In the killer hook opening to this portal fantasy, John, a gay graduate student, has a problem. He and his mysterious roommate Kyle ran into each other in a bathhouse, and fled in opposite directions. Several weeks later, Kyle still hasn't returned, and the rent is coming up. And while Kyle is extremely strange - he's covered with weird tattoos, carries around swords and knives, always keeps his room locked, and, bizarrely, claims to be a milkman - he has never failed to pay the rent on time, which makes up for all other flaws as far as John is concerned.

While John is trying to figure out what to do, a letter arrives addressed to Kyle - the first Kyle has ever received - with no return address. In a mixture of desperation and pent-up curiosity, John opens it. It contains an ornate gold key, and a sheet of paper reading, "DON'T."

Cut to Kahlil (aka Kyle), who is on a mysterious errand in his own world, carrying a bag containing a talking skeleton and gloomily musing that once he gets back to our world, he will probably get the order to kill John at any moment. When he returns to our world (just in time to pay the rent), we see it through his eyes. Everything is shockingly vibrant, intense, and beautiful... compared to where he's from.

This is one of the most engrossing and fun otherworld fantasies I've read in a while. The worldbuilding is fascinating. Kahlil's world is suffused with a sense of wrongness, but not in the grimdark way where everyone is a rapist sociopath and nobody ever has any fun. It's meticulously detailed - there's a funny scene where John sits in a bath and tries to figure out what the hell the cleaning implements and ointments are for, then finds out when the servants arrive and start cramming tooth powder into his mouth - but faded. The food has little savor, the colors are dimmed, and even the air is thin. Some catastrophe seems to have cast a magical pall over the entire landscape.

While there are horror elements (like the talking skeleton and some very creepy magic), the tone is more like old-school swords and sorcery given a modern gloss than actual horror. It's dark in parts, but playful in others. There's banter and egg-laying weasels. The plot is complex and intriguing. I assume John and Kahlil will eventually have a romance, and that they will be instrumental in restoring life to the world. But in terms of how that will happen, I have no idea. The broad outlines may be clear, but the way in which things have happened has been consistently surprising.

There are some flaws, which have not spoiled my enjoyment. Some of the supporting characters get a lot of page time but very little character development. There are a few points where characters fail to take what seems like the obvious, sensible action, for no particular reason other than that the plot needed them not to. And while parts of the story have a very real feel to them, other parts are paper-thin. In particular, John seems to have sprung out of thin air, with no school responsibilities, no family, no history, and no associates other than the ones who are central to the plot.

Still, like I said: really fun. Without getting too spoilery, I will mention that John's introduction to the world is sufficiently rocky that I initially thought, "Oh, God, this is going to be that cliched crapsack world where every single character is a total asshole and everyone is constantly getting slaughtered for no reason." That turns out to not be the case. Or, at least, so far it hasn't been.

This is an extremely long novel broken into ten parts of about 100 pages each. If you have already read this, please note that I am only on Part 2. Please do not spoil me for anything past that!

The Shattered Gates (The Rifter)

Servants of the Crossed Arrows (The Rifter)
oracne: turtle (Default)

From: [personal profile] oracne

Ah! I somehow missed she had new stuff out!

Or I heard and them promptly forgot.

Still, it sounds like great fun!
oracne: turtle (Default)

From: [personal profile] oracne

Inventive and intriguing, but they tended to peter out plotwise; I was left feeling unsatisfied in both cases, which is a good thing because it means I cared about her characters and world. The 2-parter (can't look up title right now) was a bit more satisfying in that sense than her first book.
torachan: (Default)

From: [personal profile] torachan

And here I thought publishers asking $10-15 for an ebook were pushing it, but this author wants double that...
torachan: (Default)

From: [personal profile] torachan

If it's 10 installments of ~100 pages, that's only about 1000 pages total, which is a fairly average size for a fantasy novel. Your review made it sound really interesting, but I don't think there's any book that's $40 interesting to me (especially for a digital file, not even talking about a fancy hardcover edition or anything). :-/
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)

From: [personal profile] cyphomandra

Ooh, thanks for reminding me about this! I read the first three parts, but when I bought the whole bookmy ereader program alphabetised all of them rather than putting them in actual order, and I stopped in confusion :-)

I loved Hale's Lord of the White Hell two-parter, which has a nonwhite gay male lead who is well-adjusted and has a supportive family (who don't die!), as well as interesting world building. Her Wicked Gentlemen did not work so well for me because I have overdosed (sorry!) on the dark romance of drug addiction etc, but I would also recommend the shared world anthology m/m romance collection Irregulars that Hale edited, which is supernatural detectives - mostly fairies and goblins, rather than vampires and werewolves.

From: [identity profile]

I'm all excited you're reading this! No spoilers from me, but I shall look forward to any further posts you write about The Rifter.

but not in the grimdark way where everyone is a rapist sociopath and nobody ever has any fun

Yes, this.

Also, while I would in no way call this a humorous book, the touches of humor were so appealing to me.

I found it a very immersive read, and I really rooted for the characters.

From: [identity profile]

I have a new installment up! Talk to me (without spoilers beyond what I've read.)

From: [identity profile]

I love that the fantasy world is the faded place, and our world is the one that's vibrant and intense. That's a refreshing change from the usual pattern of Fantasyland being so much more awesome than mundanity.

From: [identity profile]

Have now read the next two books. My take on the fantasy world may have been premature. Possibly. It does have its own brand of intensity, but in different ways than Earth.

I think you'd really like this.

From: [identity profile]

This sounds good, but I'm kind of hoping there's a less expensive way to read the whole thing at some point: it looks as if it is $40 to read the whole novel. Which may not be that much in absolute terms, but I'm cheap. :)

From: [identity profile]

You can buy the ebook serial of ten books for $29.95 here.
(You have to scroll down past the print books.)

I realize that still may be more than you want to spend, but I just wanted to point out the least expensive option.

From: [identity profile]

Thanks! That's definitely better. I will still have to think about it, especially since I don't actually have an ebook reading device. I may wait and see what Rachel thinks of it once she gets to the end.

From: [identity profile]

Note that one of the formats is PDF, so you could read on a desktop or laptop computer. There may be good/reasonable programs to read the other formats.

I'm also going to wait for Rachel to get to the end and see. It seems like the whole novel is about 1000ish pages, which is maybe one or two typical-sized books, so $30 still feels steep to me, too.

From: [identity profile]

Oh, there are definitely programs that read all the popular formats (I downloaded one to read Rachel's book). I just don't like reading long books on a computer.

From: [identity profile]

Just from this description, the grayed-out world reminded me of Lewis's story "The Shoddy Lands" and of the opening of Williams's ALL HALLOWS EVE. But both those places were selectively blurred, with certain objects clear and vivid.

Anyway it sounds different and unpredictable, good.

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