Saturday, July 30, 2011

Review: Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card
November 23, 2010
Borrowed from Library
Amazon Page
Goodreads Page
Grade: B

Synopsis (from publisher): Only his father knew that Rigg possessed the power to see deep down the paths of people's pasts. But it was only after his father died that Rigg discovers that he has another special gift: the power to change the past. Unfortunately, with that knowledge, all certainty and safety began to melt away. Thinking of it as a coming-of-age novel at triple speed.

Review: Did you know Orson Scott Card could still write a good book? Apparently he can. Along with my brother and dad, I read and enjoyed OSC as a child and teenager - Ender’s Game, the Alvin Maker books, that sadly unfinished Homecoming series, but more recently I’d stopped reading him almost completely, turned off by the quality of his more recent books.

Pathfinder, however, is a pleasant return to old form. I don’t really know why I picked it up off the library’s shelf, but from page one, following Rigg and his childhood friend Umbo on their way to fulfill the last wish of Rigg’s father - that he meet his sister - is an interesting and well-written story.

The journey of a talented and well-educated young boy isn’t exactly new territory for Card, and while Rigg is a worthwhile and interesting protagonist, he starts the story almost fully formed by the education his father provided. As we get to know Rigg, we see different facets of his personality, but the book’s character development takes place mostly in the secondary characters. These friends and companions of Rigg grow and change as they learn about themselves, their society, and the odd talents many of them seem to possess.

Spanning from the backwoods of ‘upriver’ to the capital of their world, Card takes his time to look at the subtle changes of culture and language as Rigg, Umbo, and Loaf, their self-appointed guardian, travel towards the city and the discovery of Rigg’s true identity. Very quickly we learn that he may be the scion of a recently deposed Imperial family, and while his ‘father’ has subtly trained Rigg for this, stumbling blindly into a wasp’s nest of politics and rebellion never leads to good times for our characters. As is this author’s wont, sometimes Card’s plot takes a turn into discussing his own feelings on politics, but this proselytizing is easily overlooked and not terribly distracting.

My absolute favourite part of this book is the time travel aspects. As I described it to a friend, the book is time travel without paradox. The characters cross and recross their own timestreams, making changes as they go. The chapter prologues also play into part of the time travel story though in a subtle way that reveals itself as the book continues. It’s an intriguing way to look at time travel and one quite different from the ones we usually see in science fiction and fantasy.

I didn’t realise Pathfinder was the first in a proposed trilogy until after I finished. I look forward to reading the remaining books, but Pathfinder ends in a way that could easily make it read as a standalone novel. This book is an intriguing combination of high fantasy and science fiction and may be especially enjoyed by preteen and teenage boys.