In Demon Gate, the first volume of the Ehrich Weisz Chronicles, Edmonton playwright and author Marty Chan takes on parallel dimensions, alternate histories, conspiracies, and aliens with a dash of steampunk. The result is engaging, though hobbled somewhat by issues of voice and limitations of the form.
Demon Gate follows teenager Ehrich Weisz, a Hungarian immigrant to New York City in the early 1900s. (Astute readers, or those twigged by a prefatory death notice, will recall that Ehrich Weisz was the birth name of Harry Houdini.) Racing through his neighbourhood in pursuit of his younger brother, Ehrich is pulled into an alternate dimension where he becomes part of the Demon Watch, tracking runaway alien immigrants who have come through a permanent transdimensional portal (the titular Demon Gate).
Though the book is imaginative and engrossing, the authorial voice is sometimes at odds with Ehrich’s point of view. Nothing is established, for example, to explain how a poor, immigrant teenager could identify “amber tendrils of plasma energy” early in the story. Similarly, Ehrich describes “toroids” (o-shaped generators used in electronics) in a complex device a page before he is introduced to the term. Such discrepancies aren’t critical, but they are clunky and intrusive.
More of an issue is the book’s length. At fewer than 300 pages, the novel feels overloaded and the action unfolds too quickly. The pace virtually eliminates any tension, suspense, or nuance. Demon Gate would have benefited from another hundred pages to deepen the story and allow for maximum impact.