Sunday, April 3, 2011

Pathfinder and The Lost Gate, by Orson Scott Card

I'm still catching up on reviews of my Hawaii reading. (I started this review more than a month ago, but then I got distracted and then I sort of forgot about it.) Remember I said four of the books I read in Hawaii were the first books of series? Well two of them were from the same author; Orson Scott Card is so ridiculously prolific that he published two books last year, both of them first books in entirely different series. (If he can write two books a year, why can't they be books I and II of one series?)(And how on earth does he keep the plots all in his head??)

Orson Scott Card is pretty famous, so he doesn't fit the Dead Houseplants mandate, but I figured the YA fantasy audience may not be so familiar to him, since most of his work is adult sci-fi. He's an accomplished storyteller with an amazing imagination; I always feel in good hands when I begin one of his stories, and he's full of mind-bending concepts and plot-twists. If you haven't read Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead, I highly recommend them.

Pathfinder starts out sounding like fantasy: Rigg has the unusual ability of seeing paths in the air where living things have passed. This makes him an excellent hunter, and trapping for furs in the wilderness is the life he's always known. Then a life-or-death situation makes him discover a new aspect to his ability and sends him on a journey.

But just when we're settling in for the classic fantasy journey of discovery, there's a chapter from the point of view of a character in a spaceship, about to make the first-ever jump into a fold in space-time. It's a strange juxtaposition, but it's fascinating to follow the two plot lines and slowly figure out how they're connected. Rigg travels from the edge to the centre of his civilization, getting involved in plots and politics and figuring out who he really is and what this ability of his can accomplish. The story in the spaceship has less action and takes up less time, but it's full of crazy ideas from physics that end up being essential to understanding Rigg and his world. The plot comes to a satisfying end but it's clear the story isn't over; I am very curious to find out what happens next.

The Lost Gate is definitely fantasy, except that the magical people (who were the gods in ancient mythology) "gated" to Earth from another planet, Westil. (So far it seems irrelevant that it's another planet rather than another "world," but you never know with Card.) The story is set in modern times, when the descendants of those first Westilians have lost most of their powers because the last gatemage closed the Great Gate between Earth and Westil.
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.

Danny North is a typical fantasy hero: born into a family of mages but with no apparent power of his own. Of course, he ends up having the most feared and coveted power of them all (you can guess, but I'm not going to give it away), and he has to run away from his family to stop them from killing him or exploiting him. In the meantime, someone long asleep on Westil is awakened. Dah dah dah dom. Danny goes through a bit of an anti-hero journey as he tries to figure out how to use his power and stay alive, and the mysterious character of Wad gets caught up in royal politics on Westil.

Of the two books, I think I liked Pathfinder best, but that may be because I read it first. When I picked up The Lost Gate what I really wanted was more about Rigg and his planet instead of absorbing a whole nother cosmology. The planet of Westil is complex and interesting and I wasn't paying quite enough attention to it.  I have mixed feelings about Danny and Rigg as main characters: Rigg is a more appealing person, because of his confidence, whereas Danny seems almost whiney, but I think Danny has more long-term potential; it's amusing to watch Rigg learn to manipulate the people around him, but after a while his arrogant know-it-allness becomes annoying.

I still recommend both books: Pathfinder if you cross over easily between sci-fi and fantasy, and The Lost Gate if you want more magic. But you might want to wait and see which sequel is going to come out first before you decide!

(I'll have to wait until I reread them to make a food analogy; it's been too long and I've lost their flavour.)

1 comment:

  1. I read the The Lost Gate first and then Pathfinder (currently finishing it up). I agree with you that Pathfinder is a better story. I think the story flows a lot better while at time The Lost Gate was stagnant. It's funny how similar Rigg and Danny are (but I guess that's OSC's usual main character as they are also similar to Ender and Bean). Again I agree that The Lost Gate will probably be the better series just because of how they are tied to current mythology which is always fun and that there is a lot more to play around with. I'm excited for both though.