“GATEFATHER: A Novel of the Mithermages,” by Orson Scott Card, Tor Books, $25.99, 383 pages (f) (ages 16 and up)
The Mithermages series by master storyteller Orson Scott Card presents a complex and engaging magic system that explains how many of the gods and legends of Norse, Greek and Egyptian mythology — among others — came to be, and that they are more than myth.
In the first book, “The Lost Gate,” Danny North discovers he is a gatemage: He can create “gates” that enable him and others to travel instantly from one location to another, including between the worlds of Earth and Westil with the creation of a “Great Gate” made of many gates. While learning to use his powers, he enrolls in high school, makes friends and succeeds in making a Great Gate. He also thwarts Loki, the Gate Thief, from stealing his ability to create gates — something Loki has been doing to gatemages for centuries for reasons yet to be revealed.
Danny is challenged with maintaining peace between the families of Mithermages in "The Gate Thief" as they race to find a way through a Great Gate to amplify their powers. At the same time, he has to deal with pressure from his school friends who want to use his abilities for their benefit. All the while, he's finding how little he understands about his powers and working to learn as quickly as he can before the danger Loki, who is caught up in his own quest for revenge on Westil, was trying to prevent is realized.
But Danny fails, and now he's in trouble — or rather, trouble is in him. At the conclusion of “The Gate Thief,” Danny becomes possessed by Set, the Belgod — aka Satan — and now it’s up to him and those who love him to find a way to free him and vanquish Set without putting either Earth or Westil in peril.
With such a setup, the series seemed poised for what could only be an exciting and explosive conclusion in "Gatefather." After all, many of the mages have had their powers amplified by passage through a Great Gate, the families are at odds and the stakes are higher than ever before.
Instead, however, Card chose to have the story meander down the metaphysical route. Fans of Card's work will find things feeling a bit familiar; many elements of "Gatefather" are reminiscent of "Xenocide" and "Children of the Mind," with a focus on the nature and abilities of the soul — with prets here taking the place of aiuas — and with many conflicts being solved through diplomacy or avoided altogether, which may be ideal in the real world but is a little anticlimactic in a fantasy series. Some elements seem to carry influence from beliefs held by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which Card is a member.
The different flavor of excitement could be a good fit for some readers, but it's hard to imagine anyone not being frustrated by the dialogue between many of Danny's teenage friends, which feels extremely forced and unnatural to the point where it's annoying to read, as even the book seems to acknowledge: "And it finally dawned on Danny that maybe high school friendships weren't necessarily a lifetime choice."
"Gatefather" is worth reading for those who have already invested in the Mithermages series and want to see how it ends, but it could be a bit of a letdown with its slower pacing and as several interesting story threads are left far from resolved while others are tied up all too conveniently.
Readers of this final chapter will be completely lost on what's happening unless they've read the previous books in the series. Because of some profanity, violence, sexual content and mature themes, the book is better suited for older teens or adults.