Finding My Way Back to Sci-Fi/Fantasy: Pathfinder

Typical fantasy cover alert: More specifically, this cover reminds me an awful lot of the NA cover for Finnikin of the Rock

My first non-Christmas post! Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas and everything it encompasses, but it’s good to be back on my regular reading track. I have a tempting stack of teen ARCS waiting for me (Holly Black! Deb Caletti! Melina Marchetta! Tim Wynne-Jones!) that makes me yearn for a sick day, if only to lounge around and read all day. First up, Pathfinder.

I am embarrassed to admit that I have not read Orson Scott Card’s famous and beloved Ender’s Game or any of it’s subsequent titles. It has always been on my vast To Read pile and after reading Pathfinder, it has definitely moved up the ranks. I am very glad that one of my bosses urged me to read Pathfinder, which I resisted at first. It was a thought-provoking read that engaged me from the very beginning.

Rigg has spent his life traveling with his father, hunting animals and trading their pelts. So it comes as a complete shock when upon his death-bed, Rigg’s father instructs him to find his mother and sister, a sibling he never knew he had. Accompanied by his cheeky but ultimately loyal friend Umbo, Rigg heads off for the old imperial city- a dangerous place he has never set foot in. But Rigg is not your average teenager. He has a special ability to see the paths of any living creature, animal or man. This window into the past becomes important in his quest, as does the ability Umbo has been keeping a secret–until one fateful day that sets both of them on course for adventure.  

But there is another layer of the story. This is also the story of another young man, Ram, specially trained and hand-picked to pilot a spacecraft through a timefold and into the future in the hopes that humans will find another planet to inhabit. Card doles out Ram’s story in tantalizing little slices, which is probably for the best, as much of the science is complicated and can make your brain hurt, but in a good way. Trying to figure out how these two stories would converge was a great exercise in imagination.

In fact, throughout the entire book, I felt engaged in a way I haven’t been in fiction in a long time. Card is an excellent storyteller, but the reader needs to work a little bit in order to get the most out of the story. I have no idea how plausible the science is, but it doesn’t matter. It feels possible in Card’s world, and that’s all that matters. I love time travel books, which I think are exceedingly difficult to pull off well. Card’s logic seems to work, but to be honest, there came a point where I stopped trying to rationalize it and just trusted the author’s authority.

 This isn’t a breezy read, or a story that lends itself well to skim reading, but it is an extremely well-crafted, intelligent read for those who like to be intellectually engaged with their novels. If I had any complaints, it would be that the world of Pathfinder is very much a boy’s world. Female characters are few and far between, and at first glance appear to be meek, corrupt, or very masculine, but I found the relationships between various male characters realistic and at times even heart-warming. Lovers of science-fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction, and historical fiction, for that matter, will enjoy sinking their teeth into Pathfinder.

I will warn you that this is the beginning of a new series, so don’t expect too much in the way of resolution from Pathfinder. If you’re like me, you will curse Orson Scott Card for leaving you hanging, and then start counting the days until the second book in The Serpent World series is released.

Side note: I’m not really into book trailers, but this one is pretty effective:

Pathfinder is available now in hardcover from Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon and Schuster.

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