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Monday, December 20, 2010

“The Lost Gate” by Orson Scott Card (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Orson Scott Card Website
Order “The Lost GateHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Watch the Book Trailer HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Orson Scott Card is an international bestselling author of science fiction and fantasy best known for the beloved classic, Ender’s Game. Card is the only author ever to win back-to-back Hugo and Nebula Awards with Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead. He’s also won four Locus Awards and a Nebula for the short story “Eye for an Eye”, and was recently awarded the 2008 YALSA Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Contribution to Young Adult Literature. Card has also written numerous other books including the acclaimed Tales of Alvin Maker fantasy series, as well as assorted plays, comic books, essays and newspaper columns.

PLOT SUMMARY: Danny North grew up in a family of gods—or at least the poor remnants of the mages who once went by names like Odin, Thor, and Freya. When the gates that led to their home world of Westil were closed by Loki in 632 a.d., the Families lost much of their power. Despite this loss of power, the Families still consider themselves far superior to drowthers, the name they use for humans.

Drekka—mages that possess no magical talent—are considered little better than drowthers, and Danny North fears he is one. But when Danny finally does manifest his ability, it is unfortunately not a cause for celebration. For Danny is a gatemage, which is considered even worse than drekka, and if any of the Families were to learn of him, then he would be immediately killed. So Danny flees the family compound to make his own way in the world, at least until he learns to control his rare gift and hopefully reopen a gate between Mittlegard (Earth) and Westil.

It won’t be easy though. Not only does he face the ordinary dangers of a teenager trying to survive on his own in America, while hiding from mages who would kill him on sight, but there is also the mysterious Gate Thief, who seems determined to keep all gates to Westil closed by stripping gatemages of all their power...

FORMAT/INFO: The Lost Gate is 384 pages long divided over twenty-three titled/numbered chapters and an Afterword. For two-thirds of the novel, narration is in the third-person via the teenage gatemage, Danny North. For the rest of the novel, narration is in the third-person omniscient, mostly following the adventures of the mysterious Wad. The Lost Gate comes to a satisfying stopping point, but is the first volume in the Mither Mages series. January 4, 2011 marks the North American Hardcover publication of The Lost Gate via Tor.

ANALYSIS: The last—and only—time I read an Orson Scott Card novel, was Ender’s Game over ten years ago. Since then, I haven’t been interested in reading any more of the author’s work, until I heard about “Stonefather”—a short story that first appeared in the Wizards anthology edited by Jack Dann & Gardner Dozois, and then published in limited edition format by Subterranean Press—which acted as a preview to Orson Scott Card’s upcoming Mither Mages fantasy saga. Intrigued by the brief, yet enticing taste that “Stonefather” had to offer, I’ve been looking forward to starting the Mither Mages series for a couple of years now, which finally begins with The Lost Gate...

The Lost Gate introduces readers to a magic system that is over thirty years in the making and, in the author’s own words, would explain everything:

“Elves and fairies, ancient mythical gods of every Indo-European culture, ghosts and poltergeists, werewolves and trolls and golems, seven-league boots and mountains that move, talking trees and invisible people—all would be contained within it.”

The concept behind the magic system is fairly simple. There is Earth, or Mittlegard as it is called by the mages, and then there is the planet Westil, home of the mages, which includes mages of every kind: beastmages, plantmages, stonemages, seamages, firemages, et cetera. Connecting the two worlds are what are known as Great Gates. By passing through a Great Gate, a mage’s power was “magnified a hundred times” turning the mages of Westil into gods when they came to Mittlegard. Unfortunately, Loki sealed off all of the Great Gates in 632 a.d., and because of his actions, gate magic became forbidden. And without gate magic, no more Great Gates could be created. So now, over thirteen and a half centuries later, the ‘gods’ of Mittlegard have become a faint shadow of their former selves.

From this setup, readers are treated to two storylines in The Lost Gate. The first concerns Danny North, a thirteen-year-old boy who believes he is a drekka—a mage with no magical talent—only to discover that he is actually a powerful, but forbidden gatemage. From here, the novel follows Danny as he attempts to make it on his own in the drowther—human—world, which includes begging and stealing, all the while trying to avoid the Families who would either kill him or use him, learning to live among the drowthers without arousing suspicion, and figuring out how to control his gate making abilities. Along the way, Danny meets his supporting cast—Eric, Stone, Marion & Leslie Silverman, Victoria Von Roth (Veevee), Hermia—including a Keyfriend and Lockfriend who help him with his powers...

For the most part, the Danny North portion of The Lost Gate—which reminded me of a Charles de Lint urban fantasy novel crossed with Harry Potter, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and Stephen Gould’s Jumper—was a lot of fun to read. Granted, the author utilizes a number of familiar YA/coming-of-age elements in the book, and there were times I felt too much talking was going on, but Orson Scott Card has a real knack for writing a young protagonist, which is evident by Danny’s likable personality and the way that he talks, acts and thinks like a real teenager. Plus, the chapters move along at a fast pace, the dialogue, despite my feelings, was entertaining, and I just loved the whole gate magic concept and had a blast learning about gate magic as Danny does, including its rules, its benefits (healing, power magnification, etc.), and its dangers like the mysterious Gate Thief.

The second storyline takes place in the kingdom of Iceway, and focuses on another gatemage, a strange boy who can’t remember his past and is named Wad by the castle’s night cook. This portion of the novel has a fairy tale meets medieval fantasy vibe going on, complete with a king, queen, competing heirs, a concubine, royal bastards, assassinations and assassination attempts, betrayals, court intrigue, and wondrous magic. The themes and subject matter contained in this storyline are a bit darker and weightier than those found in the Danny North one, but as a whole, The Lost Gate is the kind of book that I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending to both teens and older readers alike.

Of these two storylines, I actually enjoyed reading about Wad more than I did Danny North and wish the author had spent more time on the strange gatemage—the majority of The Lost Gate focuses on Danny North—but I really liked the way the two storylines overlap at the end of the book, resulting in some interesting revelations, while setting the stage for exciting developments to be explored in the next Mither Mages novel.

CONCLUSION: Because of familiar ideas and themes, not to mention shallow supporting characters and world-building, I’m not sure Orson Scott Card’s The Lost Gate has what it takes to become another classic like Ender’s Game. That said, The Lost Gate is without question a fun and entertaining journey that readers will definitely want to continue. I for one, can’t wait to read more about Danny, Wad, gate magic, and the Mither Mages...


Rebecca Glenn said...

I've linked to your review in my New Release Tuesday blog post (which will go up shortly.)


Becky (The Book Frog)

Anonymous said...

As a fan of Card's work, I would recommend you look into the Alvin the Maker series as group of Americana fantasy. Fantasy is usually heavily "European" or urban, but Alvin the Maker is truly an American fantasy.

Robert said...

Thanks for the linkage Rebecca and Anonymous for the Alvin Maker recommendation...

Anonymous said...

I just finished all six of the Alvin Maker series and I would definitely recommend it to any fantasy or alternative history fan. Looking forward to the final book in the series.

With regards to the Ender series, the direct sequels may not be as exciting as Ender's Game, in fact, it is highly philosophical and more contemplative than any of his books. But I would recommend the Bean Quartet which begins with Ender's Shadow. The series focuses more on the battle school kids who finally return to Earth after the events of Ender's Game.

chrisd said...

Just finished The Lost Gate. Excellent book.

I enjoyed the main character Danny more than many books that I have read. He's a mess but he's kind hearted and genuine.

Great read and as always, an excellent review.

Weldon said...

I have been listening to this book on Sirius/XM Book Radio. I have missed some parts but am without a doubt going to purchase the book as soon as I can get to the bookstore.

Anonymous said...

I found this book disappointing. Not only was the character development shallow and steriotypical, the plot is missing great chuncks of relevant information. The ending felt as if the author just wanted to make more money by creating a sequel to anwer the million and a half questions readers are bound to have after reading this sloppily put together story.

Anonymous said...

I love the Ender and Shadow books. I have benn disappointed with much of the crude subject matter in any other books I have read since then. He is such a great author and story teller. I wish he would leave out some of the crap so I would be comfortable recommending his books to my children.

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