Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card

Card has returned with a vengeance in this newest series. Which is to say we had two stories going on at one.

The main, real story of the book was about Rigg who has always been able to see people’s paths. He can spot where people have gone and how old they are. This has only seemed like a small thing, until he learns that with the help of his friend Umbo, he can actually go back to those times. He also learns that his father has actually been training him for something he has not realized before. He is, in fact, the long lost son of the no longer in power royal family. And the sister he never knew he had has the ability to slow down time for herself to the point where she can become invisible. Rigg, taking his place with his family, must maneuver the political entrapments and learn what his real father was studying to discover there is a safe way through the wall that encloses their kingdom.

The second story, which we only get a little bit of in each chapter, is actually the origin story, explaining how people came to the planet, how the barriers came about, and how the world and its rules were established. Mostly, we learn about the dilemmas that take place as Ram Odin helps lead the ship meant to increase mankind’s hope of survival by spreading the human race beyond one planet.

The book has a number of themes going on, from the difficulties and intricacies or time travel to what it means to be human (does having the ability to manipulate time and space preclude you from being human?). On the one hand, these are interesting ideas, the kind of debates you would have in a college philosophy class. On the other hand, this book is meant for young adults. I found myself having a hard time following everything that was being said (meaning I had to pay really close attention to what I was reading) and I am generally very good at understanding these types of things. Which leads me to wonder, how many kids are going to be able to really follow what was being discussed? And was all of that discussion necessary?

In fact, this book was all about talking and debating. Who should Rigg trust? His mother or sister who may find him to be a threat because the once-royal family usually kills its males so only a female can rule? His guard who may be loyal to the government that overthrew the royal family all together? The man whose house he stays in who may be intent on overthrowing the government and using Rigg for his own goals? There were so many interesting ideas being thrown around but the truth is that very little actually happened. There is very little real and present danger. It also seems like a bit of a cheat that only the good guys have any magic.

Add to this the fact that none of the characters are particularly likable. Rigg puts his friends in danger without much care for what might happen. Loaf easily leaves his wife who he claims to love, rather than asking her to come along or even tell her what his plans are. Umbo, perhaps the most likable of all, begins the story by leading a crowd to lynch Rigg and though his confusion was understandable (he had thought that Rigg had intentionally killed his brother) does not really go beyond the sad boy who has a sad childhood with an abusive father. Rigg’s sister might be likable if she were visible for long enough for us to get to know. She’s certainly sympathetic, but we don’t know her well enough to really like her.

Now that I’ve complained a lot about the book, I want to say it’s not that I didn’t enjoy this book. But after the brilliance that was Ender’s Game, Pathfinder is a bit of a let down. Good enough that I will read the second book when it comes out, but not so good that I’m dying for it already.

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