The Lost Gate is the first book in a potentially great new fantasy series called The Mithermages. Unfortunately, I probably won’t read the other books in the series because I was so offended by this one. But I’ll get back to that later in the review.
Our story begins with Danny North, a thirteen-year-old boy who lives on his family’s compound in Virginia. The North family is a family of mages, all descended from the Odin and Thor of Norse mythology – except for Danny. Danny has showed no sign of any magical ability, even though he’s well past the age when most kids start to exhibit skills. This means that Danny can’t hope to have much of a future with his family; he’ll have to learn to live like the drowthers (regular, non-magical folk). Except! Then Danny finds out, entirely by accident, that he is a Gatemage. Gatemages can create gates through space and transport themselves or others anywhere. The famed Loki was a Gatemage, and because of the last Loki’s sins, any Gatemages who are discovered are killed on the spot. So when Danny fears he’s been found out, he runs away from home and begins his quest to find out more about his power and why it’s so feared among mages.
So this all sounds awesome, right? I love stories with a new twist on mythology, and I loved the way each family of mages in this world were descended from different gods from ancient mythology. There’s a family of Greeks who we meet, and we’re told there are several other Families. The catch is that none of the mages are as powerful as they once were. They no longer have godlike powers, because they have been cut off from Westil, the land of their origin, so they become weaker with every generation of mages. The way Card adds his own mythology to these classic myths is brilliant. The world and the way it works is entirely realized, and I loved discovering more about the different kinds of magery. And for the most part, the writing is great. The book moves along at a brisk pace, excepting a few long-winded exchanges about the technical workings of gatemagery, which I can forgive because it’s cool to know how everything works.
HOWEVER. I had a lot of problems with other aspects of this book which really ruined my enjoyment of it. One is that Danny is not much of a hero, really. Maybe Card didn’t intend him to be, since he’s based on the classical trickster figure. But at the end of the book, Danny is pretty much the same cocky, smartass, know-it-all kid that he was at the start, except he’s a little older and he understands how his powers work now. He hasn’t really had to sacrifice anything – his family, maybe, but they were never much of a family to him anyways, so it wasn’t a big deal for him to leave. Pretty much everyone else in the book falls all over themselves trying to help Danny. The best heroes acknowledge the other people who make them who they are – can you imagine Harry Potter without Ron and Hermione? But Danny’s family and friends are clearly beneath him. Even his fellow gatemages, Hermia and Veevee, say, “You are I are nothing without him, and you know it.” And Danny never refutes this, where a true hero would point out that he would be nowhere (or dead) without the help of his friends.
It’s no surprise that Hermia and Veevee, who are “nothing” without Danny, are women. Every single woman in this book is either a madonna or a whore. (Except for Hermia, who is neither but is also not particularly strong and shows up only to support Danny. She has no personality of her own, except for “person who teaches Danny that crucial skill he needs for the climactic scene”.) Let’s take a look at the women in this book:
- Danny’s mother and aunts: all maternal figures, all cold and mean.
- Lena: Danny’s friend Ced’s wife. Lena nearly rapes Danny on the first occasion she meets him, apparently because she was abused by her stepfather as a child and this gave her “daddy issues”.
- Leslie: Danny’s surrogate mother after running away from home. Leslie is portrayed as overemotional and jealous. And despite the fact that she dropped out of college to financially support her husband Marion while he got his PhD, Marion shows almost no respect for his wife and continually makes jokes at her expense.
- Veevee: A lesser gatemage, but one who helps Danny improve his skills. Veevee is older and falls into the madonna category, but she’s also portrayed as airheaded, slutty, and dumb. She and Leslie are still fighting over Marion, even though he’s been married to Leslie for decades.
- Bexoi: The Queen of Iceway in Westil. A whore AND a madonna. Her husband the king thinks she’s barren, so she sleeps with Wad. (Only after discovering he’s a gatemage, and after Wad points out that he could see her naked any time he wanted. Because that’s not creepy.) And then it turns out that she just used Wad to make a baby. Because women can only want sex in order to get your baby, you know. Then when she gets pregnant by the kind with a second child, she kills her first child. Because women are heartless bitches, you know.
- Anonei: The mistress of the King of Iceway, who has two children by him, and gets locked away in a terrifying prison in a cave just for having the gall to be the other woman. Oh yeah, her young children get locked up with her. Because, you know, she should have known better. It’s totally easy to say no when the king wants to sleep with you and could have you exiled or executed for refusing him.
It’s appalling. All of these women have the negative traits that are stereotypically attributed to women: they’re weak, they’re petty, they’re crybabies, they’re sluts, they’re out to get you. Sure, some of them are “good guys”: Leslie, Veevee, and Hermia are all on Danny’s side, but they’re all stereotypes and none of them can do anything extraordinary. Leslie is a beastmage and can talk to cows. Veevee can unlock and use Danny’s gates, but can’t make any of her own. Hermia can lock and use Danny’s gates, but can’t make any of her own. But none of them can be better than Danny at anything, and none of them can be strong or clever, because they’re women.
And then there’s the homophobia. Card’s deplorable views on women and gay people are no big secret, but I’ve never seen them manifested so blatantly in one of his books until now. His characters are all aggressively heterosexual. When Danny first runs away from home, he’s stopped by a store cop in a Wal-Mart and accused of stealing. Danny strips to his underwear to prove he didn’t steal anything, and then accuses the man of being a (gay) perv for making him strip like that. Later, Danny moons two male security officers and then accuses them of liking it (read: being gay) in order to embarrass them and get them to leave him alone. So you have to wonder: what does Card think about gay people if his characters keep using it as the ultimate insult?
Danny is also obsessed with boobs, lest you think that a teenage boy in the midst of puberty is not totally into girls. There are his slutty pre-teen cousins who taunt him with their bodies; there’s Lena, who Danny is attracted to even while she’s sexually assaulting him; there’s Laurette, who somehow becomes Danny’s friend even though he keeps harassing her about her ample cleavage. If Danny were ever actually attracted to a girl because of her personality and not just her body, I would be okay with him thinking about her boobs. I mean, boobs are nice, I get that. But Danny is only interested in girls’ bodies, because how can he actually like any of them when they’re all whores and bitches?
Ultimately, I have to say that I really wanted to give this book a rave review. When I read the first chapter, I was hooked and thought I was going to love everything about The Lost Gate. So it’s really a shame that Card took such a fantastic story and embedded such damaging, hateful ideas within it. Who can I recommend this book to? Straight men? Sadly, I think that’s who Card writes for, and I don’t imagine he cares if he alienates me as a woman and a GLBT ally, and loses me as a reader.
Orson Scott Card is a bigot, and I can no longer separate his work from his worldview. I do not recommend this book.