Review of LOST GATE by Orson Scott Card
A NOVEL OF THE MITHER MAGES
Tor, January 2011
Danny North has a problem. Everyone else in the North family can do magic. Not big magic, for the most part. Still, they can do something--create little fairy-creatures out of falling leaves, talk to animals, create winds or shape stone. But despite having the most powerful parents in the clan, Danny can do nothing magical at all. Nothing, that is, until he learns that he can create gates--those magical passageways between any two points. Gatemagery is an established part of the magic system, but there haven't been any for hundreds of years--not since the long-vanished Loki North played the biggest trick in the universe and swallowed all the gates.
For centuries, he was the man in the tree. Now, though, Wad is free of the tree, but also free of the memories of what put him there. On a distant planet, Wad finds love--and loses it. Like Danny, Wad is a gatemage, but he's a gatemage with a difference.
After fleeing his family, who are oath-bound to kill any gatemage born among them, Danny tries his hand at petty crime (things go wrong), at learning the ways of magic from a cow-friend (only partially successful) and finally at being a normal teen in High School (where he has a hard time keeping his trickster side under control). But ultimately, the purpose of a gatemage is to create a great gate between the worlds. Anyone who travels the great gate becomes incredibly powerful--so much so that, centuries earlier, the families were seen as gods by ordinary humans. Unfortunately, something, or someone, has swallowed every gatemage who's attempted a great gate for centuries, cutting off travel between planets.
Author Orson Scott Card (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of speculative fiction by Card) creates an intriguing magical system and fascinating back-story (only partly explained in this novel). The despised powerless child suddenly finding is powers is a bit of a cliche in the fantasy world, but Card is a capable enough writer to pull this off, making us care about whether Danny survives, deals with his tendency to cause problems for others, learns to control his talent, finds a girl, or survives his attempt to create a great gate. I found the Wad story to be less compelling. Essentially, Wad has it too easy with full access to his gate powers. He gets the girl, is confident that he can survive anything his enemies can throw at him, and when he loses the girl, it feels more like Card is bending the story to suit his need than a natural outcome.
This isn't Card's best book, but it's an enjoyable read nevertheless. Danny is a sympathetic protagonist, his antagonist is also sympathetic, setting up a conflict that draws the reader in. LOST GATE is one of the better fantasy novels I've read this year.
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