The Daily Monocle

Critical book reviews from a literary skeptic.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card

Posted by J. P. Wickwire

Fifteen-year-old Danny North is powerless; a drekka in a race of mages descended from the gods of legend. When a practical joke gone awry leads Danny to awaken his dormant powers, he realizes that he's not a drekka at all. He’s a gate mage—a teleporter who will be condemned to death as soon as his powers are discovered. Desperate to save himself, Danny escapes the mage compound and ventures out into the human world, bent on finding others like him, or, at the very least, information on gate mages of the past.

In another world, a family is picnicking in a meadow by a large tree that looks suspiciously like a man. What no one expects is for the elusive "Man in the Tree" to reveal himself to an inquisitive little girl, and disappear from the tree forever. Now at large in the city, the Man in the Tree takes refuge in the royal garden, with no memory of who he has been, and no idea of what he will become.

The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card is the author's second release in as many months. But readers need not be worried about quantity-over-quality. The Lost Gate is well-written, intelligent, and shows off Card's impeccable style.

I think I've mentioned before how Card takes two seemingly unrelated stories and weaves them into one, cohesive piece. Well, he's done it again in The Lost Gate and if you think such a formula would get old… it doesn't. Very few authors are able to take me by surprise, and for some reason, no matter what I do, I can never anticipate the end of Card's books. Neither story is superfluous, and both threads are worth following.

Once again, Card shows his prowess writing children and young adults. Danny’s story is a sort of coming-of-age tale. But it isn’t cheap teen romance and a tragedy that makes our young hero grow up. Instead it’s the threat of death, and the pain of exile--it’s stealing, and pranking, and outsmarting the authorities in the human world that cause Danny to grow. it’s pain, and bitterness, and a sort of dark humor atypical of Card’s writing that defines him.

Likewise The Man in the Tree (who we come to know as Wad) isn’t the innocent man we first perceive him to be. He’s quiet and cunning, and lethal; more than willing to do bad things and almost gleeful in his accomplishments. This dark element adds a deeper dimension to The Lost Gate than some of Card’s previous work.

Card’s writing is analytical and intelligent without sacrificing it’s poetic integrity. Although there is a lot of internal explanation, it doesn't slow the story down, and is often necessary for the reader to understand what’s going on.

The Lost Gate is not science-fiction. Rather, it’s a rich urban fantasy with a catchy, logical magic system. Mages are classified with an endless supply of creative name combinations, and their powers are matched in the same fashion. Drawing on historical influences, Card shows us a world within a world, in the vein of such contemporaries as Neil Gaiman.

In fact, the world may be the most complete part of the novel. The world of The Lost Gate is one a reader can live in. It couold easily spawn sequels, a movie or even a dice-and-cards role playing game (which I would love to see).

So The Lost Gate is typical Card, and it isn’t. It explores darker, new concepts with a familiar flavor. I think Card is expanding his horizons, delving into subject matter that will attract a new circle of readers, and that’s definitely a good thing. I eagerly await the sequel.

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