The Celestial Gate (BooksGoSocial, August 2020)
By Avital Dicker
Three teens dodge bullets – both ideological and actual – from the world’s three major religions in this mystery thriller/sci fi fantasy set in Israel, “heaven,” and various fantasy locations (think ABC’s “Lost”). The kids who aren’t really kids are plunged into a world of intrigue, conflict, and a seemingly endless cycle of religious-based hate in this imaginative, creative read. Can they save themselves and their loved ones before it’s too late?
The basic action and storyline are divided into four main gates: The Draw, The Birth, The Tunnels, and Awakenings.
The story opens with a celestial trolley and a lottery-based distribution system in The Draw. That’s unfortunate, because this is the weakest and most convoluted portion of the gate quartet.
The Draw is a system in which disembodied souls are eternally reincarnated into human lives. In this case, it’s Mor, Yam, and Anise. It takes way too long for the trio to select their birth options. When they finally do, Anise is the daughter of Sual. A Muslim woman trapped in a loveless arranged marriage, Sual meets an American journalist stationed in Israel. Anise is the result. Yam is born to a single mom named Amalia, the result of a beach romp with a bartender. Mor is the son of an Israeli consul posted to Italy. His mother died soon after Mor’s birth and his father resents him.
It takes about five overly verbose and largely useless chapters to explain this as Anise, Mor, and Yam become teenagers.
Then a devastating terrorist attack at an art exhibition rocks their world. Separated from their injured parents and on the run from terrorists of every stripe, the trio stumbles into the Old City, Jerusalem. A gate creaks open. A wrinkled hand bids them enter. With bullets whistling past their heads and explosions at their backs, the kids race inside and into a world of intrigue, conflict, and a seemingly endless cycle of religious-based hate.
Assisted by a mysterious eight year-old boy who seems to appear and disappear at will and has a penchant for Ray-Bans, the teens seem to have all of Jerusalem at their throats. With the aid of an ancient map, they desperately seek a mysterious gate located somewhere between Repentance and Mercy.
Meanwhile, a Jewish terrorist and a Muslim terrorist wind up being bound together in an underground room. Jews blow up a mosque in Jaffa. Muslims break into a Tel Aviv synagogue and shoot congregants. (I forget what heinous crime Christians commit, but you can be sure it’s included.) Russia threatens to send in its army. The United States says if Russia intervenes, it’s all-out war.
What a mess.
There’s also a silver-colored briefcase that spells trouble with a capital “T” if it’s not recovered by midnight. Can the teens locate it, save Jerusalem, meet God, eat fog, survive a doomed submarine ride, say goodbye to purply Rae and the rotund angel Enochio, defeat the ferocious Orphil angel guards, dodge terrorists on both sides, reunite with their parents and save the world before it’s too late?
It’s a full day in paradise.
An imaginative, engaging read, the story suffers from uneven pacing in places. Also, no advance warning is provided when there’s a sudden, inexplicable shift in setting within chapters. Reader whiplash is the result, such as the sudden sandstorm that springs up from nowhere in chapter 19, jerking Yam, Mor, and Anise into an adventure in another dimension.
The text could also use a fresh coat of editorial attention. Typos and other errors are numerous and jarring.
The Celestial Gate represents an ambitious undertaking and is undergirded by robust, lyrical prose. The plot makes a valiant effort at securing PC Champion of the World honors, but it’s imaginative and inventive throughout. If you recognize the former and appreciate the latter, it’s a pretty good ride. Just keep your eyes open and remember: It’s fiction.