Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Gate Thief, by Orson Scott Card

This week I'm going to look at the second and third books of the Mither Mages series by Orson Scott Card. If you've been around for a while you may remember years and years ago I reviewed the first book in this series, The Lost Gate. Fortunately my library has all three books available as audiobooks so after listening to The Lost Gate, I was able to continue with The Gate Thief and Thursday's book, Gatefather. Although the first book was interesting and had some promising avenues to explore, unfortunately the books take a turn towards the heavily theological and I don't know if that's as good as what could have been done.

The Gate Thief picks up pretty much immediately after The Lost Gate ended. Danny is still a teenager, still not sure what he's going to do with his powers, and trying to find a path for magic that doesn't involve mages ruling over humans like the gods of old. However, he has successfully defeated the Gate Thief and is now capable of creating as many Great Gates connecting Earth and Westil as he wants, although whether he should as it would greatly increase the power of the hundreds of mages on Earth who travel through the Great Gate is another matter entirely.

In addition, Danny becomes aware of the enemy variously called Baal, Set, and the Great Dragon and is probably Satan. Maybe. Almost definitely. At least Satan with the serial numbers filed off. This, for lack of a better term, entity, has been possessing people for years and causing all sorts of bad things to happen. The Gate Thief originally sealed all the gates between Earth and Westil to prevent Set from gaining the charged-up powers of a mage host that he could carry through a gate and then dominating both worlds. Now that Danny is not only able to create Great Gates, but is probably the most powerful Gatefather who ever existed, he is at high risk himself to be attacked by Set. Coupled with the Families of Mages lobbying for access to the Great Gates and the threat of war breaking out regardless whether they get access or not, Danny has got quite a lot on his plate.

As I have said before of Card, the one thing he does very well is write teenagers. Danny and his high school friends all come across as believable teenagers. They're lewd, arrogant, sometimes downright stupid, and definitely hormone-addled but they come across as believable teenagers. That's definitely something Card does really well. I don't know what I think about most of the females in the group falling for Danny. But I have to remember he's smart, attractive, funny, and imbued with god-like power. So there's a lot for women to like from him.

On the downside I feel like these books are starting to get some serious contradictions. Throughout this book (and into the next one, but more on that Thursday) people keep saying what a good person Danny is. He's kind, he cares about others, he isn't interested in having power over other people. Except that he's used his power to do horrible, awful things. Such as the brief burglary career he engaged in the last book to gain money. Or the fence that he manipulated someone else into killing. Danny may not have pulled the trigger, but he definitely gave the idea to the man who did which makes him just as culpable. And Danny casually uses his ability to torture assassins to get information out of them. I mean, yes, they did try to kill him, but that doesn't mean you should torture them for information. So I'm having a lot of trouble swallowing the whole, ''Danny's just a really good guy.'' line that Card is trying to feed us in the book. I just don't believe it.

There's also a section where the characters discuss Baal/Set/The Great Dragon and how he and his allies may have been behind events such as the Holocaust and other genocides throughout history. Personally I find this a little hard to swallow because it blames human bad behavior on some other being rather than something humans did themselves. Again, very much a ''The Devil made me do it.'' sort of argument. And it frustrates me because it shifts the blame for humanity's own failings and shortcomings on some metaphysical other. And at the risk of being cliched I'm just going to quote Rorschach here to emphasize my own philosophy. ''This rudderless world is not shaped by vague metaphysical forces. It is not God who kills the children. Not fate that butchers them or destiny that feeds them to the dogs. It's us. Only us.'' We do not need to explain humanity's own inhumanity on some evil bogeyman hiding in the dark places. Humanity alone is responsible.

I'm also having some trouble thinking Westil is as important as everyone keeps saying it is in the books. There are events going on in Westil, that's for sure, but they feel incredibly localized. Most people aren't even aware that the gates are coming back and life seems to be continuing unchanged. The plot on Westil mostly involves the politics of two kingdoms which are fairly minor in the grand scheme of things and the rest of the world is a mostly undeveloped mass of ''other'' places. In one of the afterwords Card said that he had spent considerable time and effort on developing the lore and history of Westil and wanted to make that matter in his series. But for the most part Westil doesn't seem to matter all that much. There's the danger of Set gaining access to a Great Gate and increasing his power considerably, but that's about it. It feels like a sideshow rather than a fully-developed plot on its own.

Overall this book is okay but I'm left with some concerns as the book goes on. Having already gotten into Gatefather as I'm writing this review, I can say the books take a definite turn and are leaving me a little frustrated. But more about that Thursday.

- Kalpar

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