The Lost Gate: Intriguing new fantasy universe

Orson Scott Card The Lost GateThe Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card The Lost GateIn the fictional universe of Orson Scott Card’s latest novel The Lost Gate, what we think of as gods were actually people from another planet (called Westil), who arrived here through magical “Gates.” Passing back and forth through these Gates gave people with minor or latent magical powers huge boosts to their skills, resulting in god-like abilities — and as a result, they were often thought of as actual gods and entered Earth’s mythology. Some time in the 7th century, the trickster Loki closed all the gates between Earth and Westil, trapping all the “gods” here on Earth. Fast forward to the 21st century. Descendants of the Westillian “gods” still live on Earth, although greatly diminished in power. The North family are the many-times-removed children of the Norse gods, now living on a secluded compound in Virginia. Danny North, an adolescent member of the family and son of the current Odin (or family leader), grew up thinking he’s a “drekka” — meaning he seems to have no magical power at all, but early on in the book it becomes clear that Danny has some mysterious powers that indicate he may actually be a Gatemage. The ability to create Gates is the most powerful and most feared skill, because any family capable of creating Gates would quickly become strong enough to eliminate its rivals.

So starts The Lost Gate, the opening volume in the MITHER MAGES, Orson Scott Card’s newest fantasy series. In an interesting afterword, Card explains that the idea for the series goes back several decades but was put on hold, partly because, back then, fantasy wasn’t quite as popular yet as it is now — and in addition, the author had a huge hit SF series going with his ENDER books. Now that the MITHER MAGES has finally been taken off the back burner, it turns out to be an interesting but slightly disappointing entry in the fantasy genre.

The Lost Gate follows two parallel story lines, but the largest part of the novel is taken up by Danny’s story. As Danny flees his family, he takes up with a small-time criminal, ends up in Washington DC, meets some odd characters, and gradually discovers more about his powers. Danny is unfortunately a fairly annoying protagonist, filling the novel with juvenile humor and smart-alec back-and-forth banter that frankly becomes grating as the story continues. Fortunately Danny matures somewhat as the story continues, but for the majority of the time, he’s just not a very enjoyable character to follow.

The second story line follows a mysterious, nameless young man on the planet Westil, who arrives, sans most of his memories, in the middle of a courtly power struggle. Given the name Wad by the palace cook (after “Wad of Dough”), he gradually gets more embroiled in the intrigue between the King, the Queen and their lovers and hangers-on. Wad goes through a growing process that’s much more interesting and complex than Danny’s, but as we get to see much more of the Earth plot than the Westil plot, it’s not quite enough to make The Lost Gate a complete success.

On the plus side, The Lost Gate has an interesting magical system. The various “gods” have affinity with a specific element (be it animals, stone, plants, wind…) and, within each affinity, there are various levels of strength.Orson Scott Card never provides a Brandon Sanderson-style chart of the various abilities, and instead gradually introduces the various options as the story progresses. Even more interesting is the setup of the fictional universe, with the two worlds, connected in the past but now separated, influencing each other. The way Card explains the history of the various religions and fictional creatures on Earth by fitting them into his magic system is very nifty.

Other positives include Orson Scott Card’s reliably easy-flowing, page-turning prose style. The dialogue is often fun and snappy, although as mentioned before, there’s some juvenile humor and repetitive banter that I could have done without. Card also uses some plot devices that are simply too convenient and transparent to be plausible. You just can’t help thinking ‘wow, isn’t that a huge coincidence?’ at several points in the novel.

Still, despite an annoying main character and some iffy plot elements, this remains a fast and entertaining read with a level of depth that’s intriguing and promising for future books in the series. Orson Scott Card recently released Pathfinder, another novel about a young protagonist with unique powers, and in many ways it’s a more successful book than The Lost Gate. As The Lost Gate is only the first installment in a new series, it’ll be interesting to see how Orson Scott Card develops this intriguing fantasy universe.

~Stefan Raets

Orson Scott Card The Lost GateFORMAT/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.

~Robert Thompson

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STEFAN RAETS (on FanLit's staff August 2009 — February 2012) reads and reviews science fiction and fantasy whenever he isn’t distracted by less important things like eating and sleeping. In February 2012, he retired from FanLit to focus on his blog Far Beyond Reality.

View all posts by Stefan Raets (RETIRED)


  1. I guess we had a different take on a few aspects of this novel, Robert!

  2. I guess we did Stefan :) Personally, I didn’t think Danny was that annoying–he’s a teenager after all, with god-like powers–but I can see where you’re coming from. I’m curious to see how Pathfinder compares to The Lost Gate though…

  3. I thought Pathfinder was a better novel, but that one was officially marketed as a YA novel so I approached and rated it as such – for a young adult, I think it’d make a great gateway novel into SFF.

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