Friday, June 14, 2013

Lost Its Way

The Lost Gate

by Orson Scott Card

Published by Tor Books

1 Out of 5 Stars

Tedium, thy name is The Lost Gate.

This book promises a lot with its spectacular opening chapter (I even remember telling my mom after page 25 or so that "This is going to be a good one"; thanks to Orson Scott Card, I lied to my mother), but quickly fizzles like a cheap firework. The premise is one that is becoming hackneyed: the gods of the ancient world did and do exist. However, Card's novel provides a unique take: the gods of the ancients were actually beings from a world called Westil. In Westil, mages with powers connected to the elements are the norm, but on Earth they are worshiped as gods. The Westilians travel from their planet to Earth through the magic of the Gatemages, those whose skill is to open portals to other places. In traveling through a gate, a Westilian's power is enhanced; therefore, traveling back and forth between worlds is necessary to maintain one's power. So far, so good for the Westilians--they can bounce back and forth between two worlds, earning devout human worshipers with every reappearance on earth, while increasing and refining their own particular brand of magery.

It's good to be a Westilian, until the Norse Gatemage, Loki, suddenly destroys all of the gates and those Westilians on Earth are left behind. As the centuries pass and one generation passes into another, the Westilian families go into hiding, removing themselves from the human world and intermarrying as they desperately try to keep the bloodlines pure as their powers begin to fade. They also splinter along ethnic lines, with the Norths (Norse gods) ultimately living in North America. Because Loki was their Gatemage, the other families blame them for their exile status. The families wage war on one another and all agree that, because Gatemages are tricksters and liars (and a living Gatemage could give one family a tactical advantage and eventual dominion over the others), a Gatemage born to any family must immediately be put to death.

Cool, huh? I thought so, too. And then the whole thing went to hell.

The novel takes place in the present day and is the story of Danny North, the son of the two most powerful mages of the North family. To everyone's disappointment, Danny appears to be a drekka--a Westilian who shows no affinity for any form of magery. Poor Danny. He just doesn't fit in. The only things he excels in are languages and the ability to get into places others can't--all signs of a Gatemage. When Danny discovers that is his latent power, he runs away for fear that he'll be killed.

There was so much potential here and yet so much went wrong:

1) Danny is an inconsistent and obnoxious character. He inexplicably undergoes a transformation from endearing and likable in the opening chapters to an irritating smart ass. You know that kid in class who was loud and convinced he was funny even though he was not the least bit clever? That's Danny. He'll say or do something that is apparently meant to be funny (and it's not) and think to himself, "Oh, well. I guess it's just the trickster in me." Just in case we missed it. He also employs a peculiar tactic when confronted by policemen: remove all of his clothing in a public place and somehow insinuate that he's being sexually assaulted. How weird ass is that? Especially since there are always plenty of witnesses who should be able to testify that no inappropriate advance was made toward the freak kid standing there in his tighty-whities. And this ridiculous scenario happens more than once.

2) There are several incongruent plot leaps. When something major happens to Danny, there's no reasonable explanation for it. I'm trying not to say too much here because I don't want to give away spoilers, but it's like reading the work of an elementary child ("So there was this horse and this horse loved to eat grass and play in the sunshine. And the horse had another horse friend and they went to this big mountain and then . . . there were ZOMBIES! Yeah, zombies, but they were dolphin zombies and since they were zombies, they didn't need to breathe water and so they pulled themselves up on land because they thought they wanted to see if chickens tasted like fish, but they didn't find out because ALIENS showed up! Aliens who were looking for purple glitter . . ." You get the idea. The dots do not connect.)

3) The novel's climax happens abruptly and the resolution seems forced. It has a very "gotta wrap this up" feel to it.

4) Danny obtains Nikes at Wal-Mart. If you can buy Nikes at Wal-Mart, I hate you because somehow you're getting the good stuff while our Wal-Mart sells us crap.

5) In one scene, Danny is practically raped by an emotionally unstable woman. Now, I'm no prude and I'm not going to make the same accusation another reviewer did, calling it "pornographic" (to which I can only say, m'am, you don't know porn if this met your criteria). My problem with it is the question of why? It added nothing to the story, it served no purpose, this character quickly faded into the background, Danny wasn't traumatized nor did it seem to flip his freak switch. It was superfluous and it's only intent seemed to be shock value. I'm all for shock value, but it has to come in a combo pack with purpose.

6) When Danny decides to attend a regular high school, he researches how to be the kid with secret powers who only wants to blend in by reading young adult literature. He even name drops some real titles, which made me wonder if this was literature's version of product placement. But, yeah, young adult fantasy lit, that's what I'd research because those glittering Cullens playing baseball in the rain sure knew how to blend in.

7) The best story and the one that probably should have been developed into the narrative of the novel was the alternating storyline of Wad on Westil. Those were the only chapters in which I was interested and they were filled with intrigue and plot twists and romance and suspense, yet they weren't given nearly the same page-time as Danny's boring little tale.

The Lost Gate ends with a cliffhanger that is clearly meant to hook the reader for the next book in the Mither Mages series. Needless to say, I won't be back for seconds.

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