[Hmm… I thought I posted this a while ago, but I just found it in my drafts — sorry if it’s a duplicate post!]
Having escaped from Hong Kong, the Five Gatekeepers – Matt, Pedro, Scott, Jamie and Scarlett – are scattered in a hostile and dangerous world. As they struggle to re-group and plan their next move, the malevolent King of the Old Ones gathers his forces in Oblivion: a desolate landscape where the last survivors of humanity must fight the ultimate battle.
I found this book to be enjoyable, but my experience suffered for the fact that there was a gap of about four years between this volume, the fifth in the Gatekeepers series, and the previous one, Necropolis. I had remembered the vague outline of it — the Old Ones are somehow related to the Nazca Lines in South America, the five Gatekeepers have special powers, and… that was about all I remembered. Well, I also remember Necropolis ending with a “Holy crap!” I kept checking the Amazon and Chapters websites for news of the next book. Eventually, my interest waned as I expected never to see the fifth and final volume — and by the time it came around, I think my interest was still waning. I read it as soon as I got it in the mail, but I don’t know if the waning interest affected my enjoyment of it.
In recent years, Horowitz also wrapped up his Alex Rider series. That was a phenomenal series — the beginning was a bit slow, but the meat of the series was incredible… though the final book lacked the punch of the series’s high points. It was good to see a satisfying end to the series, but it lacked the punch of some of the other titles.
Oblivion was the same. It provided a satisfying resolution, but it still lacked that punch.
The strength of Oblivion, though, is that the reader can pick it up without reading (or remembering) the previous four books — each element, character, and complication is reintroduced in such a way that the reader immediately picks things up, but it won’t be a tedious section for the devoted fan.
The basic premise has to do with the doorways — the Gatekeepers can traverse through any of 25 doorways scattered around the world. They act like wormholes — step in one door and step out across the planet. At the end of Necropolis, they fled through a door in a hurry. Because they didn’t plan their journey through the door, they ended up scattered around the world — Jamie in England, Scott and Pedro in Italy, Scarlet in Egypt, and Matt in South America. Horowitz does a good job of following these characters. Since they are in vastly different places and situations, it’s easy to keep them straight — and by following each character for several chapters, you get to know the characters without jumping around a lot. That being said, Horowitz does head-hop a lot within a scene, sometimes switching in mid-sentence. It’s a style choice he made, but I personally don’t care for it. It can be a bit tough keeping track of who’s thinking what, and all that.
Anyway, when they fled through the doors and ended up scattered, the Old Ones intercepted somehow — the Gatekeepers (and two companions with them) found themselves ten years in the future, where Earth is almost a post-apocalyptical wasteland — and the doors are suddenly non-functional. So, five children need to get to Oblivion (which is on Antarctica) without the use of the doors, and in a world where almost no one flies or drives. The challenges and obstacles they face are a captivating read.
There are a lot of interesting themes in this book — trust, betrayal, self-sacrifice. The self-sacrifice one is particularly well done, and carried out by more than one character and sometimes in surprising ways. As well, while it is clear that the almost-post-apocalyptic world has largely to do with the Old Ones sending Earth on a downward spiral, it’s clear (and even alluded to once) that this same devastation could have happened without the Old Ones — if humanity suddenly stopped caring about each other and the planet — we are not far from this devastation. It was an interesting reflection.
There are several very meaningful and moving scenes in this book. The best one, the once that made me feel all tingly with sadness, was when Jamie ended up in England by himself. He’s Scott’s twin brother and, in many ways, is the least independent of the Gatekeepers. So when he ends up in a post-apocalyptic English town where he knows no one and is stuck there because the door doesn’t work, the reader finds him one evening at the door, pushing it open, walking through, and then repeating the action. That, and the conversation after, is a heartbreaker. Horowitz is particularly good at scenes like this.
Horowitz tends to do best when he’s working with a small numbers of characters in close-quartered action — like in the Alex Rider series. I find he loses some of his strength and tension when he stretches himself too thin, like in this book, which has an abundance of characters doing things. In the end, it felt a bit like a surface treatment of the story. However, at 590 pages, to go to a good depth might make the book a little too daunting.
So, overall, it’s a bit of a mixed bag — good story, good characters, easy to follow, but lacking in some depth.