1. Danny North is 14 and not quite normal. Though related to everyone in his grubby and isolated western Virginia compound, he has never fit in. That’s because almost every other member of the “family” is a mage, able to create fairies and communicate with plants, rocks or animals. Although Danny is a descendant of ancient gods (in particular, those from Norse mythology), he’s believed to be a drekka, a magical dud, much like a squib in “Harry Potter.” But not far into Orson Scott Card’s “ The Lost Gate ” (Tor, $24.99), Danny realizes he’s no drekka: In fact, he wields the greatest magic of all. He is a gatemage, able to create invisible passageways that allow him to travel from one place to another in an instant. This type of magery is so powerful that it’s outlawed among magical families around the globe. Danny must run away from home lest his parents be forced to put him to death. Since he has inherited the talents of the last great gatemage, Loki, it’s no surprise that Danny is able to muster enough charm and moxie to succeed in the completely foreign world of the drowthers (think muggles). He strengthens his gating skills while trekking to Washington, where he learns more about his legacy from a previously undeciphered text in the Library of Congress. Eventually, Danny tries to be a normal high school junior (albeit one who uses magic to cure a cute girl’s acne). But it’s clear that he has much more important work to do; indeed, this entertaining book — which includes a parallel story about another young gatemage and his completely different adventures — seems neatly set up for its sequel.
2. “ Sleight of Hand ”(Tachyon; paperback, $14.95), Peter S. Beagle’s latest collection of short stories, also reimagines old mythologies: The daughter of the Shark God confronts her absentee father, a family of centaurs takes a wrong turn and winds up in the Bronx, and a couple of aging loups-garoux (Louisiana werewolves) hunt one of their own. But Beagle, a veteran storyteller perhaps best known for “The Last Unicorn” (1968), can work in other modes, too, treading creepier ground close to home. In one story, a menacing bridge player quietly threatens to kill her partner (and she means it). In another, a woman who may not exist captivates a bachelor rabbi. There’s a warmth behind most of these stories, along with a dollop of schmaltz that fortunately makes them no less satisfying.
3. Jack Vance has been publishing fiction since the 1950s, influencing countless writers (not to mention the creators of Dungeons & Dragons). “ Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance ” (Tor, $27.99) is a tribute anthology, with 22 leading lights of speculative fiction staging stories in Vance’s future Earth-grown-barren as its aged red sun burns out of existence. The volume is edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, with introductory essays by Dean Koontz and Vance. Readers unfamiliar with Vance’s milieu might have a hard time gaining a foothold. I found myself reading the stories out of order, starting with more accessible ones, such as Kage Baker’s “The Green Bird” and Tad Williams’s “The Lamentably Comical Tragedy (or The Laughably Tragic Comedy) of Lixal Laqavee,” two fine tales of con men getting their comeuppance. But it was also worth turning to more elaborate works, like Dan Simmons’s novella “The Guiding Nose of Ulfant Banderoz.” Yet good as these tales are, after finishing them, I immediately went online and pulled up Vance’s “The Dying Earth” (1964). The new volume is a pleasure, but there’s nothing quite like the original.
Sklaroff is the editorial director of Diabetes Forecast.