The initial reviews about Gateway to Fourline were pretty darn positive. It was a new ‘regular person finds entrance to a magical world’ story in the vein of Narnia and The Magicians, written by first-time novelist Pam Brondos. It was supposedly a cool new world to explore, an exciting story upholding the traditions of these type of fantasy stories. So when I found part two of the series on Netgalley I went for it. I bought the first part of the trilogy on Audible and pretty early on I felt like I had made a huge mistake. The narration wasn’t great, the voice a little childish and annoying, but the story was worse.
The Fourline Trilogy tells the tale of Natalie Barns. A young girl at college who’s dealing with money issues, because going to university is so expensive. At school she meets a mysterious boy who introduces her to his rag-tag group of ‘theater makers’ and they offer her a job at their costume shop. Of course Natalie was vetted by this boy called Estos and a woman posing as a teacher called Barba, to be their Chosen One. All she has to do for them, is cross over to Fourline and deliver a letter to a tree. They pay her a lot of money for it (see previously mentioned money problems) and after succeeding, she thinks she’s done with them. Of course, things aren’t as easy as they seem and Natalie finds herself coming back to Fourline and getting into a whole lot of trouble. Light spoilers ahead, but Nat falls in love with a boy who she gets hurt because she lies about who she is.
This is the big setup for book 2, where Nat almost works herself to death back in the real world, because she feels guilty. The worst thing about the start of part 2 is that Nat keeps on saying that she’s not sure how she feels, while it’s so clear that it’s guilt. The feeling you’re having is GUILT, Natalie. How does your teenage brain not know this? The rest of book 2 is about Natalie finding peace with what she’s done by going back to Fourline (after a training montage, making her into a ‘cool’ Warrior Sister) and then killing a whole bunch of Nala, which are the evil monsters from the Fourline universe. And that is kind of all that happens in the book. Book 2 really is just a big setup for the finale which made it so much harder to get through than book 1.
As a series I think The Fourline Trilogy lacks originality. Sure, the world is something new and the Nala sound like creepy bastards, but the universe created by Brondos isn’t exciting or interesting enough to carry the story. The characters aren’t much better. Natalie is our heroine, but she’s often a whiny teenager who can’t seem to ask for help. Her drive to do all these adventures (money and then guilt) could make her a different character than all the other kids before her in these type of stories who are usually looking for glory and adventure, but instead it just made me dislike her immensely.
None of the ‘theater makers’ (who turn out to be the royal family and guards from Fourline) really spoke to me either. I like Annin, the girl who was bit by a Nala when she was young and turned into a duazi (half-Nala), but that was about it. None of these other characters really get time to develop and their actions are all predictable because they are written as the stereotypical ‘cool character’, ‘mean character’ and so on.
But all of this I could still deal with if the writing was good. If there was some good dialogue or some interesting inner thought at work. Some YA novels feel like they’re dumbed down for the younger audience and this is definitely one of those. There’s so much telling in how everyone feels, ranging from literally spelling out that Natalie is in love by having her orb hover over her heart to dreams that spell out how she’s feeling. This series might be suitable for younger teens who devour anything with the words fantasy on it, but for any critical reader these books are very hard to get through.
Review Copy attained through Netgalley with special thanks to the publisher Skyscape.