Rifter Readalong: Servants of the Crossed Arrows

Published June 29, 2014 by Shannon

Servants of the Crossed Arrows (Rifter #2)

I know it’s been nearly three weeks since we last visited these characters. This probably explains my somewhat tepid reaction to these chapters. But we’re here now, so let’s get moving. As always, there are spoilers everywhere.

When we last left John, Laurie and Bill, they’d been hiding in the woods for eight months in a show of being the least proactive characters ever. But hey, John met Ravishan, so that was OK. Anyway, the cliffhanger scene in the last book involved John meeting a group of bandits, including a talking dog, who were planning to kill a young man who was supposed to be an Ushiri candidate–the Ushiri being the priests that can eventually open the gates between Basawar and our world.

John, against the protests of Bill and Laurie, goes to warn the convoy escorting the nobleman to expect an ambush. They’re skeptical, but eventually send John along to verify the ambush. It’s a slaughter, with the noble family–the Bousim family, to be specific–coming out victorious. In the course of battle, John saves the lives of Alidas, the Bousim soldier he was riding with, and Saimura, one of the bandits.

John and his companions are brought back to the Bousim estate. After a tense conversation with Lady Bousim, who thinks they are from the Eastern Kingdom, John meets up with Pivan, the military leader for the Bousim clan, who charges John with bringing the Ushiri candidate up the Thousand Steps in the side of a mountain that lead to the temple of Pashir and his priest training. John has no choice but to agree, so he and the boy, Fikiri, begin the journey, which they complete successfully. We end the John POV chapters as John runs into Ravishan and they exchange more sexy banter.

Meanwhile, Kahlil has been taken in by a group of mercenaries, lead by Alidas. It becomes clear that Kahlil is a lot farther forward in time than John et al. are, because Alidas is definitely the same guy John met, but older. Anyway, Alidas gives Kahlil an assignment. he’s supposed to prevent the assassination of Jath’ibaye, a warlord from the north who has become prominent. Kahlil takes an undercover job as a runner for the Lisam household. As he finds out about elicit plans, he discovers that there is someone else who can manipulate the Gray Space as well.

I have to be honest with you guys. I was not interested in much of John’s storyline. He continues to be fairly reactive, and to be honest I find him a shitty friend. The few conversations here between him, Laurie and Bill were hard to read, because I found myself being more on Bill and Laurie’s side of events. Here they are, trapped in a world that isn’t their own, with Bill being actively very ill, and instead of trying to find a way out of the situation, their friend who got them here in the first place is swanning around the countryside being one with nature and flirting with young, hot priests. Then, when John does get them under the protection of Lady Bousim, he immediately leaves them in a volatile situation without telling them why. He has good reasons for what he does, but considering that Bill and Laurie wouldn’t be in dire straights if it weren’t for John, I feel like he owes them more than, “Gosh, well, I can’t tell them I’m leaving because it’ll be better for them.” I have to believe Bill and Laurie do serve some plot purpose–and it’s been hinted at that Laurie has power–but right now I find myself resenting the way they are written as the millstones around John’s neck.

The Kahlil chapters are much more interesting to me. Now that I understand that he’s some 20 years further ahead in time than John is, I’m left with lots of questions and theories. Kahlil is also a fairly reactive character, but since his memories have been shattered, I think that’s more reasonable. I can understand and sympathize with his struggles. I also find myself curious. The text seems to be implying that John = Jath’ibaye in the same way that it’s implying that Kahlil = Ravishan.

As to the romance, considering I spent most of the time I was reading being vaguely impatient with John, and since there were no real developments on that front, I don’t have much to say.

Lastly, I loved some of the side characters. The brash runner Fensal really appealed, as did Pivan, the military commander, although honestly that probably had a lot to do with the fact that he was willing to tell John he was being an asshole.

I haven’t fallen in love yet. I can see that the writing is very good, and if I’ve connected enough to the characters to find their tics annoying, that says something. But this installment rated a pretty solid C.

What did you guys think? Hopefully, y’all liked this part better than I did.

3 comments on “Rifter Readalong: Servants of the Crossed Arrows

  • Welp. I found John a great deal more *interesting* in this arc, inasmuch as he had a goal and a plan and went at it, although you’re right, he isn’t terribly likable. Nor is he the kind of asshole hero I’m secretly fond of — you know, the kind who owns his selfishness and untrustworthiness and is charming withal — actually, John reminds me a lot of the SEAL heros who are so darn popular now, driven and stoic and manly.

    But he does get things done!

    I liked Khalil / Kyle a great deal more, although he’s skittering on the edge of woobie-hood. Still, he’s loyal for good reason, doesn’t mope too much about his lost past, and takes the time to be nice to cooks and appreciate the high spirits of those about him, even if he doesn’t participate.

    I found the second section of this installment pretty confusing, though. I mean, I got the general drift, and maybe it was too much cognac, but I couldn’t keep all the various factions and houses and their alliances straight.

    But one thing I did appreciate very much (and Hale does very well) is that she depicts religion (s) as a thing that *matters*. Religions influence individuals and societies in real and meaningful ways, get tangled up in politics and tribal loyalties, and mean different things to different people who may or may not believe to various degrees. And just like worlds don’t have monocultures, they also have different religions, which are neither “good” nor “bad” but are something more complicated, and change and grow and die just like other social forces.

    Neat stuff.

    However, that’s all head-stuff. Heart-wise, I found very little to connect to in this installment. There is no romance, and I don’t particularly care one way or another which of the various factions win (although I’m pulling for some of the conspirators to lose) and I mostly hope that the likable servants and runners and that nice old priest don’t all get destroyed in the crossfire.

    • You’re right about John being interesting. And he does get things done, even if he isn’t making things happen himself. He’s definitely got the stoic manly thing going, which isn’t my favorite either.

      Oh yeah. Kahlil is skating very close to woobie-hood. I have a pretty high tolerance for woobies, and I’m trying to figure out where my line is between character who suffers enough and I want to hug and feed them and woobie. The fact that Kahlil suffers but doesn’t really dwell on his past is what endears him to me.

      Yeah. I was totally confused. I had to keep going back to try to figure out who everyone was, and I’m not quite invested enough to care.

      I really like the point you make about religion. I think Hale does portray it very well, and it does seem like the Paimura deserve respect. It’s not so much “Look at this weird culture and their bizarre sun god worship.” Religion clearly influences a lot of what the characters are going through, and I think that’s interesting.

  • I finally finished this episode. I started it the day you posted this, got halfway, put it aside for a while, and then got hooked by the second half.

    I find more John more sympathetic than you guys did, although reading this I absolutely see your points. I thought that he is really used to feeling along (that becomes clear in the scene where he wonders if Ravishan is coming on to him and basically tells himself of course not, that’s not possible). He understands rocks and trees better than people, and feels more at home with them. So I guess I understood his difficulties with Laurie and Bill better–although yes, he’s just abandoned them when they’re less able to handle themselves in this strange new world than he is, and I didn’t feel good about that. Though in the first episode, I loved that they were much more comfortable accepting what had happened than John was.

    I found the second half more compelling, and I don’t think it’s just because Kyle, with his memory loss and his work as an assassin, is more conventionally heroic/anti-heroic than John is. It was already starting to be clear in the last epispde that they weren’t in the same time, and in this one, I got super curious about WHAT HAPPENED in between. How on earth did John, who seemed to me to be a basically good guy trying to do right and be responsible, become what he apparently is today? (How is John the Rifter?) So part of how this hooked me is making me look forward. I think Hale is using the dual/over-lapping time frames in really interesting ways.

    This story is way slower paced than a lot of genre fiction I read–I mean in your standard 300ish page romance, any mysteries would be cleared up in a couple of hours of reading. Or, you know, Khalil and John would sit down after they run into each other again, have a conversation and then get it on. I find that slower pace really refreshing (if frustrating!). And I feel as if I, the reader, am sharing the characters’ emotional experiences right now. They are both bewildered and lost in this strange world, and so am I, and it’s going to take awhile to sort everything out, because they don’t have all the answers. I like that.

    Agree that the secondary characters continue to be interesting and well-drawn, and the centrality of religion in the world is intriguing. I also like that this isn’t a romance in the genre sense but has romantic elements. In this episode they’re both attracted to other people and their feelings towards each other are not romantic at all. That’s refreshing too; I’ve gotten very tired of books where insta-lust on page 1 makes it really really clear that these two people are destined for each other and no one else. This feels more real.

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