A guest review by Kassa
Summary Review: A great opening of what promises to be an epic series but raises all the questions with no answers.
The Rifter is a ten-part serialized novel by award-winning author, Ginn Hale. The first episode, The Shattered Gates, will be published on March 8, 2011.
When John opens a letter addressed to his missing roommate, Kyle, he expects to find a house key, but instead he is swept into a strange realm of magic, mysticism, revolutionaries and assassins. Though he struggles to escape, John is drawn steadily closer to a fate he share with Kyle—to wake the destroyer god, the Rifter, and shatter a world.
Book One of the new ten part serial from Ginn Hale is an explosive introduction. The excellent writing, tight editing, and creative imagination that readers have come to expect from Hale is once again at the forefront of this new venture. At the same time this particular novella comes in at a mere 100 pages or so and barely, barely scratches the surface of the world building, introduces characters as mostly names with some witty dialogue, and starts to develop a story that is confusing and complicated from the very beginning. With nine more parts to come and no doubt the final tally at least 1000 pages, the idea of a serial is very interesting. I’m curious if readers will respond to this idea, especially when this story will no doubt have some incredibly dark overtones. I’m willing to go along for the ride though and the first book does an excellent job of introducing you to the themes and dark elements that will become the driving forces of this new epic fantasy.
In The Shattered Gate we’re introduced to John, a graduate student and roommates with the mysterious and reclusive “milkman” Kyle. John is something called a Rifter though what that is or what it means to the story is unclear. Kyle is actually named Kahlil and is a warrior priest from another dimension/world. We’re introduced to Kahlil as he’s trekking through farmland with a bag of animated bones on his back. Kahlil returns to contemporary Earth, although injured and the without the key that lets him travel between his world and Earth. John happens to open some of Kyle/Kahlil’s mail and discovers a golden key. This key sends John and his two friends, Bill and Laurie, to Kahlil’s alternate world. Lost there the three friends struggle to survive and adapt in a totally alien universe. At the same time Kahlil realizes what’s happened and attempts a blood ritual to follow but finds his own trouble.
The plot likely sounds complicated and convoluted from the beginning and that’s because it really is. Even after finishing book one I’m not really entirely sure what is going on with whom and which of the characters will actually survive when it’s clear there will be death in this epic journey. Furthermore there are definitely more questions asked than answered and if there are any answers offered, I’m sure it’s just a ruse to later turn those answers on their head. So really this introduction won’t give you the main plot, the main characters, even any real solid world building. Instead this first book intrigues you, mystifies you and draws you in so you want to know more.
The writing and themes are laced with heavy dark tones. The fantasy world Kahlil is from and the three friends stumble into is very violent and terrifying. In a practical sense there is almost no world building offered since the friends are largely trekking through snowy countryside for the entirety of the novella. Yet the few details offered combined with the difficult subsistence living and interaction with a young man attempting to be the new Kahlil depict a scary, often bloody world. Although I’m not a fan of violence, the dark overtones intrigued and engaged me almost immediately. You know the story is going to be scary and people will likely suffer and die along the way. However the very mentions so far have been tasteful and well executed to offer the impressions and affect without graphic scenes. So the themes may be dark but I don’t think they’ll turn anyone off.
The narrative is told in third person and alternates between John and Kahlil’s perspectives. John and Kahlil are interesting men, filled with complicated emotions and difficult goals. They have strengths and weaknesses already and the few twists thrown in about John’s Rifter nature and what that means to Kahlil sets up some amazing potential. John and Kahlil are best compared and contrasted with the landscape itself. The barren, bleak countryside, the cold snow and freezing temperatures contrast with the heat and pain of blood and how it’s used create a more somber, absorbing tone. This seems to reflect the early nature of the characters themselves. Likewise, the few beginning chapters feel slightly chaotic as you bounce from Kahlil’s world to the modern time on Earth and back again. The leap between perspectives is so vivid and different that it’s jerky and awkward at first. The constant questions and wondering what’s going on do distract from simply enjoying the story, but as with anything this settles down towards the end when more details start to slowly emerge.
The writing is very dynamic and shows the actions of the various characters in clean, crisp, evocative prose. The dialogue used is quite funny and Laurie and Bill are wonderful light additions to what is an otherwise pretty dark debut. They are interesting in their own right though and help keep your interest when the confusion of the story starts to build. The clean editing offers no distractions from the story and although the ending is actually no ending at all, I’m definitely curious and intrigued enough to want to read more.
I know several authors offer serialized novels on their websites and so hopefully readers will take a chance on this one. I actually jumped at this book knowing nothing more than it was the first book of ten by Ginn Hale and described as an epic fantasy story. Put together I’m sure 1000+ pages would scary many, many readers away so I’d definitely encourage readers to start with this novella and see if you’re interested. Hale is a master storyteller and she may make me cringe later in the series but I trust her and delight in the creativity offered. I think this first book has done its job of getting readers interested and it’s up to subsequent books to build the world, the concept, the story, the characters, and the plot.