The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card
Review by Ryan Lawler
The Lost Gate is the first book in Orson Scott Card's Mithermage series published by Tor in 2011. This is the second book from Card within the space of three months and just like Pathfinder, The Lost Gate is the first book of a new YA fantasy series centered around a young boy trying to learn how to control and utilise his powerful gifts (which is also just like Ender's Game and Seventh Son). While characters may seem very familiar, they have been placed in a world full of wonder and originality, and I have high expectations for future books in this series.
The Lost Gate is set on modern day earth and tells the story of Danny North, a young boy growing up in the family compound hidden away from the rest of the world where magic is common place. The North family along with a number of other prominent families around the world are not native to Earth, they are decendents of ancient mages from another planet called Westil and have been living on Earth for thousands of years as the gods from modern and ancient religion and mythology (the Norths represent the Norse gods). As Danny grows up he discovers that he has the powers of a Gate Mage, a powerful form of magery that was outlawed almost 1400 years prior and is enforced by the penalty of death. On the run and with no idea how the world works outside the compound, Danny's must learn how to wield his gift if is to survive.
Meanwhile on Westil, a concurrent story is also being told about a young boy who after 1400 years has finally been released from his imprisonment inside a tree. This young boy, who is also a Gate Mage, has no memory of his past before the imprisonment, but he is very good at Gate magery with complex manipulations coming to him quite easily. As he travels through Westil the boy senses that something is not right, that he has forgotten something very important and that the fate of the world may very well depend on whether he can recover that lost memory.
The major strength of this book is by far and away the magic system. While previous magic systems from Card may have been a bit hit and miss, this is certainly not the case for The Lost Gate where he has managed to coordinate a fine balance of originality, complexity, fantasy and realism in creating a system that provides a novel explanation for all religion, myths and legends recorded throughout history. The concept of the in-self and the out-self, that people are able to project their out-self in different ways in order to perform different magical abilities, is a brilliant concept that I feel is best embodied by Beast and Gate magery. It was also good to see that Card did not dumb down the technical details behind different forms of magery as he has been accused of doing in previous books, because while each form has its complexities (ie. Gate magery with its Great Gates and Gate Twisting), the technical details are reasonably straight forward and often help to progress the story.
For the most part I really liked this book. As you would expect from Orson Scott Card a lot of things were done right; the writing was solid, the pacing was great, and the characters, while similar to characters from other Card books, were fully fleshed out with their own unique complexities and idiosyncrasies to help make them stand out. I think that the concept of all religions, myths and legends being based on a central magic system not of this world is fantastic with an almost limitless potential to go anywhere. The problem for me was that the story itself in a number of parts was just not up to scratch; it was as if parts of the story had been sacrificed for world building and planning essential for future books. While I understand the need to lay a good foundation for the whole series, I dont think it needs to be done at the expense of the story and there are plenty of examples that demonstrate how to write a complete story while at the same time setting up for future books (for example The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson). The story seemed to be lacking in substance, borrowing a lot of material from a number of well known tropes without applying a great deal of originality. The story also seemed to be lacking in direction and while the main character may have physically achieved what he set out to do, I didnt get the feeling that the main character understood what he was doing, understood why he was doing it, or was in agreeance that he should be doing it at all. Despite all the positives, I was left feeling empty at the end because in my opinion nothing in the story was adequately resolved.
This is a solid and enjoyable piece of YA fiction that promises a lot from future books. After spending an entire book world building I expect the future books to be outstanding, and given the calibre of Orson Scott Card I am pretty confident that these expectations will be easily met.
Arrington from Dallas, Texas
I think this is a great book. You get mad and ashamed that he thought that's what teens say.
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