I got The Gate Thief from the library simply because it was by Orson Scott Card. (I was in the middle of reading Ender’s World, which reminded me how much I liked Card’s writing.) Only after I got home did I realize it was the second book in a series. Unfortunately, neither our library nor any of the others in the same catalog system has the first book. I decided I’d go ahead and read it anyway.
I’ve wondered sometimes, when reading a sequel to some book, how well a reader would understand it without having read the first one. And I wondered, reading The Gate Thief, whether there were things I didn’t understand but didn’t know I didn’t understand. Of course there are things that an author doesn’t fully explain, often because the explanation comes later in the book (or series), so I tend not to question things that aren’t explained well, figuring that will come later.
So I enjoyed learning about the concept of gates and gatemages, and a variety of other kinds of mages, and the supposed history behind them. Those who read the first book may find much that is repetitive in the second one, but of course I didn’t have that complaint. I thought it was an interesting take on the mythology of various religious traditions (mostly Norse and Egyptian).
Somehow the whole thing just doesn’t hang together very well, though. Some reader reviews at amazon.com blame this on the fact that it is the middle book of a trilogy. Others fault Card or his publisher for having hurried the writing process. (Card explains in an afterword that the book departs completely from his plans for it, and that his publisher generously allowed him an extra six months. But six months may not have been enough for a full re-write.)
Of course, life doesn’t always seem to hang together all that well sometime. Books that try too hard to imitate life in this respect tend to be boring, but a certain amount of disjointedness can keep a book from being too predictable. (Reader reviews complain that the ending of The Gate Thief was way too predictable, but I didn’t see it coming much sooner than Danny North did.)
My biggest complaint is that Danny North is just not a very interesting protagonist. I suppose in part this could be because I did not see how he developed as a character in the first book. Or it could be, as several reader reviews suggest, that Card is out of touch with teenagers and does not write about them in a believable manner. Other reviews point out that teenagers themselves are hardly consistent, so it is not out of character for them to go from one extreme to another.
But there just wasn’t a depth to Danny than I think I remember from characters in other novels by Card I have read. The character who interested me more was Wad, from whose point of view parts of the book are written. (This is part of what makes the book feel disjointed at times, as the two characters live on two different worlds and have very little in common – history, character, interests, problems – other than being gatemages.)
I had trouble keeping in mind that Wad looks like a boy rather than someone who has lived fourteen centuries, since his appearance is not mentioned until well after I formed a mental image of him. But he has a depth to him – perhaps from having so much more of a past – that Danny lacks.
It’s certainly not the best Card novel I’ve read. But I’ll probably read the third one when it comes out – and maybe by then I’ll have had a chance to read the first one also.