Blind Eye Books, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-935560-25-8
Fantasy, 2013 (Reissue)
Just like the previous book in Ginn Hale’s series The Rifter, The Shattered Gates, The Holy Road was previously released in digital format as separate installments. Needless to say, you shouldn’t be reading this one if you haven’t read the previous book, mostly because it has a huge cast of characters and you may end up flipping often to the glossaries at the end of the book if you do. I will try to review this book without giving away stuff, but I reserve the right to plead, “Who? Me?” if I accidentally let anything slip. It’s never easy reviewing the middle installment of a trilogy without letting something out by mistake, if my past experiences have taught me anything, heh.
Anyway, you can always read the previous review for a primer on this series. In The Holy Road, John Toffler – or Jahn in this strange new world he is in – is trying his best to acclimatize and train in Basawar. He gropes with and makes cow eyes at Ravishan, a priest at the temple he is currently training at, and I may be more invested in that one if I am not so certain that the author would end up pairing John back with his now temporarily separated room mate Kyle, who is actually Kahlil. Kahlil has his own story here too, a much darker one as, unlike John, he doesn’t go, “Eee! I’m too sensitive to deal with such pain… oh, that guy is kind of cute!” every once in a while.
Okay, that’s about it for the synopsis. I know, I know, but like I’ve said, this is the middle book in a trilogy, so there is nothing much I can say that wouldn’t spoil things. This is compounded by the fact that the story is more about the journey of the main characters rather than a tale with a clear villain or mission. In many ways, this series remind me of the pulp fiction fantasy novels back in the early decades of the 20th century, when we have the likes of Robert E Howard and Edgar Rice Borroughs taking their main characters into adventures where it’s more about blow-by-blow adventures experienced as these characters go from point A to point B. There is a nice parallel of sorts in this situation, as the current state of romantic gay fantasy stories today is probably at the stage of bloom as those pulp fiction fantasy stories back then.
Anyway, I have a pretty good time reading this story, although I confess I do enjoy Kyle’s adventures far more than John’s. As I’ve mentioned in my review of The Shattered Gates, I find John a bland character, and I’m also not too enamored of his tendency to act like a snowflake in various situations. I get it, he’s a nice guy, but sometimes, he may as well get his hands dirty with minimal fuss if there’s no avoiding it. It can get tedious after a while to be subjected to his interior monologues where he’d go on and on about how he is much better than these people around him, and he would do his best to remain who he is, especially when a lot of the time he’s doing a lot of interior monologues without translating them into action. He’s like Harry Potter, and not in a good way: both of them love to feel regret, remorse, and guilt far more than to actually do something to adapt to the situation if avoiding it is not possible. At least Kyle, or Kahlil or Kal-El or Kylie Minogue or whatever he wants to call himself, can be quite dangerous and fun, even if I’m not too fond of the whole rainbow bishie aesthetics he has going for him.
My enjoyment of this story is mostly because of the clean and engaging narrative as well as some pretty solid pacing. The story itself is pretty interesting as well, if a little on the familiar “guy from Earth in a new place that is destined for greater things” side that was overwhelmingly popular especially in those pulp fiction stories I’ve mentioned earlier, and it certainly hints on some intriguing developments that may happen in the next book.
I wish there is a stronger immersion effect here, though. As I’ve noted in my review of the previous book, the author has a tendency to drop fancy words into her story and leave it at that to create the “fantasy” aspect of her setting. Good fantasy stories don’t just stop at replacing more ordinary words with fancy jargon, these stories allow the reader to become familiar with the setting by proceeding to tell (through exposition) or show (through actions) what all that fancy jargon mean. This allows the reader to feel more at home in that setting. Here, the abundance of made-up or exotic words remain just that – jarring hammer-on-the-head reminders from the author that this is a fantasy story set in a distant world. I have to flip to the glossary most of the time to remind myself what this or that gobbledygook means, and that is an intrusive act in itself that jars me from the story. At any rate, I never stop feeling that I am an outsider looking in through a glass panel or something where this story is concerned. It’s a shame, really, as I’m all ready to get immersed into this brave new world.
The Holy Road is a pretty good read. but I still feel that it is missing that spark that would have made me get more excited about the whole story. If you like the previous book and want more, hey, go for it. But if you have some doubts about whether you should read this book, well, it’s okay if you read it, but it’s also okay if you don’t. All signs on the road in this baby point to ambivalence.