FORMAT/INFO: The Lost Gate is 384 pages long divided over 23 titled/numbered chapters and an Afterword. For two thirds of the novel, narration is in the third-person via the teenage gatemage, Danny North. For the rest of the novel, narration is in the third-person omniscient, mostly following the adventures of the mysterious Wad. The Lost Gate comes to a satisfying stopping point, but is the first volume in the Mither Mages series. January 4, 2011 marks the North American Hardcover publication of The Lost Gate via Tor.
ANALYSIS: The last — and only — time I read an Orson Scott Card novel, was Ender’s Game over ten years ago. Since then, I haven’t been interested in reading any more of the author’s work, until I heard about “Stonefather” — a short story that first appeared in the Wizards anthology edited by Jack Dann & Gardner Dozois, and then published in limited edition format by Subterranean Press — which acted as a preview to Orson Scott Card’s upcoming Mither Mages fantasy saga. Intrigued by the brief, yet enticing taste that “Stonefather” had to offer, I’ve been looking forward to starting the Mither Mages series for a couple of years now, which finally begins with The Lost Gate…
The Lost Gate introduces readers to a magic system that is over 30 years in the making and, in the author’s own words, would explain everything:
Elves and fairies, ancient mythical gods of every Indo-European culture, ghosts and poltergeists, werewolves and trolls and golems, seven-league boots and mountains that move, talking trees and invisible people — all would be contained within it.
The concept behind the magic system is fairly simple. There is Earth, or “Mittlegard” as it is called by the mages, and then there is the planet Westil, home of the mages, which includes mages of every kind: beastmages, plantmages, stonemages, seamages, firemages, et cetera. Connecting the two worlds are the Great Gates. By passing through a Great Gate, a mage’s power is “magnified a hundred times,” turning the mages of Westil into gods when they came to Mittlegard. Unfortunately, Loki sealed off all of the Great Gates in 632 A.D., and because of his actions, gate magic became forbidden. And without gate magic, no more Great Gates could be created. So now, over thirteen and a half centuries later, the “gods” of Mittlegard have become a faint shadow of their former selves.
From this setup, readers are treated to two storylines in The Lost Gate. The first concerns Danny North, a thirteen-year-old boy who believes he is a drekka — a mage with no magical talent — only to discover that he is actually a powerful, but forbidden gatemage. From here, the novel follows Danny as he attempts to make it on his own in the drowther — human — world, which includes begging and stealing, all the while trying to avoid the Families who would either kill him or use him, learning to live among the drowthers without arousing suspicion, and figuring out how to control his gate making abilities. Along the way, Danny meets his supporting cast — Eric, Stone, Marion and Leslie Silverman, Victoria Von Roth (Veevee), Hermia — including a Keyfriend and Lockfriend who help him with his powers…
For the most part, the Danny North portion of The Lost Gate — which reminded me of a Charles de Lint urban fantasy novel crossed with Harry Potter, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and Stephen Gould’s Jumper — was a lot of fun to read. Granted, the author utilizes a number of familiar young adult/coming-of-age elements in the book, and there were times I felt too much talking was going on, but Orson Scott Card has a real knack for writing a young protagonist, which is evident from Danny’s likable personality and the way that he talks, acts and thinks like a real teenager. Plus, the chapters move along at a fast pace, the dialogue, despite my feelings, was entertaining, and I just loved the whole gate magic concept and had a blast learning about gate magic as Danny does, including its rules, its benefits (healing, power magnification, etc.), and its dangers like the mysterious Gate Thief.
The second storyline takes place in the kingdom of Iceway, and focuses on another gatemage, a strange boy who can’t remember his past and is named Wad by the castle’s night cook. This portion of the novel has a fairy tale meets medieval fantasy vibe going on, complete with a king, queen, competing heirs, a concubine, royal bastards, assassinations and assassination attempts, betrayals, court intrigue, and wondrous magic. The themes and subject matter contained in this storyline are a bit darker and weightier than those found in the Danny North one, but as a whole, The Lost Gate is the kind of book that I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending to both teens and older readers alike.
Of these two storylines, I actually enjoyed reading about Wad more than I did Danny North and wish the author had spent more time on the strange gatemage — the majority of The Lost Gate focuses on Danny North — but I really like the way the two storylines overlap at the end of the book, resulting in some interesting revelations, while setting the stage for exciting developments to be explored in the next Mither Mages novel.
CONCLUSION: Because of familiar ideas and themes, not to mention shallow supporting characters and world-building, I’m not sure Orson Scott Card’s The Lost Gate has what it takes to become another classic like Ender’s Game. That said, The Lost Gate is without question a fun and entertaining journey that readers will definitely want to continue. I for one, can’t wait to read more about Danny, Wad, gate magic, and the Mither Mages.