Reviewed by Andrew Zimmerman Jones
As I mentioned in my recent review of the short story collection Keeper of Dreams, I’ve been a fan of Orson Scott Card since reading Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead as a teenager and have read most of his novels. In my experience, this is a very hit-and-miss proposition, especially when it comes to series.
The Lost Gate demonstrates some of the best and worst of Orson Scott Card’s writing at the same time, which makes me think that it’s a toss-up as to how the series as a whole will ultimately go. The setting and magical system – which Card’s been carrying around in his head since the late 70’s – contain a lot of potential, but the narrative seems to also go on pointlessly for many pages, getting bogged down in relative minutiae and plot threads which never go anywhere. Some of these might be setting the stage for future books, of course, but right now they just seemed out of place, distracting, and somewhat haphazard.
The story focuses on Danny North, a boy who has grown up among the remnants of ancient demigods, trapped on Earth centuries ago when the Norse god Loki destroyed all the gates linking this world to their home realm. While his various cousins have learned how to manipulate their basic magical energies, he has manifested no such talents … until he realizes that he has the rarest of gifts. He is a gate mage, possessing the ability to create portals from one location to another.
Unfortunately, after the devastation that Loki wrought, his family has vowed to destroy any gate mage that they find, including Danny. Forced to go on the run, Danny has to learn more about our modern world, his own powers, and how he wants to wield this power … in the service of himself or others.
Part of the problem with the book for me is that I didn’t consider Danny’s power to be nearly as complex as everyone in the book (including Danny) seemed to find it. Maybe I just have read too many comic books, but when they’re going on and on about how his powers work, the resolutions to the problems seemed fairly obvious to me. A parallel plotline which unfolds in an alternate reality is distracting and the way it ties into the main plotline in the conclusion was, to me, ultimately unsatisfying.
That makes me particularly hesitant to recommend that readers wade into this series. My biggest concern is whether the series introduced will ever actually reach a satisfactory resolution. I’ve been burned by Mr. Card far too many times to trust that the series bear out the promise inherent in the first volume.
Card’s track record in this regard isn’t great. Twenty-four years after it began, and eight years since the last volume, Card fans are still waiting for the conclusion to the Alvin Maker series. And, frankly, while the early books in the series were immensely compelling (the first three were Hugo nominees and the first four were Locus Award winners), the last couple just haven’t been quite as engaging, feeling mostly like he’s spinning his wheels to draw out the series. It’s been 8 years since the last book, though, and there’s no hint of when the final book will actually see the light of day.
The Homecoming series started out with a fantastic premise, but by the end of the series I found myself just wanting it to be over (and feeling like Card himself had much the same desire).
Even his best series, the Ender books, have suffered from lagging quality in later volumes. The novels that followed Speaker were hardly worthy additions to the series. The books in the Ender’s Shadow series, which relates the adventures from Bean’s point of view, were significantly better. He then offered the tepid Ender in Exile. The newest volume, Shadows in Flight (Amazon, B&N), picks up Bean’s story again, but is met with a mediocre flatline set of reviews on Amazon.com, meaning that this might very well be the only book in the Ender saga that I don’t even bother to buy. (Though I will probably get it and read it from the library.)
I will consider myself a fan of Orson Scott Card until my dying day, but that fan status was reached because of the specific impact Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead (and, to a lesser degree, the early Alvin Maker books) had on me as a teenager. It’s not clear to me that a reader being introduced to Card’s more modern fiction would find his storytelling style nearly as compelling. Readers have changed over the last two decades, but Card doesn’t seem to have really changed with them.
As much as there is to like about The Lost Gate, I don’t know that it will really engage young readers the way it’s supposed to. For those of us who have been Card fans for years, it doesn’t match up to his best efforts. Only time will tell if the series, as a whole, lives up to its potential … or if anyone will keep reading to find out. I probably will be, hoping beyond hope that I’ll be able to refute this review in a year’s time, telling you all that the slightly unsteady beginning is well worth the effort. There would be nothing that I’d be happier to do than be wrong about where this series is heading.
Disclaimer: A copy of the book was provided by the publisher at no charge for review purposes.
Andrew Zimmerman Jones is a writer of fiction and non-fiction. He has been a finalist in the Writers of the Future contest and received Honorable Mention in the 2011 Writer’s Digest Science Fiction/Fantasy Competition. In addition to being a contributing editor to Black Gate magazine, Andrew is the About.com Physics Guide and author of String Theory For Dummies. You can follow his exploits on Facebook, Twitter, and even Google+.