Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Book Review: The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card (Whitney Finalist)
Author: Orson Scott Card
Enjoyment Rating: 6/10
Referral: Whitney Finalist
Source: Library Copy
Books I've read this year: 35
I need to start out my reviews of the Whitney Speculative Finalists with my customary disclaimer: I don't do adult speculative. Last year, buried under a heavy class load and teaching schedule, I bowed out of reading the category. The year before, I had saved three of the speculative books until the last week, and spent an utterly miserable week trying to learn the ropes of three separate alternate versions of our world. The weird thing is, I don't dislike youth speculative, which generally has a closer connection to our world. As I read these speculative books, I ask you two things, first, recognize that I come in with this bias, and second, take my reviews with a grain of salt because I'm certainly not an expert in this category.
That said, I have read a few of Orson Scott Card's books. I even taught Ender's Game in an Intro to Literature class at a community college about ten years ago. I really, really like Lost Boys, which I read as a teenager and was one of the first truly creepy books I'd ever read. I've read the Sarah and Rebekah books for book club. I read a couple of the Alvin Maker books too before I got bored and gave up. And that's part of the problem of reading OSC for me-- I always feel like I'm committing myself to 2,000 pages of reading when I start the first page.
In The Lost Gate, the world looks like modern-day rural Virginia, if modern-day rural Virginia were populated by a family of mages-- basically like wizards or people with magical powers. Once the rulers of western Europe, the family now has only a shadow of their former power, in part because they've lost the ability to make gates to the past, which would restore their powers. And then Danny comes along. For years, his relatives think he has no power at all, but then it turns out that he's the greatest mage the family has seen in more than a thousand years-- he has the power to gate from place to place and possibly also in time and space. So, of course, they want to kill him, and he goes on the run.
There's nothing at all wrong with this book-- Card knows how to write, and the plot works, he gives an appropriate amount of detail. But change the mages to battle room instructors or frontiersmen and you basically have Ender's Game or Seventh Son. If I didn't know the plots of Card's other books, this might not bug me, but I do, and it does. I also really, really dislike a book that doesn't have a satisfying ending in and of itself but merely sets up the action of the next book. I know that's an accepted convention in speculative fiction, but it does tinge my enjoyment of the novel.