The Rifter Readalong: Book 1: The Shattered Gates

Published June 9, 2014 by Shannon

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.

8 comments on “The Rifter Readalong: Book 1: The Shattered Gates

  • Yeah, this one is all set-up, so it’s hard to say what I think of it (except that I love Ginn Hale’s prose; it’s still a little purple, but I notice that she hasn’t fallen into that choppy sentence rhythm that’s a bit distracting in WICKED GENTLEMEN.)

    I will note that in many ways I found Basawar more convincing than wherever they lived on Earth — was it northern California? That shows how little I connected with it — and the details are fascinating to me. The thin air, the white leaves on black trees, the hints of an apocalyptic past; all suck me in.

    I also really liked the way that Khalil finds Earth to be almost paradisiacal: the rich air, the colors and food, the lack of people trying to kill him, etc. So often portal fantasies present the alternative world as so much “better” (prettier scenery, picturesque common folk, awesome magical creatures, “unspoiled” by industrialization, and the like); I really appreciate that Basawar seems to be a pretty grim place, but that its inhabitants still are ready to fight and die for it.

    Also, the Oracle Bones are *wicked* *creepy*, and I hope we meet that dog again!

    As the start to a romance, it’s less compelling. Khalil has warm feelings for John, that’s clear, but I don’t get more than that John feels that Khalil is very weird, and possibly hot in a creepy sort of a way.

    He also clearly finds Ravishan cute, but Too Young (although Ravishan reads as maybe 17-18 to me, so not THAT young).

    Current wild-ass speculative theories: I think that the portals sent Khalil and John & Co. into different TIMES. I think Khalil is in Basawar past, before whatever disaster made it the horrible place we see in his head; and I think that John is also in the past, but not quite so past-y, and that Ravishan is Khalil before he earned that title.

    That last is mostly because I hate hate hate love triangles, though.

    • The speculation is interesting, and does make sense. It honestly never occurred to me, but there is all that stuff about Khalil’s bond with John that never got fleshed out, so I think it’s plausible.

      I can’t believe I forgot about the bones. They, and the dog, were creepy cool.

      I never got a good sense of place from the bits in our world. Clearly we weren’t going to stay there very long, so that didn’t bother me. And she’s clearly done ;her homework as far as Basawar world building goes, so I can forgive that.

  • I’m wondering if Ravishan is Kahlil/Kyle too! Because Kyle thinks about his “bond” with John, but there’s no evidence in the present when the story starts of where that bond comes from…. And also because there seem to be all these little clues but maybe there aren’t.

    I really liked the way she is setting up the portal fantasy–the elements that are familiar to any reader of Narnia etc. (like that time moves differently in the different worlds), and the elements that are unfamiliar–as hapax says, having our world be in many ways the richer one (although no magic; or maybe there is, when you think of Laurie).

    This is the first time I’ve read Hale and I really like the dialogue too; Laurie and Bill, especially, come to life through their language and small quirky things she mentions (Laurie’s shoes and barettes, Bill’s candy). I thought they were going to be throwaway characters and it’s interesting to find them part of the gang. John is kind of the least interesting, blandest character to me so far, though there are hints that that’s starting to change. I like his connection to the earth and his rationalism. I was also glad that Kyle/Khalil arrived back in an unfamiliar world having forgotten some things, because if he were too knowing/powerful/magical and John is the one who is clueless about his powers/nature, that is too unbalanced. I dislike that dynamic, especially paired with a romance, although at least this wouldn’t be a woman needing a man to teach her about her power.

    I hope John et. al. get something to do soon too. I am wondering what the point of the time waiting/surviving is. Are they getting something out of it that they’re going to need later?

    I’ll try to be a better book-club buddy in two weeks and finish my reading on time! I’m definitely enjoying this and look forward to reading more.

    • Yeah, I did love the dialogue. I knew it was working because there was a moment as I was reading an interminable exchange between Laurie and Bill where I was like, “God, why don’t they shut up!” And then I thought, “Yeah, but that’s how people actually talk… I know I certainly enjoy my fair share of digressions about nothing.” I think it’s refreshing because in a lot of cases people try for stilted dialogue in fantasy and it doesn’t really add flavor.. it just sounds… not the way people speak.

      • The best exercise I ever had for learning to write dialogue was the three month stint (as a Kelly Girl) transcribing tapes of various conference and business meetings.

        It was DEADLY dull, but I really got a feel how Real People carry on a conversation. I did leave out a lot of the “uh”s and “mmm”s and other verbal throat clearings, but there were a LOT of digressions and repetitions and meanderings; and these were discussions supposedly focused on very specific agenda!

  • Great little review of the novel, Shannon! Though I am not in your book club, it does seem like a fun time. The book sounds interesting and like a classic fantasy novel. Did you have a favorite part?

  • I love your take on this installment, Shannon. I hadn’t thought about the fact that they just sit around for eight months, but you’re right. I think I ascribed it to Bill’s ill health, but even then it doesn’t really make sense.

    The dialogue is terrific, isn’t it? Very natural, as you, Hapax, and Liz all note. Hale writes deceptively simple prose, I think. Sometimes it feels almost simplistic, but there’s a clarity to it I really appreciate. And she can really set a scene. That one in the diner works for me every time I read it.

    I said I knew this so well I didn’t need to reread it, but your post made me go back and pick it up and before I knew it I’d reread the whole installment. I had forgotten how much of the story is foreshadowed in the opening. I agree that Kyle is more interesting than John, and so is Ravishan to some extent; I think that’s because of John’s role, which gets more complex as the story goes on but still limits him in some ways (ironically, given what his role is).

    Anyway, great start and I’m looking forward to the next post!

  • I appreciated the quality of the world building in the first installment. No info-dumping, but gradually the details the reader needs are coming clear. Basawar feels complex, not as simplified as a lot of fantasy worlds. Like Liz, I thought of Narnia — specifically, The Magician’s Nephew; I thought of the scene of Jadis’s world, and how excited she is to find a “young” world by going through portals.

    I’m not sold on the characters yet, but I’m looking forward to reading the next installment.

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