I finally figured out what this series reminds me of: P. C. Hodgell's Godstalk series. Hodgell has more black comedy and flamboyant worldbuilding, and Hale concentrates much more on weaving a highly intricate story. But both series seem to have evolved from the same roots: bypassing Tolkien's high fantasy tradition in favor of the swords and sorcery of Fritz Lieber, Jack Vance, C. L. Moore, even Robert E. Howard.

It's interesting that while the overall plots and details of the two series have very few points of similarity - the kinship is more one of tone and atmosphere - both have heroes who are avatars of the destructive aspect of a God.

Beyond that, all I can say without spoilers is that this series just gets better and better as it goes along. Book five was particularly packed with holy shit! moments.

Marie, if you're reading this, you would appreciate that the only characters who do stupid things based on sexual desire are reckless, desperate teenagers. The adults generally manage to sensibly resist doing stupid things out of sexual desire, despite extreme temptation. (Homosexuality is banned in large parts of this world.)

Book five is the one where a depressed and desperate Ravisham goes to have grungy gay sex in an alley, pursued by John and a homophobic priest, which ends with the priest dead at John's hands and Ravisham's face cut... but nowhere near as badly as it was in the timeline in which he became our Kahlil. (I will go on calling them Ravisham and Kahlil, for the sake of my own sanity.)

I was expecting a giant cover-up, and was amazed when that totally failed. The truth serum scene was great, especially when the drugged John accidentally managed to cover up Laurie's witchcraft by taking questions about his "sister" to literally mean his actual sister. Shades of fast-penta!

...and then it didn't matter in the long run, because Bill got killed and Laurie blew up several square blocks. Alas, poor Bill. You were never well-characterized, you had a really crappy experience in Basawar, and then you got shot off-page to motivate Laurie.

The entire volume, from Ravisham's poorly timed tryst to the heartbreaking attempt to give John a painless death that only ended up making things a million times worse, was beautifully orchestrated and emotionally gripping. Not to mention ending on a giant cliffhanger. I was really frustrated when the next volume went back to Kahlil.

Oh yeah: this was also the one where John and Ravisham finally had sex. I liked that they waited until they could actually do so safely, like sensible adults. I just wish Hale didn't fade to black so quickly. Even more foreplay would have been nice. It would have been a great opportunity to weave character exploration into the sex, especially since there's so much focus on both men's physicality: Ravisham's scars, John's senses.

The next volume finally did something with John's ecology degree! I must say that I loved all that. I also enjoyed Kahlil and Jath'ibaye negotiating their relationship rather than randomly refusing to explain stuff to each other. Though, again, seriously: a longer sex scene would have been nice.

I also loved Kahlil teaching the girl to teleport. And the dog-witch! Love the dog-witch. The supporting characters have gotten much more interesting as the story goes on.

I had been wondering if Laurie had gone to the dark side. Yep.

So, it's now clearly established that John changed the past, so that Kahlil is from a sort of orphaned timeline, with confusing dual memories, and the Jath'ibaye timeline is the current one - in which Ravisham died. I felt so bad for Kahlil in this, realizing that everyone loved the version of him that he never was. I have to say, though... I like Kahlil better than Ravisham. I have a soft spot for characters who grew up with no one in their corner, and make their work their life.

The Holy Road (The Rifter)

Broken Fortress (The Rifter)
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