The Gate Thief – Orson Scott Card

The Gate Thief

Summary

Danny, the most powerful gate mage in at least two worlds, able to form gates connecting any two points, has defeated Wad, the Gate Thief who had previously prevented use of gates. But while he's still trying to live a normal high school life, he becomes aware that there's a much greater opponent yet to be dealt with.

Review

I’m a big fan of Orson Scott Card’s writing, or I have been in the past. I wasn’t too keen on the first book in this series, The Lost Gate, saying it wasn’t up to his standard. I put that down to rushed writing. This time, Card notes in his afterword that he delivered well beyond the scheduled date. Sadly, the result is worse.

Card notes that he scrapped is entire plan for the book, choosing instead to incorporate new elements of Egyptian mythology and to substantially alter the story’s arc. I was critical of the magic system in the first book. Here, Card incorporated new mythological elements, and made the system even more of a mess. While he tries several times to explain it, each attempt largely repeats the previous one, with the reader none the wiser. Card story includes the protagonist trying repeatedly to explain a math problem to another student, in – as he puts it – clear, logical terms that he knows make sense, but which the other fails to understand. Intentional or not, it could refer to his magic system with its murky ka and ba elements. He mentions them over and over, and I still don’t really grasp the intended difference. In this case, though, I’m pretty sure the problem is with the explanation, not the reader.

Danny, the protagonist, is something of an ass. But in an effort to create a threat and tension, pretty much every one of his female friends throws themselves at him sexually. Sure, he’s a god-equivalent, but it comes across as pretty over the top. Especially because … he’s saving himself for marriage, and … if he ever should slip, it wouldn’t be his fault. Sadly, none of the female characters is ever much developed beyond their (usu. manipulative) use of sex.

It’s interesting that Card, in his afterword, refers to his novel Songmaster as a less sophisticated work. I have to disagree. Songmaster, though not without flaws, is a far better book than this, and a much more layered and nuanced work. The adventure elements of this book work reasonably well, and the line by line writing is strong, but the characters and emotions that Card is normally so good at are buried under murky worldbuilding and a failure to hit his target balance of adolescent angst and wisdom. A pretty substantial disappointment. It took me eight years after buying this book to get around to reading it, and I don’t expect to go on to the final book.

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