It’s been years since I last read a book by Orson Scott Card and so I was thrilled when Tor provided me with a copy of his newest book, The Lost Gate. for review. I had loved Card's Alvin the Maker series when I was younger and I was eager to delve into another of his wonderful fantasy worlds.
When the powerful gatemaker Loki closed off all the gates to the magical world of Westil, all of the Gods were cut off from the source of their power, leaving them greatly weakened. Fourteen centuries later they are just shadows of their former selves, forced to live among the magic-free humans, or drowthers, and hoping that someday a gate will be discovered that will allow them to return to Westil.
In the meantime, the families of these gods have spread out across the continent, doing battle with each other, every so often, to make sure that no one family becomes too powerful. In another bid to ensure that a balance is maintained between the families, it has been ruled that if a gatemaker is born into any of the families they must be immediately killed so that no one family alone gains the means to return to Westil.
Danny North is part of the North clan, descended from Norse gods and now living on a secluded compound in Virginia. Each member of the family has a unique magical skill and Danny, as the son of the two most powerful mages, is expected to be particularly powerful. So when it turns out that Danny isn’t even capable of doing the simplest spells he becomes a figure of ridicule, fit only for menial tasks like babysitting.
But one day Danny accidentally discovers that he has the power of a gatemaker and that he been making gates all over the compound without even realizing it. While at first he’s ecstatic to learn that he is not a worthless drowther after all, Danny soon realizes that his newfound talent will get him killed if anyone finds out about it. The only solution is for Danny to escape.
Transporting himself by a gate to the entrance of a Walmart, Danny makes a new start for himself in the outside world, using his powers to help him survive. As Danny learns to adjust to life among regular people he makes new discoveries about himself and his power as a gatemage. But is Danny powerful enough to create the great gate to Westil, the one which can make the Families as powerful as gods again? And does Danny even want to?
Meanwhile, in Westil, a man emerges one day from the trunk of a tree, having no memory of how he came to be there. He makes his way to the castle where the cook recognizes what he is and takes him under her wing, naming his Wad. Wad becomes a silent shadow in the castle, seeing everything that takes place but never participating himself- until the queen is threatened and the he chooses to act. Wad is suddenly embroiled in the court intrigues and his efforts to protect those he cares about will have devastating effects.
My feelings about The Lost Gate are somewhat mixed since there were aspects of the story that I really enjoyed, such as the idea of the gates and the Westil sub-plot, and others which I could barely tolerate, like Danny. Danny was probably the main impediment to my truly enjoying the book because he was just so obnoxious and annoying that I spent most of the book wanting to slap him upside the head. When one of the book’s characters does slap Danny, I gave a mental cheer. I think Danny was supposed to come across as a charming rogue with a silver tongue who is lovable despite his smart alecky behavior, but I wasn’t convinced.
I had a similar problem with another character, Veevee a middle-aged women who I believe is meant to be vivacious and irresistible but who I thought was simply creepy. Especially after she tracks Danny down and then practically throws herself at him. I wouldn’t have known she was even supposed to be likable if another character hadn’t told me so.
The only character in the whole book that I cared for at all was Wad, and unfortunately his story was not given as much as focus as Danny’s. I actually enjoyed reading about Westil and the characters there a lot more than I enjoyed the story which took place in the “real” world. The characters there were more interesting and I would have liked to spend more time getting to know them, instead of Danny and the people that he takes up with.
Aside from my issues with the characters, I also had trouble maintaining my interest in the story due to the slow pacing and lack of tension or suspense. When Danny escapes from the compound he is told that no one will be hunting for him, which I think was a big mistake. The story could have really used the tension that would have been present if Danny were also running for his life. But without it, Danny's escape and much of the ensuing events were rather bland and uninteresting. The series of events that take place after Danny left the compound seem to drag on without adding anything to the story as a whole. It’s possible this was meant to be a time for Danny to grow and mature but it didn’t seem to me that any such things occurred.
I also had a problem with one of the basic premises of the story which requires gatemakers to be killed. Considering that all the Families dream of returning to Wasil, what sense would it make to kill the only people who could make that happen?
What I did enjoy about the book was the idea of the gates, which are passages in space created by gatemages to travel through. Some of my favorite parts of the book are Danny’s discovery of the use of his magic and all the intricacies involved. And as I mentioned before, I particularly enjoyed the parallel story that takes place in Westil and I’ll probably end up reading the sequel to The Lost Gate just so I can follow up on the Westil plot and Wad.
So The Lost Gate was pretty disappointing, especially after I had read so many positive review of it. If I hadn’t received the book for review it would probably still be sitting on my shelf with a bookmark stuck somewhere within the first few chapters. It is possible, though, that I might have enjoyed The Lost Gate more when I was younger, and closer to the age of protagonist, as well as a less critical reader. So while this isn’t a book I will likely be recommending to many of my friends I think I might pass it on to some younger readers that I think might enjoy it more than I did.