Orson Scott Card
Simon Pulse, 2010
My initial attraction to Pathfinder was based solely on the fact that the main character was named Rigg. Rig is a less well known name of the Norse god Heimdall; it is the name Heimdall goes by as he wanders Midgard, the tale of which is chronicled in the Lay of Rig. Heimdall’s prodigious sight is one of the reasons he was chosen to guard the Bifrost Bridge (the path between Midgard and Asgard) and is somewhat similar to Rigg’s own sight related ability to see the paths of the past. As Rig, Heimdall gifts humanity with magic runes and is something a a father figure, while initially this comparison to Rigg doesn’t quite fit by novels end it could be argued that Rigg is ineffably tied to the fate of humanity. That being said, the links to Norse myth are tenuous; more homage than template. Card’s story here is one that is both clever, original and highly engrossing. Far more engrossing than the jacket copy would have you believe:
A powerful secret. A dangerous path.
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, and 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 sets 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.
All of that makes Pathfinder sound like a fairly typical fantasy novel. This couldn’t be further from the truth. While the novel certain begins like your standard fantasy novel, and maintains elements from fantasy fiction, it isn’t really the case. The fact becomes fairly obvious early in the novel as the introduction to each chapter is a secondary narrative about humanity’s flight from a dying Earth into the stars in order to start anew. Pathfinder further sets itself apart as Rigg quickly conveys that the knowledge level in the world exceeds that of most fantasy settings as he knowledge in both math and physics. While the people of Pathfinder seem to be knowledgeable about many things the level of technology and society remains very much roughly medieval. Oddly I found myself able to swallow this anachronistic twist as it seems that Rigg is far from the norm in terms of what he knows.
As the novel progresses other characters with special abilities are introduced. Card uses these in extraordinarily interesting ways and each has their own unique flair. Most fascinating however is that as Rigg continues to add individuals to his small group the nature and details of their abilities becomes increasingly clearer. Indeed, the ways that the characters of the novel combine there powers make for the most exciting and mind-bending scenes. It isn’t too much a spoiler to say that each of those abilities deals with the manipulation of time, though each character does so in an interesting way, and it becomes apparent early on that Pathfinder is very much a time travel novel. Card approaches this in a fascinating way, embracing paradox rather than ignoring it.
Card’s vision of time travel is complex and mind-bending. This might have been a problem for most authors but Card deftly throws his characters into the same confused and amazed boat as his reads. Furthermore, since the characters are unfamiliar with the full extent of their own abilities new aspects regarding their use and effects on the world around trickle in slowly and are never overwhelming. Card does include an afterward that expounds on his use of time-travel in the novel and it is certainly worth look once you’ve finished Pathfinder.
My experiences with Card, through Enders Game and is Alvin Maker series, don’t really include dialogue as being a strong point but the dialogue in Pathfinder absolutely sparkles. From the rhetoric between Rigg and his father or the banter between Rigg and Umbo, Card absolutely nails the sound of these characters in order to provide maximum enjoyment. Rigg is really the centerpiece of the novel; his eloquent speech and chameleon like ability to blend into the varying social strata is the glue that holds the novel together. His high intelligence and well-formed sense of self get him in and out of trouble with equal ease however his youth often works as a disadvantage when it comes to physical confrontations while at the same time helps him avoid the worst some potentially nasty situations. For example Rigg’s age is similar to that of Kvothe’s from the early sections of The Name of the Wind but his experiences as an orphan are not nearly as hard-pressed or horrific and an accurate reflection for Pathfinder’s target audience.
Pathfinder is a wonderfully exciting and well-formed started to a fascinating new series. The ambiguous blurb and strange cover art do little to promote the novel’s content. Pathfinder is a welcome drop of water in the desert of young adult science fiction. While the character tropes might feel familiar to adult readers the world and time travel elements that Card has used here make for refreshing change of pace. As a total package Pathfinder makes a spectacular read for the budding science fiction fans of the world.