The short version: A science fiction and fantasy adventure featuring excellent characters, intrigue, and deceptions that will grip your attention such that you'll neglect the things you need to do in order to read more.
Orson Scott Card's Pathfinder is a fantastic science fiction/fantasy adventure story that slowly unfurls in such a way as to make it difficult to describe without ruining the pleasure a reader would derive from reading it all themselves. I'll try to avoid spoilers, but aim to do better than the vague jacket copy, reproduced verbatim at the top of the book's Goodreads record.
Pathfinder tells two stories simultaneously. Each chapter begins with a little bit of Ram Odin's story. He's commanding a spaceship loaded up with humans in stasis, traveling to a distant habitable planet so that, should something horrible happen on Earth, the humans won't go extinct. The ship is run by various AIs--computers handling the complex calculations required to make an experimental leap through a fold in space and expendables (robots) who provide artificial human interaction to help keep Ram sane, as well as act as interpreters between the ship's computers and Ram. Ram's ship is supposed to arrive at the new planet before the others, and should the experiment jump through the space fold work, it will take much less time than the hundreds of years the other ships are expected to take. But something doesn't go quite as planned during the jump through the fold.
After Ram's story, each chapter then follows a young man named Rigg, who at the beginning of the story works as a fur trapper with his father. As the two go about laying and checking traps, his father schools him on languages, sciences, history, culture, and more, much to Rigg's annoyance. What goes does it do a fur trapper to understand the banking industry in the distant capital, Aressa Sessamo?
That's not the only odd thing about Rigg's life. He also has something like a magical ability. He can see the paths that people and animals leave. Seeing isn't the right word--he can sense them, as well as their age and vaguely the sort of person or creature who made them. Almost. He can't see his father's path.
It's not long after you meet Rigg that he finds himself traveling with village friend Umbo off to bigger cities to discover more about himself and his past. His father had kept secrets from him, and while this story does not build up to big reveals, it is definitely more fun for you to read the story and learn about these secrets yourself.
Card's characters are excellent and the adventure is fun. The world he's built in Pathfinder is fascinating and stirs the imagination--I would wonder after putting the book down "what would it be like if this happened," and enjoy the Card's answer to it. There's also an enjoyable amount of speculation about time/space travel and physics that have the potential to make readers curious enough to seek out other information on the topic. I'd recommend this to teens and adults who enjoy adventure stories, especially those who like fantasy and/or science fiction adventures. If you're in this category, be warned that you may get sucked into this story and need to exercise some self-control to put it down and do chores or go to sleep. I'm really looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Ruins.
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