Science-fiction writer Orson Scott Card hits a lot of expected notes in his new novel. Danny North is an outcast in his own family, mocked by his cousins, mistrusted by the adults. One day, he discovers he has special powers—powers which are forbidden among his kind, and which, if discovered, will get him killed. So he runs away from home, determined to master his newfound abilities. These abilities make him uniquely suited to escape, and the farther he runs, the more he realizes how important he is. So he’s a Chosen One, and a key to the ongoing struggle between other Families like his own, old gods forced to hide on Earth after their way home was closed. Now the outcast has to stay alive long enough to understand just how much he’s capable of, and how he can use that knowledge.
Everything here follows along well-trod paths of fantasy fiction, from Card’s juggling of familiar mythology (the Norths were responsible for the myths of Odin, Thor, and Loki, among others) to the coming-of-age hero whose incredible powers just happen to be an escapist’s dream. (Notice how nobody ever writes a series about a young boy with an amazing knack for toilet cleaning and tax reform?) The spin Card adds does enough to make the tale distinct, and in its best moments, The Lost Gate captures the excitement and dread of having all the power in the world, but no clear idea how to use it.
It’s frustrating, then, that those best moments are so few and far between. After an initially promising start, Danny’s adventures quickly get bogged down by seemingly endlessly expository discussions, and plotting that wallows and stalls when it should be running at full speed. The book’s climax is almost arbitrary, as though Card suddenly realized he needed to come up with a cliffhanger strong enough to pull readers along to the next installment. Even more frustrating, Gate’s secondary story, about a nameless man in a faraway kingdom struggling to remember his past, is compelling enough that it would’ve made a fine novel on its own. As is, it’s the one open window in a world full of closed doors.