I found The Lost Gate a disappointment. Card has created an interesting concept, has done a ton of research, has woven it all into an elaborate tapestry as usual, but one thing is wrong. Setting alone does not make a story; the plot seems a bit directionless and I found the characters, including the primary character, to be less than compelling. The members of the play act without feeling, come to conclusions that don’t make much sense (which feel like story props), and do things that don’t follow anything that normal, sane people would do (more story props). Having the protagonist think “What was I thinking?” after he does something monumentally foolish, is not an explanation or a justification for his actions. In the end, I think the author was so in love with his admittedly brilliant twist on magic, and how the protagonist discovers how to manipulate his power with no formal education, that he skimped on the rest. I hate to say that about Card, for I truly loved Ender’s Game, but putting the savant-smart kid in a contemporary fantasy milieu where he discovers his limitless powers by trial and error in the midst of a cast of cardboard cutouts who do exactly as they are supposed to, simply doesn’t work for me.
One more thing that Card does with this novel that I have difficulty with: the book is not a story with a ending, it is a set up for a series. Rule one in my book: book one of a series is a story in and of itself. It may leave plot hooks that set up the next book, but leaving everything open at the ending with a dozen things hanging is not fair to the reader. Perhaps this is just me, and don’t particularly have problems with cliff hangers in middle books of series (and have done it myself) but the first should stand alone. I will not be buying the sequel.
I rated this book as I did out of respect for the author’s work. The amount of research and richness of setting are what we expect from Card, but plot and characterization were lacking in the extreme. If you love Orson Scott Card, and simply must read every word he has ever written, please dive in and enjoy, but you may as well buy the whole series to start with.