Gateway, by Sharon Shinn

>> Tuesday, June 25, 2013

TITLE: Gateway
AUTHOR: Sharon Shinn

PAGES: 288
PUBLISHER: Viking Juvenile

SETTING: Alternate reality
TYPE: YA fantasy

As a Chinese adoptee in St. Louis, teenage Daiyu often feels out of place. When an elderly Asian jewelry seller at a street fair shows her a black jade ring and tells her that 'black jade' translates to 'Daiyu', she buys it as a talisman of her heritage. But it's more than that; it's magic. It takes Daiyu through a gateway into a version of St. Louis much like 19th century China. Almost immediately she is recruited as a spy, which means hours of training in manners and niceties and sleight of hand. It also means stealing time to be with handsome Kalen, who is in on the plan. There's only one problem. Once her task is done, she must go back to St. Louis and leave him behind forever...
I was very excited when I discovered there was a Sharon Shinn title out there I hadn't heard of, and one which sounded quite different and had an absolutely gorgeous cover, too.

Our heroine, Daiyu, was adopted from China as a baby and has grown up in St. Louis. She's a serious, well-adjusted, sensible young woman, the kind who'll happily spend her summer doing internships before going off to university. On a little break, she decides to wander round a festival in downtown St. Louis, and she finds herself drawn to a black jade ring at one of the stalls. The stall is ran by an old Chinese woman, who seems very keen for Daiyu to buy it (it's surprisingly cheap), and asks her if she could take something to one of her colleagues, right through the Gateway Arch. And as soon as Daiyu does that... *zoom*, she's in another world.

Daiyu has been transported to an alternate universe, one where North America has been colonised by Han Chinese. It turns out that she's there to undertake a very important mission. There are powerful beings who can jump between worlds (or iterations), and one of them has become the dictator in this one. Two other world-jumpers are there to send him back to his own iterations, but since they're not Han themselves and therefore not part of the upper classes, they can't get near him. Daiyu, with her ancestry, can, and they've orchestrated things so that she can get near enough to him to slap a bracelet on his arm that will teleport him away.

It sounds exciting, but the execution was disappointing. I liked how this alternate version of St. Louis is brought to colourful life by Shinn. As always with her, I could picture it in my mind perfectly. But still, it felt shallow, like she hadn't thought about how the society would work and bothered to create a believable one. It all just stops in the appearance. The annoying thing is that I know very well that Shinn can be amazing at world-building. This just didn't feel like the same author.

And it wasn't just the world-building that felt shallow. Shinn brings up some interesting issues, such as whether Daiyu should just trust these two random people that the man she's after is evil and whoosh him away vigilante-style, or whether she should make up her own mind. This was barely developed. It all worked out in an extremely simplistic way. So did the romance. It was pretty much love at first sight, and I never got why Daiyu and this boy were so madly in love. They both were pretty bland.

The writing felt just as simplistic as the plotting, which was very annoying. You don’t need to do that just because the book is YA!

MY GRADE: A C-. It was quick, painless reading, but ultimately very unsatisfying.


Barb in Maryland 26 June 2013 at 02:06  

I enjoyed this one a bit more than you did. I'd give it a C+.
That said, I think what I'm most frustrated by is the hint(?) of chasing the bad guy in our time and we haven't gotten that story.
I did applaud the twist at the end. I really liked that our heroine was smart enough to write it all down before she returned to her time; what made it special was what happened once she was back home! That twist really surprised me.
I didn't notice the simplicity of the prose while I was reading--but in hindsight, you are right.
All in all, her YA books are not on my keeper/comfort read shelves. But I haven't regretted reading any of them.

Rosario 26 June 2013 at 06:35  

I did like the ending as well, actually. That was clever, and a good way of giving us a satisfying conclusion without violating the rules she'd set up.

I've only read one other YA from Shinn (General Winston's Daughter), and I liked that ok. It didn't feel as simplistic or undeveloped as this one did. Still, I much prefer her grown up ones, too!

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