It looks like these posts are going to happen every two weeks. I’m going out of town next Monday, and while I do expect to have reading time, I don’t want to give myself extra stress.
Anyway, on to book 1: The Shattered Gate
Note: Spoilers! There are totally spoilers everywhere for the first book. There will probably even be spoilers in the comments. So if you don’t want spoilers, do not read past this point.
What happens: John opens his weird roommate Kyle’s mail and discovers a note with only the word “Don’t” on it, and a key. It actually turns out that Kyle is a guy called Khalil, who hails from the fantasy world of Basawar. He is fighting some sort of evil thing, but he also needs to hang out in our world for some reason having to do with John, who is something called a Rifter, a fact that John is completely unaware of. He’s just returned from one of his trips back home, and convinces John to take him out for breakfast. There they run into Laurie and Bill, friends of John. Laurie, it turns out, is a psychic.
after breakfast, John and his friends drive out to a place in the wilderness, where some strange-looking stones have randomly appeared. One of the stones has a hole that looks big enough for Kyle’s key. John puts the key into the stone, and the three of them find themselves in Basawar.
Khalil, meanwhile, discovers the note and figures out John has the key. He knows he must pursue his roommate. Thus, he’s now in Basawar, too, where he ends up injuring himself by picking a fight with some guy in a bar.
John, Laurie and Bill are nowhere near a bar. They’re in the boonies, and don’t freeze to death because John has survival gear. They end up camping out and barely eking out an existence until John meets Ravishan, who wants to become a khalil. Ravishan begins teaching the three of them the Basawar language, and promises that once he’s khalil, he will take them home.
Overall, I liked this installment. It does a good job of setting up the world and introducing the characters. When I was finished, I wanted to keep reading. Hale has a strong ear for dialogue, and I didn’t end up spending the time I was reading wondering which plot cliches she was going to bring out.
That said, I think I’d rate this installment a C overall because while I liked the characters enough to keep going, there were things that didn’t really work for me in retrospect. My main gripe is that once John and his friends arrive in Basawar, they spend eight months surviving alone in the wilderness but doing nothing to try and find help. John meets Ravishan by chance. If he hadn’t been swanning around that area on that particular day, who knows if they’d be spending years just sort of existing? Sure, it’s revealed that John’s first encounter with Basawar civilization wouldn’t make anyone want to visit, what with people being burned alive, but his friend was literally dying and there were other cardinal directions. Why would he just assume there would be no help from anyone until he discovered Ravishan?
I need for my protagonists to do something. Khalil is clearly doing something, even if we don’t know what it is, but which largely involves a whole lot of pain, but John et al. basically seem to mope. So here’s to book 2 having more for them to do.
As a portal fantasy, I think the story works well. I liked the juxtaposition between our world and Basawar. We have more technology, but less warfare. I liked that Khalil saw our world as a place to rest and recuperate. Basawar seems like a place no one would actually want to live in, which I appreciate–at least as compared to, say, places like Westeros where you might be OK as long as you weren’t female, a peasant, or mindless cannon fodder. I also appreciated that Basawar had guns. I can’t think of any other fantasy novels I’ve read recently where gunpowder is a thing people have access to.
Thus far, there’s not much to comment on about the romance. There are certainly things keeping Khalil and John apart, (nothing quite like “You’re probably going to destroy the world so I have to kill you” to be a mood killer.) and I am beginning to see how a relationship might develop.
I like that there is at least one strong female character in the cast so far. I also appreciate that she hasn’t yet gotten raped. Always a good sign.
So what did the rest of you think? Anything I forgot to touch on?
Back in two weeks with the second part of this serial.