JOINT REVIEW & Giveaway: The Rifter Parts 1-5 by Ginn Hale
UPDATE: The winner of our giveaway of a full subscription to The Rifter is Stephanie M. Lorée. Congratulations, Stephanie, and thanks to Nicole Kimberling at Blind Eye Books for providing it to Dear Author. And thanks also to all the commenters for their great reading suggestions!
Sunita: I’ve heard so many good things about Ginn Hale’s work, and I have Wicked Gentlemen in my TBR on the strength of Janine’s review here at DA. But my TBReviewed stack is bigger than the time I can allot to it, and I haven’t been reading much SFF these days. Nevertheless, when I read that Ms. Hale was releasing a serial novel in monthly installments, I was intrigued. One installment as a trial run didn’t seem like a huge investment of time or money, so I downloaded The Shattered Gates and read it at one sitting. Bad move. I was totally hooked.
Janine: My introduction to Ginn Hale was the marvelous Wicked Gentlemen, and I also enjoyed her novella, Feral Machines, in the Tangle XY anthology. I had difficulty getting into Lord of the White Hell, Book 1, however, and didn’t read far in it. So when Sunita suggested we review The Rifter together, I wasn’t sure what my response to the serial would be. Happily, the installments I’ve read so far have been even better than I had hoped.
I should state upfront that unlike you, Sunita, I’ve only read the first three installments, but that’s been due to lack of time rather than lack of interest. At a hundred pages or more per installment, The Rifter makes for a big but rewarding commitment.
Sunita: Now that the series is half over and Installment #6, Broken Fortress, is about to be released, it seems like a good time to talk about the series to date, without giving too much away.
Janine: It’s going to be tricky to avoid spoilers because of the serial format, but we’ll try to do so without revealing too many.
Sunita: When John Toffler, an ecology grad student, opens a letter he knows is intended for his odd but attractive roommate Kyle, he discovers a mysterious key. John’s ensuing actions catapult him and his two close friends, Laurie and Bill, into Kyle’s world of Basawar. Unable to return, their first priority becomes survival. None of them realizes that John is a Rifter, a potential destroyer of worlds. But Kyle is keenly aware of it and after he pieces together what has happened, he tries to follow John.
The first installment is split between establishing the four’s relationships and their actions after John uses the key. There are multiple dyads: John and Kyle, Laurie and Bill, John and Laurie, and to a lesser extent John and Bill. The succeeding installments continue Laurie, John, and Bill’s efforts to survive in Basawar while finding a way to get home. That distance can only be traversed by a Kahlil, a single member of the powerful Payshmura priestly order, and their desire to return to home enmeshes John and his friends in ongoing political and social intrigues.
Janine: This part of the story is quite dark and suspenseful; on Basawar people with John and Laurie’s abilities are often brutally persecuted, so the three friends have to be very careful.
Sunita: While John, Laurie and Bill struggle to survive, Kyle/Kahlil returns to Basawar only to find that much has changed. The parallel stories of John’s and Kyle’s experiences, and their separate and overlapping interactions with other residents of Basawar, structure the next four installments.
Janine: I love the way the narrative moves back and forth not just between John and Kyle’s third person POVs, but also between different storylines and timelines when we switch POV. More on that later.
Sunita: The worldbuilding in The Rifter is amazing. It is complex, intricate, and highly imaginative, but I never felt as if I was being force-fed information. To some extent this is because when we are in John’s storyline we are learning along with him. But even so, the interweaving of the characters, plot, and setting is as well done as I’ve seen in either the romance or the SFF genre.
Janine: I’ve read a few SFF classics that impressed me even more in this regard, but not many. There is a wealth of detail in Ms. Hale’s worldbuilding, and the writing is also quite good. Here’s an excerpt from a scene that comes relatively early in The Shattered Gates, installment #1, before John, Bill and Laurie cross over to Basawar. Kyle/Kahlil is at a diner with them, having recently been in a battle, and these are his thoughts right after he has ordered eggs and toast:
The waitress nodded. He felt a certain satisfaction in having finally mastered the ritual interrogation of ordering a breakfast in this world.
Ten years ago, the baffling barrage of choices had been more than he could contemplate or prioritize. White, wheat, rye, sourdough, over hard, over easy, scrambled, boiled or poached—he knew all the options now. And he was experienced enough to know that he liked his eggs cooked hard, even though he loved the way the words “sunny-side-up” sounded.
Kahlil realized his thoughts were drifting. He was exhausted and hurt, and he should have slept the entire day away, but he had wanted to see John. He had needed to see John smile and laugh and be kind.
In his own world, Kahlil saw such ugly things. He had done such hateful things. But here, it was different. This world was immersed in perfumes and abundance. Here, it was easy to be generous. There was so very much that giving could be painless. Goodness could seem inherent to all life. Here, even a being like John, a Rifter, a destroyer of worlds, could be a thoughtful, quiet graduate student.
We can see the interweaving of setting, character and plot at work here. The contrast between our own world and Basawar in Kyle/Kahlil’s thoughts lets us know Basawar is a place of privation, hardship and danger. The setting of the diner with its comfort food sharpens our awareness of Kyle’s battle fatigue. Kyle’s romantic feelings for John are intertwined with his weariness and evident in his need to see John smile and laugh.
Even the structure of the sentences in paragraphs three and four convey Kyle’s tiredness, through the repetition of “he had wanted to see John” and “He had needed to see John,” “such ugly things” and “such hateful things,” “here, it was different” and “Here, it was easy.” The rhythm here reminds me of feet struggling to sustain a march. The thoughts repeat because they are muddled with exhaustion.
The clincher comes in the final line of the fourth paragraph, where we learn that gentle, seemingly harmless John is “a Rifter, a destroyer of worlds.” This is the engine of the book, the reason for Kyle’s presence in John’s orbit, and the source of a great deal of tension and suspense. Because not only can we not imagine how someone as sweet as John could become a destroyer, we now also know something tremendous about John of which John himself is blissfully unaware, but we don’t know when and how he will find out.
Sunita: I love that scene! It establishes the camaraderie between the four characters and underscores that while their lives aren’t trouble-free, they are nothing like what they will face on Basawar. The latter is a violent society in which power is wielded ruthlessly, not only by the rich and strong but also by those who command magical powers. I appreciated that magic was never used for easy plot twists or clever effect, and the development of magical powers was painful, time-consuming and dangerous for the practitioners.
Janine: Agreed. I have to admit that the author’s earlier works didn’t prepare me for the hardship, ruthlessness and danger the main characters encounter in The Rifter. It’s definitely darker than Wicked Gentlemen or Feral Machines.
Sunita: All the characters, from the non-magical humans up through the most powerfully gifted priests, have admirable traits but also weaknesses. The Payshmura are at once sincerely pious and utterly worldly. Every character, with the possible exception of Bill, is a fully realized person (and I wouldn’t be surprised if that criticism is shown to be wrong in later installments). Every major actor changes and deepens over the course of the series, and yet I never felt I was seeing the puppeteer’s strings.
Janine: Yes, and from what I’ve read so far John seems to have an incredible arc ahead of him. I’m both excited for and half-dreading that. It will be very interesting to see where the author goes with Kyle, too.
Sunita: The character arcs and the relationships are especially affected by the way time and distance work in these worlds. We know that John and Kyle/Kahlil are both attracted to and somehow bound to each other. And we know that there will be an HEA. But their storylines separate in the first installment, and the reader is never entirely sure how they will be brought back together. Each has to go on with his life in the absence of the other. And the way that passage between worlds can affect time means that when they do meet again, they may well be at different points in their lives.
Janine: Yes! The narrative moves both forward and back in time, and I love the way Ms. Hale gets at these characters from different points in their lives and in Basawar’s history, as well as different cultural perspectives. It allows her to explore and reveal both characters and setting from unexpected angles, and the twists in the plot come seemingly from nowhere, yet we then get to see how we got from point A to point B, knowing things the characters do not know.
Sunita: For a book that can be categorized as part of the gay romance genre, there is very little explicit sex. John and Kyle, and possibly other characters, are definitely gay, but the depictions of romantic relationships are as much emotional as physical for much of the book. It is not a typical romance in that the relationship does not comprise the dominant focus of the story. But it is integral to it, and the romantic relationships that develop are particularly poignant, in part because of the contexts in which they take place.
Janine: Absolutely. In the three installments I’ve finished so far, Kyle and John are apart for the vast majority of the time. But when they encounter each other again it’s both pivotal and exciting, and in the meantime, they each have other romantic connections that moved me deeply. As in Wicked Gentlemen, the world Ginn Hale has built does not look kindly on same-sex relationships, and some of the characters face other prejudices too. That made me root for the characters to find happiness.
Sunita: The Rifter is an unusually immersive experience for me as a reader, and I’m only halfway through the story. There is a lively and fun group of readers over at Goodreads who are discussing each installment as it is released. I was able to avoid spoilers by paying attention to comment dates, and it’s fascinating to see their views on what has happened and what might come next.
Janine: I’ll have to check out the Goodreads group. I agree that The Rifter is worth reading. One of my niggles is that it took me a while to get used to the Middle Eastern-influenced flavor of Basawar (since I once lived in the Middle East, it was distracting to me). I also think I would probably have enjoyed The Rifter even more had I read the installments as they were being released, a month apart, rather than three back to back. The story was almost too intense for me as it was. Nonetheless I agree with you that it’s impressively good. I know The Rifter will seem on the expensive side to some, but all ten installments, when added up, clock in at over a thousand pages, so it provides a lot of high quality entertainment.
What grade would you give the first half of The Rifter, Sunita? Taken together the three installments I’ve read are an A- for me.
Sunita: I agree, it’s an A- for me as well. I can’t wait to read the second half of the series.
This story is sold as a subscription. Here is the subscription page and a goodreads link for installment no. 1.
Not since Vanyel’s story in Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar series has an M/M fantasy sounded so compelling. I am all but hooked just on the basis of this review. Definitely will check it out.
Oh, I would love to win this – I love Ginn’s writing.
Recently, my favorite M/M scifi romance was Knight Errant by KD Sarge.
I’ve been interested in this since I first heard about Ginn Hale doing a serial. I’ve been arguing with myself about starting it, or waiting until it’s all out to dive in.
This review’s definitely made me want to start now!
It’s not a true romance, but Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold is terrific.
I’ve been so fortunate lately in finding really good SFF to read, so my favorite is whichever one I’m reading now. That happens to be K. E. Mills’ The Accidental Sorcerer, which isn’t, as I look at the posting rules, a romance, at least not so far. In that case, I’d select Grimspace by Ann Aguirre. Ms. Hale’s serial sounds great and I would love a chance to read it.
I love Storm Constantine’s Wraeththu series!
Awesome review and since I guess my dislike of cliffhangers so far helps me to wait till the story is done, sure please enter me as well :) Oh and Sunita, Wicked Gentlemen are fantastic.
Please don’t include me in the giveaway as I already have a subscription and am currently looking forward to reading Part VI (Broken Fortress) next week :)
I honestly didn’t think I would like the serial format; I worried that I would just want to finish the book and not have it stretch out. But, as said in the review, The Rifter is very intense and very dark (and I adore dark fantasy), and the serial format allows me to process all of that.
I love the explanation about how the sentence structure of the excerpt reflects the rhythm of tired feet. I never consciously noticed that, but…WOW! And that leads me back to the speculating and discussing – the world-building is such that I never pick up everything, so I love hearing what others have noticed :) Yes, I must confess to being one of those readers speculating madly on GoodReads :) And it helps when you’re waiting for the next installment.
I love Ginn Hale, and everything she has written — except that I was hesitant about committing to a serial format.
My favorite SFF romance is still (and always. probably) LOCAL CUSTOM, by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller — Secret Baby done right, and Er Thom is a swooningly romantic hero.
Second favorite: SHARDS OF HONOR by Lois Bujold: “Fountains keep nothing back for themselves”, indeed!
Please don’t include me in giveaway, as I have already bought the subscription!
Honestly, whatever Ginn writes just seems to be golden. I have subsequently bought everything by her. I LOVE how the serial works; having a new story every month is great! would I take the whole lot, right here, right now?..probably! But the journey through the story is so much fun – it isn’t a definite :-D
I am in total awe the way Ginn has all these threads interwoven into one incredible story..and we are only halfway through! I love how in between the installments we have the time to fully digest, revisit and theorise ALL that is going on! because there is SO much going on… LOVE it! (just in case I didn’t say that enough)
I’ve been dying to read this series as whole, given all the wonderful things I’ve heard about it and Ginn Hale’s writing, but I have been debating myself into paralysis about waiting for it to be completed first, or reading it in serialized format (which is reminiscent of my dad as a youth going to the cinema every week to see what happened to Flash Gordon. He said it was the most exciting thing for them to be waiting for the cliffhanger to be resolved (just in time for another one, of course)). So, I’d love the subscription.
Jason, I just got a hard copy of the (gargantuan) Wraeththu book! Still haven’t dipped into it yet, but I’ve heard amazing things about it.
@mc: Yeah, I have been having the same endless debate with myself hehe and this may just be the end of it lol. I have everything Ginn wrote and loved everything, but I so want to know the whole story :)
I was waiting for Harry Potter, so maybe that was enough for me hehe. And yes, I love Wraethfu too, although while I thought original trilogy was a magnificent work of art, I was able to more connect emotionally to Histories.
Give in to youe inner debate.. the serial release is such a lot of fun!! sure you are left desperate for the next bit, but that just adds to the whole experience. I am still sane..barely ;-P
I’ll recommend the Black Jewels trilogy beginning with Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop as a fantasy romance. It’s very dark and violent, with disturbing content, but the worldbuilding and characters are wonderful.
I’ll also second the recommendation for Shards of Honor and Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold.
I’ve been a longtime fantasy/sf reader, so I tend to avoid romances with a fantasy/sf setting because so often the worldbuilding isn’t very good in comparison. I love it when I find a romance that also has great worldbuilding though, so I’ll definitely be checking out Ginn Hale’s work.
I just wanted to thank Sunita and Janine for putting in the all the time, thought and energy required to review a serial. I’m quite grateful and delighted that you enjoyed the books, (so far, at least :D)
@Barb Gilmour: You guys do not understand how painful this talking to myself is. Wicked gentlemen and Lord of the White Hell are on my “super keepers shelf” standing there in paperback and taunting me – buy it, buy it. The only reason I bought Tangle anthology is to read Ginn Hale’s novella, etc, etc. And here I am thinking about it for MONTHS, but I also know myself and I do not want to get annoyed because she is so so so GOOD. I know that I did not have a lot of pleasant feelings towards Gim Butcher and Dresden files after previous book you know?
GRRRRR, dilemmas, dilemmas, oh well I managed to ride it out for the first half, the end is near anyway :-)
@Sirius: Ah, the endless debate. And another fan of Wraeththu! I have so many ebooks to read that my poor paper books have become second-class citizens.
And by the way, I appreciate that the post above tried so hard to keep the ‘spoilers’ to a minimum.
My favourite romantic fantasy is actually Lord of the White Hell which is also by Ginn Hale. This is a great prize and I’d love the chance to win!
Janine gets all the credit for the non-spoilery aspect of the review. I am terrible at keeping them out so she monitored!
It is a truly amazing and impressive series. I don’t know how it’s going to end but I feel so confident we’re in good hands. Every time I’ve been skeptical, the outcome has been satisfying and more interesting than what I had thought of.
An m/m fantasy? I’m in!
Does Meljean Brook’s Guardian Series count as romantic fantasy? Well, I’m obsessed with those books anyway!
I need to check out this author.
Not entering the contest, but want to thank you for the review. I loved Wicked Gentlemen, but was reluctant to get into a serial. Reluctant no more!
I absolutely loved Ginn’s other works, so here’s hoping I get lucky in the giveaway! My favorite SFF romance? I usually don’t read those genres looking for romance, but Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series is wonderfully, intensely romantic.
If it hooks you that much, I want to read it!
Today, my favorite romantic sf/f is Bujold’s Sharing Knife series.
Not a romance per se, but my favorite romantic fantasy is The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. And I’ve read so many good reviews of Ginn Hale’s books I’ve been meaning to try them.
@Angela, @mc, @Sirius, and anyone else I missed who is debating whether to buy it now or when all the installments have been published: My personal opinion on that is that it’s better to start now! In fact I wish I had started five months ago. The Rifter is really great and really dark. As with high quality Belgian dark chocolate, I think it’s better to savor a piece at a time, rather than gorge.
I’m loving the recs in this thread.
@hapax: I read another Lee and Miller that I was disappointed in, Agent of Change. That’s the only one of their books I’ve read. Is Local Custom a lot better?
@Sara: I adore that Megan Whalen Turner series (except perhaps the first book, which I liked but didn’t love). They are so, so good, esp. once you get to the second half of The Queen of Attolia, where the romance takes off. The King of Attolia is my favorite so far. I’ve reviewed all four of the books for DA, and even went to the LA Festival of Books largely because Turner was going to be there.
@Jennie: The Name of the Wind is great too. I really loved it.
I have to admit I would have a hard time picking out my favorite SFR. In my early teens I was totally obsessed with Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight, and I still love those characters, but as an adult, maybe the Turner series, or Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.
Must check out some of the other books recommended here.
@Janine: You had to bring dark chocolate into this!?!?
Please do not enter me. I have already subscribed!
I can understand wanting to wait until you can read it all. I’d sit and read every word of it if I could, however I am enjoying the discussions we have on Goodreads. Join us!!
@Sirius (and whoever else is worried) You won’t have to talk to yourself. We have a group for that ;)
So many good recommendations. I would add Patricia Briggs Dragon Bones and Dragon Blood.
Wicked Gentlemen was wonderful and I would love to read The Rifter.
I’d love a subscription to The Rifter because I flat out loved Wicked Gentlemen.
Well, take my opinion with a grain of salt, because I also love Agent of Change (Turtles! Squee!). But it’s their first book, and is definitely … rougher. It’s also basically a huge car chase in space, with the emphasis on nonstop action.
Local Custom is about an earlier generation of the same family, but is much more polished. It is also much more… interior, I guess, concerned with the clash of cultures (as the title implies), and how two intelligent, well-meaning, and loving people from very different worlds can bridge a vast social gulf.
I’ve been a fan of Science Fiction and Fantasy since — I don’t know… birth? I became hooked on romance during my teens. My favorite romantic fantasy novel, for a while now, has been Ginn Hale’s Wicked Gentleman. It has been the standard to which I compare all romantic fantasies since I read it, which is why I’m so looking forward to completion of The Rifter.
Thanks for all the suggestions! I am a huge fan of Bujold. It’s great to see Ethan of Athos recommended, I agree it’s excellent. I would also add the Chalion books (besides of course the Vorkosigan series).
I definitely thought of Meljean Brook’s worldbuilding when I was reading The Rifter. I found the latter just as complex and interesting, but in some ways easier to enter. It’s the voice; there is a deceptive simplicity, but before you know it you’re immersed in this fully realized world you don’t want to leave.
This series sounds fantastic. I adore great worldbuilding.
Wow and some great suggestions here. I second Bujold and Lee & Miller. Shards of Honor is one of the books I’ve reread a dozen times and still adore it. Agent of Change by Lee and Miller is great too.
It isn’t a romance, though there is a subtle romantic side story, but one of my favourite fantasy books is Bujold’s Curse of Chalion. I love everything about it. The world-building, the characters, the story, all are absolutely fantastic. I wasn’t all that into her more explicitly fantasy romance series, but YMMV.
I’ve never read any of Ginn Hale’s work, though I have read many favourable reviews, both here and elsewhere. I get the impression that it is a bit darker and more horror-ish than I tend to read, but the review makes it sound intriguing.
The serial aspect does make me less inclined to buy into it now though. I know that it is a different species of beast than that of a typical long running series, but I’ve been burned so many times before that I now have a policy of not buying anything until the series is done or nearly so.
This sounds so good. I haven’t read much fantasy so sadly I have none to recommend, but I have been enjoying everyone’s suggestions. I’d love to check out this series!
I love SF/F and romance, but I’ve never actually read a M/M romance. I’d like to give it a whirl with a DA recommended series. Here’s hoping I win.
You guys are killing me with this! I have no patience at all waiting for excellent stories. I’m almost wary to try new authors because if they are good I know I’ll glom their backlist and disappear for a few days, then reemerge bummed that I have no more to read.
So I’ll say enter me and if I win I’ll try my hand at having self control and read the serial. Otherwise I plan on waiting until I can read the whole dang thing in one shot, sleep deprived and cross-eyed.
Oh, and my favs right now are Patricia Briggs and Meljean Brook. Ilona Andrews too, but that’s more paranormal. Still excellent though. :-)
I would love to win “The Rifter” just because I read “Wicked Gentlemen” after reading the review here almost three years ago. I loved it so much that after I had to return the library copy, I bought my own.
Favourite romantic fantasy? – as in not fantasy romance? Hmm, Martha Wells Wheel of the Infinite, currently – for the power house heroine of advanced age and her competence in dealing with the world-shaking crisis as well as the competent, younger male who has no problem whatsoever supporting her and bringing her down to earth with his opinions.
She’s just released the book as an ebook.
Have been searching for a well done epic fantasy but found that I wasn’t being drawn in much with what I have read in excerpts lately. Loved the brief excerpt included here and how it set things so effortlessly with Kyle’s after battle thoughts. Very impressive.
Just a quick note to emphasize that there is most definitely an HEA!
And waiting for the next month’s serial installment feels very different than waiting for the next book in a series. For one thing, it shows up on time. :-) More seriously, this is a book that rewards careful reading and gets more interesting as you think and talk about it. So while I anxiously await each month’s installment, it gives me time to savor what’s gone before.
When I said it’s an immersive world, I really meant it. The nearest experience I’ve had to this one is when I started reading Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon (the first installment in his Malazan Book of the Fallen), or the summer I read Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond series.
@Estara: Thanks for this recommendation! I hadn’t heard about it, but Martha Wells is someone I’ve been meaning to read. The protagonists sound right up my alley.
One of my favorites is Kindred by Octavia Butler.That one got me to look at the genre again.
@Sunita: If you enjoy the full first chapter excerpt that she has on her site (it’s down on the page of the link I did), you’ll definitely enjoy the whole book – and possible all her other works. She has incredibly diverse worlds and very strong characterisation and dialogue.
Also very romantic are The Element of Fire and The Death of the Necromancer… but really there most often is some love story included in her books even if just as a subthread.
“Lamentation” by Ken Scholes is terrific. Also, “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rotfuss. Both are un-putdownablle, the “Wind” slightly more so than “Lamentation.” Both won “Year’s Best Fantasy” from the American Library Association, on different years.
I want to read this because I love fantasy and I have never read a M/M romance fantasy before and would love to try this one.
I want to read The Rifter because I’ve read Wicked Gentlemen and I loved it. I would love to able to read another work by Ginn Hale.
I’d love to give this one a try. I’ve head raves about how wonderful this author is and I do like fantasy with a strong romantic element. The idea of a m/m romantic fantasy is just icing. Please count me in! :)
I loved, loved Wicked Gentlemen (and Ginn mentioned something about a sequel, which I would like to read, oh, yesterday!)
Rifter sounds awesome! Count me in, please!
Ladies, if you should have already read all the available Ginn Hale books by chance, there’s another author who did a great epic fantasy series with m/m couples as a focus (although we also have hetero and f/f couples) – Ann Somerville’s Darshian Tales, starting with Kei’s Gift.
But it’s real epic fantasy with all the grit and worldbuilding that includes, so if you wan’t mostly m/m romance this will not be it.
I loved Lord of the White Hell, and it got me back into reading fantasy again after I’d been scarred by too many trilogies that ran out of plot somewhere in the second book – would love to win The Rifter! I am currently Not Reading it until it’s all out, but I have atrocious willpower.
I would like to read the Rifter because I’ve read some of Ginn Hale’s other books and really enjoyed them. I’ve held off so far because of the serial format as I’d much rather read everything all at once then wait for the next parts to come out.
A new to me author to read. Thank you!
Thanks for bringing this one to my attention; I generally don’t like reading things in parts but this sounds too interesting to pass up.