A fantasy novel by Orson Scott Card. It is well up to his usual standard, and therefore well worth reading.

The story follows Danny North, a young boy from an extraordinary family. The Norths are an ancient and insular clan who have had magical powers since time began. They claim to be descended from the old gods of Norse Mythology, and their powers back this up. The Norths can call up ghosts and faeries, travel out of their bodies, make physical doppelgangers, and most of them have a special talent, such as healing, bonding with animals or plants, or controlling the weather. Danny, however, can not do any of this. Despite being born of particularly extraordinary parents he can't see or feel or do any magic at all. As he becomes a teenager he is starting to feel the isolation, and in some cases outright hostility, that being a non-magic-user, a drekka, brings.

He eventually discovers that does have one magical power, however it is a forbidden one. If his talent is discovered his own family will kill him, and worse, if he is discovered by someone from another clan (a clan descended from Zeus or Eurynome), they will kill not only him, but also as many of his family as they can. He may also have the power to travel to the world of the gods, magnifying his magical powers -- and the powers of anyone with him -- a hundred fold. As you might expect, while his family is quite willing to kill him to avoid the fearful wrath of the other clans, there are some amongst the them who would like to have this power on their side and are willing to protect him.

He takes the only option open to him and escapes from the family compound, taking to the streets. The family does not believe in things like public school and TV, or even in children wearing shoes, so he is somewhat unprepared for the outside world. He has a number of adventures, falling in with drifters and outsiders, and a few 'orphan' magic users who do not belong to any clan. He learns how to use his powers for both good and evil, and begins to pick up hints as to how to discover his full potential.

But that is only half the story. There is a second story, apparently unrelated but running in parallel, about a mysterious man who was trapped in a tree. He emerges unscathed but with no memory nor any clue who he might be. He wanders the land, eventually coming to rest in the royal palace. He is taken in by the night cook in the palace kitchens, and earns a meager keep by helping to run small errands. In his spare time he infests the castle, exploring all the forgotten corners and attics, the places left behind walls and under foundations. In doing so he inadvertently involves himself in the matters of the royal family, learning of the sinister plots among all the royal personages, and eventually he decides to aid some and hamper others.

Eventually, of course, we see how the two stories are related, but learning how they come together is part of the fun, so I will not say more here.

The story is very engaging, being both fast-moving and engrossing, and managing to do this without seeming like a light read. The prose is a bit unusual (not for Orson Scott Card, but in comparison to other writers), with slightly archaic and grand wording. It takes a few chapters to get used to it, but before long it seems perfectly normal. Perhaps the biggest flaw, if that's what it is, is that the story doesn't try to surprise us with sudden twists and turns; there are surprises, but most of the story unfolds as you would expect it to; Danny makes the choices that he should, he makes the mistakes that a young boy would be expected to make, and by the time the end comes, it isn't too much of a surprise.

The world in the book, the world of the Mithermages, is based on some maps that Orson Scott Card started to develop in 1977; this eventually resulted in the short story Sandmagic, published originally in Swords Against Darkness IV in 1979, and now published in the story collections Cardography and Maps in a Mirror. This was eventually followed by the novella Stonefather, which he considers to be one of his best stories ever. This set the stage for the central work of this series, The Lost Gate, which fully developes the world and system of magic.

The Lost Gate is the first book in the Mither Mages trilogy; the second book is The Gate Thief.

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