REVIEW: “The Gates of Balawat” by Maria Haskins

Review of Maria Haskins, “The Gates of Balawat”, Strange Horizons (Samovar) 25 Sept. 2017: Read online. Reviewed by Danielle Maurer.

Set in a post-apocalyptic future, this story follows its nameless main character into the ruins of the British Museum. The main character and his team have been tasked with scanning the artifacts so limited edition replicas can be produced and sold to wealthy collectors. The originals will then be destroyed to preserve the company’s license. During the course of this job, the main character encounters one of the titular Gates of Balawat.

On the outset, this seemed like a story I would enjoy. Museums are some of my favorite places, and I’ve made an amateur’s hobby of learning about archaeology. The twist of setting it in the future addresses the old question of so many archaeologists: what will the archaeologists of the future think of us when they dredge through our ruins? Haskins touches on this throughout the story, and the bits and pieces of her larger world that leak through make the reader curious to learn more.

However, I found the execution lacking in places. Haskins makes it clear that the doors, the Gates of Balawat, have some special significance for the main character; they cause a “dream” that stirs within him throughout the novel. Yet the story never satisfactorily answers what, precisely, that significance is. We learn so little of the character’s past that we cannot guess at why the doors affect him so, or why he should dream of them so often. Ultimately, it causes the climax to fall short of what it could have been.

Despite that, there are still moments of beauty in the translated prose, filtered through a message about how meaningless our remnants will be once we are gone, that make this story worth reading.

Published by

Danielle Maurer

Danielle Maurer writes fantasy and science fiction novels featuring tragic villains and publishes SFF book reviews on her blog. When she’s not hiding under her writing rock, she digitally markets things at her day job and reads while walking like a modern-day Belle. You can find her on Twitter at @WryRaconteur.

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