Review: “The Anubis Gates,” Tim Powers

Pros: Interesting set of bad guys
Cons: Character stupidity
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

In The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers, a mysterious set of time-spanning ‘gates’ open up. If you know where and when they’re going to appear–and apparently some have figured this out–you can go traveling up to several centuries into the past, and even make your way back. A professor Doyle, an expert on Coleridge, is asked to accompany a group of sight-seers on a trip back in time to listen to a lecture by Coleridge. While the ‘guests’ are paying a ton of money to go back, Doyle is going to get paid to take a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Supposedly it’ll last just a few hours, and then they’ll all return to the present. Doyle didn’t count on getting knocked out and kidnapped, leaving him stranded in the early 1800s instead of back in the 1980’s. (Note, this book was originally published in 1983. It just took me this long to finally get around to reading it.) Naturally Doyle gets caught up in all sorts of shenanigans, from body-switching to begging on the streets.

 

I admit off the bat that ‘time traveler stuck in the past’ stories are not my favorites. Nearly all of them end up taking a lot of space just detailing how the character survives and/or thrives in the past, and those details start to feel repetitive after you’ve read a few such stories. While there’s an interesting Egyptian theme going on here, it’s not as prevalent as you’d think from the name of the book. Mostly we’re talking 1800s England here. The bad guys have the Egyptian theme going on, but it doesn’t flavor the story adequately.

There’s a fair amount of complexity to the story, involving lots of people, places, and times. This adds a lot to the story, but it also made it difficult to keep up with everything. Especially when we’re going back and forth in time and dealing with many of the same characters–it gets hard to keep up with the current setting. One theme I loved, though, involved several beggar operations, one in particular that involves a clown on stilts. I know it sounds weird, but it gets remarkably detailed and fascinating and affects the entire story in interesting ways.

For me, the hardest part was Doyle himself. There are instances where it takes him a whole lot of pages to figure out things that seemed obvious from the start. He comes across as remarkably dense at times.

All that said, I did enjoy the book. I keep wavering between ratings of 3 and 4, so I’ll call it at 3.5. Its an interesting and well-detailed book, but it disappointed me a bit.

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