Blind Eye Books, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-935560-23-4
Fantasy, 2012 (Reissue)
The Shattered Gates is the first book in the series called The Rifter. The whole series was previously released digitally as a serial, and this is the first time the series is appearing in dead tree format. The whole series cost $29.95 in digital form, so it’s cheaper than buying all three dead tree versions of the book. But hey, I like holding a book in my hands, and if some trees have to die to sate my barbaric old-fashioned tastes in reading preferences, tough. I’ll add more fertilizer to my garden as a show of repentance.
John Toffler – his nickname is “Toffee” but let’s not mention this again – thinks his room mate Kyle is pretty hot. Okay, so Kyle likes to arm himself with these sharp knives and he looks like a homicidal version of Captain Jack Sparrow, and the man locks his room, but John ain’t mad or curious, not so much anyway. After all, if he is more curious or even intimidated, he’d move out and live with Bob the closeted manly man and the story would be something else altogether.
So, one day, he bumps into Kyle at the neighborhood bath house, but, you know, those Falcon films lied because instead of the two of them starting to shag non-stop in delirious pleasure, Kyle just ups and disappears. Since John is described as tall and muscular, it’s not like his looks have driven Kyle away, so what gives. At any rate, John is still not that spooked by Kyle. He’s more concerned about the rent as Kyle isn’t around to pay his share. So John opens a letter meant for Kyle, finds a strange key, and in a curious chain of events that follow, he and his buddies Bill and Laurie end up in another world, or maybe dimension, or planet perhaps, with no apparent way of going home.
It’s a strange world with talking dogs and guns existing what seems to be a typical high fantasy setting, but more interestingly, Kyle, who of course comes from this world, may turn out to be the very person John will not want to bump into in his adventures in this brave new world.
The Shattered Gates has in many ways the feel of an old-school pulp fantasy story, and I mean that in a good way. There are some elements here that can cause some people to make a fuss over the unfortunate implication of having a white blonde person marked as a Special One in a world full of people and places with Middle-Eastern sounding names, but this trope is pretty standard for stories from those days. The story has plenty of interesting twists and turns, and, most importantly, it’s a fun romp with nary a boring moment. Well, except for the slow and often unintentional start, perhaps, but once these guys cross over to the other side, the author is on a roll.
John is rather bland, but then again, the main characters here are pretty bland. I single out John because he’s arguably the primary protagonist of the story, serving in many ways a placeholder for the reader as he discovers more about his new surroundings. Perhaps he’s too much of a placeholder, because he’s basically a sponge. He reacts more than he initiates, and the few moments when he chooses to do something, he sort of bumble around like a lost puppy.
Speaking of blandness, this brings me to another issue I have with this one. Now, the setting has names with the dreaded apostrophe here and there, but these names are neither eyesores nor gibberish made out of syllables apparently put together at random. However, if you ask me what the setting is like, I can’t really tell. The names seem Middle-Eastern to me, but I don’t get any sense of tangible culture or history of the whole place. Sure, perhaps things will become more fleshed out in the next book or so, but I wonder whether that will be too late. I want to be hooked into this world, but for now, I feel that Ms Hale has come dangerously close to substituting actual world building with exotic names and in-your-face fantasy elements like talking dogs.
Still, fun is fun, and this one delivers enough of that to make it worth my time. If the world building has been more tangible, I’d be all over this one, but for what it is, I’ll take it.