Review: The Gates by John Connolly (Samuel Johnson #1)


Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: October 31 to November 11, 2015
Read Count: 1
Recommended by: Steph from Bookish
Recommended for: fans of Neil Gaiman and Douglas Adams

♫ Can’t feel my face when I’m with you ♫

Or, you know, an hour after shoveling the driveway and sidewalk in 15° weather with 3° windchill. Good times.

I am blessedly snowed in today and too comfortable to leave the vicinity of my plushy sofa, not after that “grueling” hour outside. Normally I’d read (of course) but the ereader needs a chargin’ and I’ve been neglecting this blog for too long. Apologies for the unplanned hiatus. Part of the reason is real life; I write every day, not about fun things like books, but about annual predictions and other abstract things. So whenever I sit down to write, it feels like work, even when I write about fun things like books. The other part of the reason is I read much faster than I write, oftentimes jumping from one book to the next without a break. Breaks, even short ones, tend to lead to reading slumps for me, so by not stopping, I’ve been able to plow through a great many books in the last couple of months which I will compile in a “catching up” post later.

For now, this book, this charming little book, deserves some attention because it’s pretty damn good. It’s been a couple of months since I read it and it still makes me laugh.

I first encountered John Connolly when I read The Book of Lost Things and loved it. He has a way with words and a lovely, captivating way of weaving darkness into his writing. The story is a fairy tale as fairy tales are meant to be told. It’s chilling, beautiful, and memorable. I expected The Gates to be similar, but to my surprise, it’s a lighthearted hilarious romp through a sleepy town in rural England.

The plot is simple but you’ll have to take it for what it is and not ask too many questions–amateur Satanists accidentally open a portal to hell and a few hellish creatures escape to clear the way for the Great Malevolence; unfortunately for them, precocious 11-year-old Samuel Johnson foils their plans again and again; it’s then up to him, his dachshund sidekick, and a couple of friends to save the world. The writing is a riot, especially the narration and footnotes, almost every page had me laughing out loud. And the characters, main and secondary alike, are endearing.

Although this book was written for a younger (middle-grade) audience, it could be a hit with older readers too. The unnamed narrator is witty and charming and only occasionally patronizing, but that’s for the benefit of older readers. I’m sure much of what they find hilarious would fly over the heads of most middle-grade readers, such as references to debauchery within the Church during the Dark Ages. Another thing I like about the narration is its uniquely British way of telling the story, that occasionally breaks the fourth wall, though not enough to take you of the story. For instance, the way in which the narrator explains natural science, the universe, and the inner workings of CERN is all factually correct but hilariously summed up.

The best thing about this book, though, is its re-readability. I will never tire of John Connolly’s sense of humor.

Rather than continuing to tell you about how great the writing is, I’ll just leave these choice passages here.


He had never really speculated about this before, since demons came in all shapes and sizes. Indeed, some of them came in more than one shape or size all by themselves, such as O’Dear, the Demon of People Who Look in Mirrors and Think They’re Overweight, and his twin, O’Really, the Demon of People Who Look in Mirrors and Think They’re Slim When They’re Not.

Nurd, the Scourge of Five Deities

The title “Scourge of Five Deities,” which Nurd had come up with all by himself, was technically true: Nurd had been something of a bother to five different demonic entities, but they were relatively minor ones: Schwell, the Demon of Uncomfortable Shoes; Ick, the Demon of Unpleasant Things Discovered in Plug Holes During Cleaning; Graham, the Demon of Stale Biscuits and Crackers; Mavis, the Demon of Inappropriate Names for Men; and last, and quite possibly least, Erics’, the Demon of Bad Punctuation.


“You know, there’s a demon who looks after the little bit of toothpaste that you can’t squeeze out of the end of the tube, even though you know it’s there and there’s no other toothpaste in the house. There’s even a demon of shyness, or there’s supposed to be. Nobody’s ever seen him, so it’s hard to know for sure.”


There was a wail, then a splash, followed by a long, smelly silence. Finally, Nurd’s voice spoke from the darkness.

It said, somewhat unhappily, “I appear to be covered in poo.”

Mrs. Abernathy

“I can make it so that you simply fall asleep and never wake up again. But if I choose, I can ensure instead that you never sleep again, and that every moment of your wretched existence is spent in searing agony, gasping for breath and begging for the pain to stop!”

“It sounds like gym class,” said Samuel, with considerable feeling.

The verger and the vicar

“What do we do now?” asked the verger.

“We’ll call the police,” said the vicar.

“And what’ll we tell them?”

“That the church is under siege from gargoyles,” said the vicar, as if this was the most obvious thing in the world.

“Right,” said the verger. “That’ll work.”


“Mr. Berkeley,” said the vicar patiently, “in case you haven’t noticed, the dead have arisen, there are gargoyles bouncing around on the church lawn, and we have been insulted by a stone monk. Under those circumstances, [the deceased] Bishop Bernard’s conversational skills are unremarkable.”

Biddlecombe’s finest

Biddlecombe’s police station was a small building set in a field on the outskirts of the town. It had replaced an older building on the main street that had become infested with rats, and which was now a chip shop that nobody frequented unless they were very drunk, or very hungry, or rats visiting their relatives.


“We’re going to put a stop to it, Constable,” said Sergeant Rowan, with the kind of assurance that had kept the British empire running for a lot longer than it probably should have.


Two members of the Biddlecombe First XV rugby team had been swallowed up during evening training when, somewhat against the laws of nature and, for that matter, rugby, a pair of fins had erupted from the ground and the unfortunate players were dragged beneath it by what very much resembled sharks armed with webbed claws for digging. The rest of the team had promptly harpooned the monsters with the corner flags.