Review: The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card
“Danny North grew up surrounded by fairies, ghosts, talking animals, living stones, walking trees, and gods who called up wind and brought down rain, made fire from air and drew iron out of the depths of the earth as easily as ordinary people might draw up water from a well.
The North family lived on a compound in a sheltered valley in western Virginia, and most of them never went to town, for it was a matter of some shame that gods should now be forced to buy supplies and sell crops just like common people. The Family had spliced and intertwined so often over the centuries that almost all adults except one’s own parents were called Aunt and Uncle, and all the children were lumped together as “the cousins.”
To the dozens and dozens of North cousins, “town” was a distant thing, like “ocean” and “space” and “government.” What did they care about such things, except that during school hours, Auntie Tweng or Auntie Uck would rap them on the head with a thimbled finger if they didn’t come up with the right answers?
School was something the children endured in the mornings, so they could spend the afternoons learning how to create the things that commoners called fairies, ghosts, golems, trolls, werewolves, and other such miracles that were the heritage of the North family.” – The Lost Gate, Ch. 1
I could really get used to having a story-telling uncle around. Especially, one like Orson Scott Card. Because here’s the thing I’ve got to figure out… How does he do it? Every time. He writes stories I get lost in. Fantastical stories I find myself as an adult wanting to believe in. He manages to transport me to such detailed and authentically inventive worlds that a part of me knows must really be out there somewhere. And here’s the best part: I never exactly know what to expect from Uncle Orson either. I’m always just a little bit on the verge of thinking, ‘maybe this story isn’t really for me’, when he reels me in with some utterly imaginative flourish and I’m completely hooked. (Aside: If you have not yet read Ender’s Game you are truly missing out. This is a must read!)
His latest creation, The Lost Gate is certainly no exception. He gives us such a compelling, rich story with the start of his new series The Mithermages. A delightful mix of urban and traditional fantasy, coming of age tale and a delicious twisted history of the ancient mythic gods. In Card’s spin, these “gods” were once in fact profoundly powerful beings from another planet, with super-cool propensities for magic running through their blood. Beings who are still around, just a little quieter with gene pools that by this time are a little mixed and watered down. Which means it’s very possible that you or I or my next door neighbor could have some very cool alien god powers that someone in the family forgot to mention. Ok, probably not my next door neighbor, he’s a little… well un-godlike, but you get the idea.
But, I digress… because this book is really about Danny, a member of the North family. Most of us know them as the Norse gods: Thor, Odin, Loki, that lot. But, who knew those North’s were so damn interesting? I mean, fascinating in a historical, anthropological, even dramatic sort of way, sure. But Card takes us inside this once mighty clan as really, only he could have imagined. Stripped of most of their power, shunned and despised by other Westilian families, the old gods have become desperate and dangerous. Hiding out, living like barefoot simpletons in the backwoods of Virginia, the North’s are willing to kill their own children if they show any potential of possessing a forbidden magic: the magic of gatemagery, which Loki misused so many centuries ago.
We follow young Danny North, a child seemingly born with no magic whatsoever, as he is exploring his place in the world. When he discovers that he is in fact a notorious Gate Mage, he must flee the wrath and fears of his blood-thirsty family and try to learn how to master a long forbidden and secret form of magic on his own to stand any chance survival. The glimpses we get into the mind of a teen boy, are once more, just brilliant. Card doesn’t hold back, giving us the awkwardness, the sense of humour, the fear, the hope, the confusion of a child with hormones starting to rage, and a whole hell of a lot on his shoulders with wit, grace and (all-though I never was a pre-teen boy, so I can’t quite confirm this) what I imagine to be pretty damn near perfect honesty.
From page one, there is almost an instant kinship with the boy, that never really lets up. We watch him stumble and make mistakes with a power that literally no one on earth is qualified to help him understand, and we desperately want to see him succeed. There are times when all that stumbling feels a bit much, and I was ready to get back to the heart of the story, but I came to realize that it was necessary to show Danny’s character and how much of a lost little boy he really is. I also have to add that there are a few scenes in this book that are a touch graphic. It’s marketed as adult fiction, but I can see it going over well with a young adult audience. Although Danny starts out quite young, it’s definitely not middle grade or even tween fare.
The story is also interwoven with that of a boy called Wad, another Gate Mage, this one living on the faraway planet of Westil who cultivates a unique vantage point into the intrigues of the Icelandian royal family. Every one of the characters we meet in this ancient castle is fascinating. This world, entirely different from our own and just as weakened by the loss of the great gates never denied it’s magic like we did here. But it also never experienced the renaissance, industrial or technological revolutions of Earth either. So it feels very much like a trip back to the dark ages, a dark age where magic is acknowledged as power both cultivated and coveted.
I loved the modern take on what had become of the mythic gods and where they really came from in the first place. I loved the magic, and the sense of potential we felt in Danny and Wad, but more than that I loved getting to know these characters with their quirks and imperfections.
There is truly not a single character in this book that I would consider forgettable. And that just speaks to the utter creativity and skilled craftsmanship that Card gives us in every story he sets out to create. I highly look forward to seeing this series develop and following wherever this story master wants to lead my imagination and my heart.
- Hardcover: 384 pages
- Series: Mithermages #1
- Genre: Urban Fantasy
- Publisher: Tor Books; First Edition (January 4, 2011)
- ISBN-10: 0765326574
Review Copy Courtesy of Publisher
Cover Story: B+
I already gushed about it here.
About the Author:
Orson Scott Card is the author of the novels Ender’s Game, Ender’s Shadow, and Speaker for the Dead, which are widely read by adults and younger readers, and are increasingly used in schools.
Besides these and other science fiction novels, Card writes contemporary fantasy (Magic Street, Enchantment, Lost Boys), biblical novels (Stone Tables, Rachel and Leah), the American frontier fantasy series The Tales of Alvin Maker (beginning with Seventh Son), poetry (An Open Book), and many plays and scripts.