Friday, January 25, 2013

THE SHATTERED GATES


Review of THE SHATTERED GATES by GINN HALE
(first in THE RIFTER series, based on a review copy)

I added Hale's THE RIFTER series to my lengthy to-read list after devouring her fantastic LORD OF THE WHITE HELL duology, but I put off reading the series since it's ebook-only and, while I make exceptions for my favorite authors, I vastly prefer print books. So I'm thrilled that the entire THE RIFTER series is now coming out as print books and that development shot the series to the top of my reading priorities!

The characters and voice both hooked me immediately. I'm of the opinion that great writing falls into two distinct categories: writing that either demands or disappears from your attention. Either you're fawning over the beautiful phrasing or you've forgotten about the writing completely because it flows so well. Hale's writing is the latter, which leaves the focus on the story and I have gushing things to say about the characters, the worldbuilding, and everything in between!

The story opens with the juxtaposition of two remarkably different lives. There's John, a fairly average guy with a fairly average life in our regular, recognizable world. Not that John's boring; that description just helps contrast him with Kyle, his odd, reclusive roommate. Through Kyle's viewpoint (including a grisly task in another world), we learn more about his bizarre, unexpected background and what he's really up to than John could ever guess.

It's not long before the story moves to Kyle's world and, goodness, can Hale ever build a world! She's considered everything from language to politics. The in-depth worldbuilding gives THE SHATTERED GATES a slower pace than Hale's LORD OF THE WHITE HELL duology, but this is also a much longer series and I anticipate quite a sweeping epic arching over future books. Every moment's still enjoyable, though, proving that the best writers don't need their characters constantly doing something crazy to hold your attention. Hale also does a brilliant job getting inside the mindset of someone actually experiencing such a jarring...change of scenery. Most "through-the-cabinet" other-world stories treat the journey as a playful romp into imagination, a safe place with the exit door clearly marked. You party with the magical beasts, defeat the villain if you have time to spare, and return home scar-free. Hale actually explores the trauma I fully believe anyone would feel if they were thrust into a drastically different world. As years pass, John still lives for one goal: returning home to the world he knows. He and his friends exhibit some almost PTSD symptoms as they struggle hiding their confusion with even simplistic elements of a culture that those around them take for granted. Even as they familiarize themselves more and more with this world, they think of said research as a means of finding a possible return, not a means of adapting to a new home.

The world also boasts a unique, logical, consistent, and convincing magic system. My favorite fantasy novels always push the boundaries. They don't just accept previously stated rules about how magic works or how certain creatures look or behave; they expand, explore, and challenge those existing concepts. The magic system in THE SHATTERED GATES certainly pulls on familiar notions, but still remains its own and, naturally, plays a prominent role in the world's culture and politics.

There's a confusing chunk in the story in which Kyle suffers some kind of amnesia. We, the readers, don't learn all that much about him before this development, so we can't exactly fill in the blanks. However, this would be a good time to trust the author. Hale's building towards something here and, once you have that essential piece of information, everything makes sense with a well-handled "Oh! Oh! Wow!" moment. As well as alternating character perspectives, there's some switching between time and place that leaves one wondering how the characters will get from Point A to Point B. I expect future books will gradually fill in those gaps. The second book comes out in print March 2013 and I already can't wait!

A minor side note: the novel jumps from Chapter 19 to 22. I'm convinced this is a merely a printing error and nothing's missing from the story, but just be forewarned not to freak out if your book skips over Chapter titles 20 and 21.

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