The series continues to be engrossing. Hale uses a very unusual structure which I love and only see occasionally. I don't recall ever seeing anyone else do it with Hale's particular twist. I'll cut for a structural spoiler which is also a moderate plot spoiler - you don't realize what the structure is until the beginning of book two, I think.



It's two parallel time-tracks, with the same characters in each at different time periods. In the later one, you see what happened to everyone; the fun is finding out how and why. Offhand, I can only think of two other works which do this, Tom Stoppard's play Arcadia and Kathleen Duey's dark YA fantasy A Resurrection of Magic.

This one is especially complex because there's time travel and world-travel involved. The chronology seems to go something like this:

- Kahlil travels to Earth, where he becomes John's roommate.

- John travels to Kahlil's world, Basawar. I am pretty sure this is the past, from Kahlil's perspective as of the time when he first departed for Earth. In Basawar, John meets a young man named Ravisham, whom I am guessing (this has not been formally revealed) is actually the young Kahlil - Kahlil is a title, not a name. John gets involved with Ravisham's magician training school. John doesn't recognize Ravisham, but I think this is because Ravisham is way younger and hasn't yet gotten Kahlil's extremely distinctive scars and tattoos.

- On Earth, Kahlil pursues John back to Basawar. Due to, essentially, technical difficulties, the crossing leaves him badly wounded and amnesiac. We realize, though Kahlil does not, that this is some time in the future - maybe about ten years - from John's period. The magic school has been destroyed, and we meet a bunch of the same characters, older and radically changed. I am concerned that, unless I didn't recognize them, we have seen no sign of Bill, Laurie, or (my favorite) Hann'yu in this period. Uh-oh....

I am trying to figure out when in the timeline Kahlil left to be John's roommate on Earth. Did he know about future!John at the time? I should re-read his first POV sections, before he lost his memory.



It's so well-done and clever! I love the creeeepy magic system. The supporting characters have gotten a lot more interesting as the book goes on. I like how the villains have comprehensible motives and generally aren't too over-the-top.

My main quibble at this point is that I'd like a little more clarity on some matters, given the sheer complexity of the story; sometimes stuff is mentioned that seems important, in a way implying that I should already know about it, and I have no idea if it was poorly or just very subtly set up.

For instance, I could have sworn that John delivered Fikiri to the school, and then the next we saw of him, it was two years later and he'd learned some magic. Then people kept mentioning that Fikiri had "walked the God's Road" and cheated death or been resurrected or something. What are they talking about? Did I accidentally skip some pages? I have no recollection of this.

There are also some odd choices about what to show and what to tell. John gets a job as a magical healer's assistant. At last, he will learn some (creepy and dramatic) magic! I eagerly flip the page...

...and it's several months later and he'd already learned it and is doing it as a matter of course. I wanted to see him do it for the first time!

But, in general, this is pretty awesome. Very immersive. I like that the characters are adults who generally behave like adults (and the teenagers behave like teenagers.) The dark bits are nicely spooky, and the comedy makes me laugh. ("So you let him poison you because you thought it would be easier than breaking up with him?")

There is a great bit that I am pretty sure is a nod to The Stars My Destination.. Ravisham tells John he first entered the Gray Space when someone put a gun to his head. Just like how jaunting was discovered!

Black Blades (The Rifter)

Witches' Blood (The Rifter)
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