"All books are either dreams or swords,/You can cut, or you can drug, with words." - Amy Lowell, 'Sword Blades and Poppy Seed'

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Children's/YA: Pathfinder

Card, Orson Scott. Pathfinder. New York: Simon Pulse, 2010. 657 pages.

"Rigg is well trained at keeping secrets. Only his father knows the truth about Rigg's strange talent for seeing the paths of people's pasts. But when his father dies, Rigg is stunned to learn just how many secrets Father had kept from him -- secrets about Rigg's own past, his identity, his destiny. And when Rigg discovers that he has the power not only to see the past, but also to change it, his future suddenly becomes anything but certain.
Rigg's birthright set him on a path that leaves him caught between two factions, one that wants him crowned, and one that wants him dead. He will be forced to question everything he thinks he knows, choose who to trust, and push the limits of his talent...or forfeit control of his destiny." (description from back cover of book)

Overall Rating: **** (out of five)

  • Richness of Plot. It takes a great deal of talent to successfully combine to seemingly disparate stories in one novel, and reveal just enough about each that by the end of the book, the reader can see clearly how they are connected.  Not only that, but each plot is fully essential to the understanding of the other.
  • Writing. It can be difficult to find novels that combine excellent writing that can appeal to, or even challenge, advanced readers with a plot that will still appeal to a young adult audience.  Think of it as the general theme of the first Harry Potter book, a young person learning about an unknown heritage and exploring a new, but with the complexity of storytelling and general writing style present in the later Harry Potter books.

  • Characters.  While the characters are fascinating and fun to read about, readers might find Rigg, the main character, difficult to relate to.  Though his father has died and sent him off into an increasingly hostile world, he is something of a know-it-all who is in control of almost every situation.  Given the way the book ends, I can only assume that will change in the next book. It is a minor flaw, but one that might bother some readers.

One of the strengths of Orson Scott Card as a story-teller is that he can write books with themes that would appeal to younger readers, while writing at a level that will challenge them, rather than patronizing them.  The novel traces two plotlines: one, which appears at the beginnings of the chapters, explores an Earth colony ship that has made a risky space jump in an attempt to reach a suitable colonization planet, and the complications that ensue.  The second follows characters on a planet that seems to be living in an agrarian society surrounded by a mysterious invisible Wall that drives anyone mad who tries to cross it.  As the novel progresses, the connection between the two plots becomes apparent.

Of course, half of the fun is trying to figure out the connection before it is revealed.  However, it is the main plot, that on the planet, that draws the reader through the story.  We learn early on that certain people on this world have special abilities, and two of our main characters have powers that allow them to manipulate time.  The readers get to watch them learn more about their abilities, as they learn to live outside their small village, just as they learn to depend on and trust each other.  Since  few of the characters know more than the readers do, it is exhilarating to learn along with them.  It is also fun to watch two teenagers learn how to survive in an adult world, just as all teenagers do.  

The story is not particularly deep, the way Card's classic Ender's Game is.  But it is both enjoyable and gripping.  In spite of it's length, it is a speedy read.  A must read if you enjoy science fiction, and a good place to start if you are new to the genre.  Remember, science fiction does not equal cheesy aliens and pulp literature.  Card is one of the authors that consistently proves that good writing is good writing, no matter the genre.  If you or your children enjoy such youth-centered fiction as The Hunger Games or Harry Potter, this would be a good place to go next.

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