Robert Roth has taken his queer action sci-fi set up and layered multiversal political intrigue into the mix. Rise of the Renegade Child deepens and expands the world of The Gates Saga, without sacrificing its frenetic pace.
Picking up right after the events of the previous book, Into the Lightning Gate, Cam Maddock is reeling from the climatic rescue of his best friend Tony and his growing understanding of the alien tech that is woven into his body. Taking refuge on the homeworld of his protector (and yay, finally his lover) Finn, Cam has to deal with the wider implications of everything he has discovered.
While the previous novel gave us an entry point into the multiverse, this sequel takes the time to really lay out the map of how this world works. With variant Earths and alien worlds meeting through the existence of naturally forming ‘gates’, and the awareness that a select few have the ability to open gates on their own, what started as a personal adventure is given more context and complexity.
But the book isn’t just focusing on what happens to Cam and Tony now that they’re hopping between planets, the ramifications of a very public battle on Prime Earth are seen through the eyes of physicist Dr. Ella Carvallo who is brought in to investigate with NSA Special Agent Edison Lloyd. Carvallo reminded me of a blend of Terminator 2’s Miles Dyson, and His Dark Materials’ Dr Mary Malone; a reminder of how extreme the events have become, and an injection of wonder in the midst of the otherworldly action.
Roth relentlessly throws our heroes into more dangers and twists, not giving them time to process their trauma which leads the characters to make interesting and shocking moves. Cam’s best friend Tony is still reeling from his experience of being kidnapped and tortured by the assassin Omni, and is behaving erratically. As the book progresses Cam notices that he’s possibly becoming a little trigger happy… It’s an intriguing moral journey he’s on. With so much power, and so much adversity, can he hold onto his “goodness”?
The new characters fold into the plot without diluting the mix, and the relationship between Cam and Finn moves in fits and starts between battles. I kept thinking about the end of Speed: “Relationships based on intense experiences never work”. “I guess we’ll have to base it on sex then.” I really hope those two get a weekend away from all the running and fighting at some point! Plus we get a sly explanation for Tasha’s broad Russian accent that made me chuckle, and the complexities of the assassin Omni start to reveal themselves
There are plot twists and surprises aplenty as Roth keeps this suspenseful and propulsive series moving. There are some fun ‘sleight-of-hand’ tricks going on that you won’t notice till the rug has been pulled from under you, and the layering in of mysteries continues; even the book’s title may not be what it seems. While the recapping exposition at the start of Renegade Child does a lot of the heavy-lifting, I’d still recommend reading Into the Lightning Gate first, the series has already covered a lot of ground and it’s worth taking the time to settle into this world.
Much like the first novel, I had a great time reading this. Well executed action sequences, the ominous hum of political intrigue, personal relationships that get pulled in multiple directions, and one or two big surprises that rock the status quo. Rise of the Renegade Child continues the story without ever feeling like a “middle chapter”.
By Chad Armstrong
Rise of the Renegade Child: Book Two of The Gates Saga by Robert Roth is out now. Order from your local independent bookstore.