of thorny wood. The golden throne collapsed into a pile of sharp sticks. Indeed, Natas had tempted Divad with visions of all the riches of Htrae and Earth, and of worlds and galaxies throughout the universe. As if in a dream, Divad had viewed cities with streets paved with gold, buildings with walls of an amalgam of precious stones and windows of the finest crystal. He found himself walking in a forest on a strange world of another galaxy, where the vegetation resembled that of Earth in the days of dinosaurs. Animals of every kind approached him from the forest. Many of them were frightful in appearance but were harmless virtual images of the fauna of the realms Natas offered to Divad. “All of this is yours if you will but serve me. Just imagine. King Divad, ruler of Htrae, Earth and very world in the the universe. You will be supreme, answering only to me.” “I answer only to Mā-I. You are evil incarnate. Leave me alone,” Divad had responded, at which point Natas had summoned Suedomsa and Ametsam with serpents that coiled around Divad and took him prisoner. After freeing Divad and X-droid from the prison, the rescue team plods through dark matter sludge searching for the wormhole that had spewed them into Sedah. Flying Slegna Nellaf, airborne and slithering serpents and Htraean rebels, armed with macron weapons, pursue them. Divad and the rescue team huddle in a shallow hollow in the granite cliff, near where the wormhole had expelled them. But there is no wormhole. Two hundred winged Slegna dive and fire macron particles, most of which miss their targets and strike the cliff and explode. Granite fragments fly in every direction. Macrons strike and fuse on the rescuers’ Repelium armor, leaving acne-like pockmarks. A deadly, multi-macron missile misses them and blows a hole in the granite cliffside. \tBack at Htrae, Zar is at the Jumpgate controls. He has been wrestling for hours with whirling black matter, trying to steer a wormhole to Sedah. He is determined not to leave the brave young warriors—and Eiram’s beloved horse—stranded. By the grace of Mā-I, he locks the wormhole on the cliffside hole. In a micro-second the wormhole transports them to Zar’s cavern laboratory. Zar turns off the Jumpgate, but the wormhole fails to collapse. \tNatas’ General Leamas, fearing that the wormhole would collapse and crush his troops, does not order them to pursue. Natas materializes and screams, “Cowards! Be damned.” “We already are,” Leamas replies. Natas’ eyes redden in anger as he wildly swings a whip of serpent tails at his troops, driving them toward the wormhole, which whips about, sucking serpents, winged and unwinged Slegna, and Htraean rebels into its mouth. The wormhole, still out of Zar’s control, spits Natas’ troops onto a hillside near Zar’s house. They encamp and prepare for war. \tHtrae’s General Luas’ battle plan is to fake a retreat, drawing the enemy into the open on the valley floor below its encampment. Zar will tow the Jumpgate to a hilltop above the valley. He is to vacuum the enemy into a wormhole and eject them in Obmil, a distant haven inhabited by ephemeral beings of Pure Light. The Obmilians embrace everyone, good and bad, criminals and saints, prophets and liars, the rich and the poor. Obmil is a sanctuary of peace and love, where redemption is offered to all who reject Natas. Natas and his followers are confident of victory. Their macron cannon will fire billions of macrons on a high-speed trajectory that collide at the target point, fuse and release tremendous energy— an explosion destroys everything for miles. The cannon must be neutralized. Zar knows that if the macron ammunition is exposed to Pure Light, it will take on an aura that will prevent the macrons from fusing. Zar programs X-droid’s artificial intelligence to receive and re-beam Positive Light through its biomimetic eyes onto the ammunition, rendering it useless. He directs X-droid to surrender to the rebels, pledge loyalty to Natas, and volunteer for duty. The rebels put it to work loading macron missiles into the cannon. The Jumpgate had exhausted its state-of-the-art zinc-air batteries bringing the young warriors home. Lacking connection to the power grid, the Jumpgate requires sunlight on its solar panels to charge the batteries. Rolacof, demon of wind, blows clouds across the sky, blocking sunlight from the Jumpgate’s solar panels. During the interludes of clear skies, squadrons of flying Slegna swoop over the Htraean forces like a flock of pterodactyls, dive-bombing the Htraeans with hailstorms of dark matter. Fortunately, those periods of clear skies allow sunlight to fall upon the Jumpgate’s solar panels. Heavy fog settles on the valley floor. Htraeans and enemy alike cannot see their hands in front of their faces. Under cover of the darkness, the loyal Htraeans retreat. The fog lifts and the enemy is exposed to attack. Zar can hardly control the wormhole. It wildly whips back and forth, a tornado of destruction, ripping up trees, boulders—everything it touches. When Zar gains control, he forces the mouth of the wormhole to the battle field. It scoops, sucks and scrapes up Natas’ forces, and spews them out in Obmil. The Htraeans are victorious, but their victory celebration is short lived. Enemy HQ, where X-droid had been locked up, was not touched by the wormhole. X-Droid escapes and reports that he saw the silver orb of the golden key there. Lest it fall into Natas’ hands, Xela, Alex and Divad search enemy HQ and when they find the orb, Natas instantly appears. He demands the orb. The three young men are not frightened. Zar had told them: “When you have no fear, Pure Light will be with you.” A warmth born of love fills their bodies, radiates outward and wraps them head to toe in Pure Light. Natas’ shoots dark energy bolts from the tips of his dagger-like fingertips. He spits soft gobs of corrosive black matter from his forked tongue. The gobs drip from the Pure Light auras onto the floor. The dark energy missiles ricochet in all directions, igniting the ceiling and wall. Natas embraces and feeds upon the flames. Divad shoots a cord of Pure Light around Natas’ ankles, spilling him onto the floor. The youngsters scramble over and escort the silvery orb to Zar’s home. Zar removes the key from the orb and walks to the gate with the Earthling Naman family, and X-droid, who is taken in as a member of the family. Zar opens the gate and the Namans return to Earth. Back home, Zar sits in his recliner, which over the millennia has become molded to his aging body, so very comfortable. He sips a glass of the wine slowly, feeling blessed and thankful that Htrae is free from war. He remains there, silently expressing his gratitude to Mā-I, then closes his eyes and enjoys a deep and peaceful sleep. He awakens when the sun drives the darkness from the eastern sky. Natas never sleeps. He has spent the night staring at his very own floating golden key, plotting his invasion of Earth, hopeful that his key will open the gate.
Gough’s entertaining debut middle-grade fantasy pits light versus dark where teens must battle to save Earth and its mirror world, Htrae. Fifteen-year-old Alex and his younger brother, Drew, are drawn to open a locked old gate up the hill from their home—one that’s useless, with no walls. When they find the trick and a magic key appears to them, they find it’s an entrance to Htrae that Alex was destined to find in order to begin the journey he was chosen for to save both worlds from Natas (known as Satan on Earth). Led by the Gatekeeper, Zar and company—Alex, Drew, their parents, and their family’s mirror-world twins, along with two other teens—must learn to use the tools they’ll need for their first mission before the main battle: the rescue of an ally in Natas’s prison.

As the teen heroes learn to use advanced scientific weapons, journey through wormholes, and deal with dark matter, Gough gives readers a story with a science lesson. However, for middle-grade readers—even some adult readers—the descriptions of how all of these things can be technical and complicated, slowing the story down. Still, the way the weapons are used, the traveling through wormholes and to different dimensions, and the idea of a mirror-world to Earth is exciting and will draw in young readers, and the science-minded will find the nuts and bolts of it all fascinating, if they can keep up.

Young characters with big responsibilities on their shoulders are well portrayed, continuing to have child-like and funny antics that occasionally get them into trouble, but also keep them grounded and empowered when it’s time to get serious. This even includes a fun advanced droid that one of the boys creates in his likeness, but definitely has a mind of his own. The concerns from the adults who care for them are also relatable, battling with wanting to protect them and understanding that they’re the only ones—per their deity—who can save both worlds. Although the journey can get heady, the ideas behind the plot and the fun characters give this story hard science-fiction appeal.

Takeaway: Teens and their droid pal must stop mirror-world darkness in this science-minded adventure.

Great for fans of: Joshua S. Levy’s Seventh Grade vs. the Galaxy, Jennifer L. Holm’s The Lion of Mars.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B
Marketing copy: A-

book baby

"The Gate to Htrae" is an enthralling young adult novel that transports readers to a mirror-image world in the far reaches of the universe. Get ready to embark on a fantastical adventure with a young protagonist as he sets off on the journey of a lifetime. Introducing readers to demonic warriors, fallen angels, and more fantastical elements, this is a can't-miss hit that you won't be able to put down.