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Literature / The Rifter

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The cover of Part 10 of the serial.

A serial novel by Ginn Hale, published over the course of 2011.

By all appearances, John is an ordinary American gay man, a quiet ecologist whose only peculiarity is his unusually intense feeling of connection to the earth and living things. He shares a house with the very non-ordinary Kyle, a heavily scarred, knife-carrying man who frequently acts like an alien to planet Earth. Kyle is actually the Kahlil, a priest in the religion of the Earth’s sister-world Basawar, who’s been sent to Nayeshi (as the Basawar priests call Earth) to retrieve the Rifter, a human incarnation of the creator god Parfir, who the Payshmura church can use as an immensely destructive weapon against their enemies.

John intercepts a key sent to Kyle and unknowingly opens a gate to Basawar, dropping himself, along with his friends Laurie and Bill, into a strange, hostile world. As they struggle to survive and search for a way home, they are discovered and befriended by a young Payshmura priest, Ravishan, who’s at the monastery of Rathal’pesha, where he leads a brutal and lonely existence. Ravishan is training as an ushiri: he opens and moves through the Grey Space, rifts in the fabric of space and time; he may ultimately qualify to become a Kahlil. John goes to Rathal’pesha where he suspects there may be a chance to get back to Nayeshi. It’s not easy, however; for one thing, Ravishan is falling in love with John (and vice versa) whereas Payshmura law punishes homosexuality with death. Meanwhile there are rumors of a menace from rebels known as Fai’daum. And John is gradually realizing that he is the Rifter...

Kyle/Kahlil has pursued John through the gate, but he hasn’t ended up in the same place and time; instead, he lands, with confused memories, years into the future, and finds that history doesn’t seem to have happened like he remembers it. During the time that he recalls serving the Payshmura church, it seems that the church was instead destroyed utterly. Now aristocratic factions are maneuvering for a place in the vacuum of power it left behind, and the Fai’daum have formed a new state near the gaping chasm that is all that is left of the entire northern part of the continent where Rathal’pesha used to stand. For a while, Kahlil survives by being employed as an assassin, using his ability to manipulate the Grey Space. But then his life is changed by meeting the Fai’daum leader Jath’ibaye.

The Rifter provides examples of:

  • Alternate Self: Ravishan & Kahlil. Kahlil, after a lonely youth training in Rathal’pesha, spent years in Nayeshi waiting to bring the Rifter (John) to Basawar; then his key to the gates fell into John’s hands and John crossed through. He landed at an earlier point in time and met Ravishan the trainee-Kahlil; together the two of them changed history radically. Now the future where Ravishan becomes Kahlil will never happen, but his future self is still over in Nayeshi, not knowing that events he remembers have been wiped out of existence. Kahlil crosses to Bashawar and arrives thirty years after John’s arrival. He doesn’t meet himself because by this time Ravishan is dead. However, he does pick up Ravishan’s memories; he describes having two timelines in his mind as being like the reflection in a windowpane where you can see both the reflection and the view outside, and focus on one or the other. Eventually the two selves merge even further.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Played straight. The aristocracy are rapacious and repressive toward the common people; the one decent person among them that we meet, Joulen, has been away with the army in the north for years, and John reflects that the simple life had done him good. Lady Bousim, exiled in the north, turns out to be a very good friend to Laurie and Bill, although we are told that before, in the south, she had taken a series of lovers without caring that her husband would have them all executed.
  • Back from the Dead: Ravishan, sort of — actually it’s a version of him from an alternate history (where for one thing he wasn’t John’s lover) who crossed to this timeline. Played very straight in the end; where not only does Kahlil have Ravishan’s memories, but he merges with his bones and the two truly become one, alive.
  • The Berserker: John when his Rifter self is unleashed. He becomes a divinely-powered whirlwind of fury, smashing everyone and everything in his path; he charges straight into armies, taking innumerable wounds, whose pain fuels his rage and which heal instantly. He is almost as dangerous to friends as to enemies, especially when he shatters buildings and creates gaping chasms in the earth.
  • Big Good: Ji. She was a leader of the Fai'daum rebellion, perhaps more important than its nominal chief Sabir; she mentored John in controlling his powers; and thanks to her foresight as a seer, she did quite a lot of shepherding events to a good conclusion, such as killing Fikiri in Kyle's timeline so that he could become Kahlil, and sending the key to Nayeshi. In a more remote sense, the creator god Parfir — maybe. Ravishan is sure that Parfir is orchestrating everything for the good; John remains skeptical to the end.
  • Bodyguard Crush: Kyle (the Kahlil) is assigned to secretly watch and guard John when John is a child. He does so for ten years, and as John grows up Kyle becomes immensely attached to him, though he won’t allow himself to think that he might be falling in love because he knows he might receive the order to kill John. By the end of the book, Kyle knows for certain that guarding and loving John (the Rifter) are his two purposes in life. It’s both a confirmation and a radical revision of the relationship that the holy scriptures indicate between the Kahlil and the Rifter.
  • Burn the Witch!: According to the laws of the Payshmura theocracy, burning is the penalty for witchcraft (along with quite a few other crimes). There are lots of burnings. Metal posts for doing so line the Holy Road, and it’s even become a standard finale to the Harvest Festival.
  • The Cavalry: Kahlirash’im warrior-priests arriving in Gisa, to the aid of a crowd of townspeople attempting to stop rashan’im soldiers from taking away prisoners accused of witchcraft. Not a Deus ex Machina because the reason for their arrival has been set up in the previous chapter: Hann’yu wrote to everyone he could think of, including the kahlirash’im, about what the Payshmura were doing to prisoners; he’s heard expressing the hope that someone paid attention. Also, the Rifter, a one-man (or -god) army, breaking the siege of Vundomu.
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": "Weasels", egg-laying mammals of Basawar. Basawar and our world may have been connected at some times in the past; they share some flora and fauna, but not all — there are dogs (actual dogs) but no cats in Basawar for example.
  • Church Militant: The Payshmura. They train all of their priests in combat forms, and occasionally weaponize them against the populace. The Kalirash'im takes it to an even greater extreme, filing their teeth into points, living in a temple that doubles as a fortress, and worshipping the Rifter, the destroyer aspect of Parfir.
  • Coming-Out Story: A very mini one for Saimura.
  • Corrupt Church: The Payshmura both perverted religion and committed crimes against nature by tearing spacetime to use the Grey Space, killing the Rifter, creating issusha’im, and so on and exacted tithes that starved the population, imposed brutal laws, and supported social inequality. But their religion is represented as having a degree of truth to it, just greatly misused. There are also characters who provide examples of how it might go right, like Samsango, a simple man who lives in the spirit of the smiling, benign aspects of Parfir, or notably Ravishan/Kyle.
  • Crapsack World: Basawar, in many ways. The Payshmura church is largely misogynistic, homophobic, and financially corrupt. The land itself is also stripped of nutrients and air depleted of oxygen due to the frequent opening of the Great Gate, which drains life from Basawar.
  • Dem Bones: The walls at the convent of Umbhra’ibaye are strung with bones who are issusha’im: women who’ve been stripped of their flesh but kept alive, with charms carved on the bones. This somehow gives them the power to see through time, seeing multiple possible futures as well as (maddeningly) the lives that they might have lived if they hadn’t been turned into issusha’im. The Payshmura use the issusha’im’s soothsaying to avert future events that they don’t want. It’s a Fate Worse than Death, but at least it’s possible for them to take on flesh again, which is a considerable improvement, if they escape Umbhra’ibaye. Ji, a talking dog, is an issusha who took the body of a dog and is now a leader of the Fai’daum. She’s centuries old and has very powerful magic as well as soothsaying abilities. Laurie was taken partway through the issusha-making process and they used the blood of her own baby to create the enchantment. She’s now part-flesh, part-walking skeleton. Understandably mentally unstable, she’s been using those enchantments herself, but only managing to create "hungry bones", monstrosities patched together from human and animal bones which thirst for blood.
  • Dirty Coward: Fikiri — Mama's Boy, spy and informer, liar, traitor; attacks children out of the Grey Space but runs away from hand-to-hand fights.
  • Doppelmerger: Kahlil arrives in a version of Basawar where his counterpart is dead. He finds and merges with the bones of said counterpart.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: In the Basawar language, John sounds rather like Jahn, which is a word for an animal with a tawny coat, a name for a pet; John is blond, and when he says his name, people take it to be a contemptuous nickname; he is repeatedly sneered at for that. John is willing to put up with it because of his habit of extreme self-effacement. Eventually, after John becomes part of a Fai’daum fighting unit, the commander insists that he has to have a more dignified name, and settles on Jath’ibaye.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Kahlil may have had a name once, but now he’s only known by his title (the Kahlil) or its anglicized variant, Kyle.
  • Fanservice: There’s a bath scene which fits a bit oddly with the rest of the novel and may well have been inserted as Fanservice for the author’s usual audience, m/m romance fans; most of the novel doesn’t have explicit sex (plenty of love though).
  • Finger in the Mail: How Laurie summoned John into a trap to use him to open the Great Gates: sending him one of Kyle’s fingers. She chose the ring finger, because she was furious that John got his lover back when she couldn’t have her husband.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: How Kahlil disposes of a conspiracy against Jath’ibaye. He has proof that Ourath is a traitor to the aristocracy, stirring up war between them and Jath’ibaye for purposes of his own; but Nivoun, the member of the aristocracy who’d be directly in charge of an investigation, is in on the conspiracy too, and he doesn’t have proof of that. So he arranges to have Nivoun shot with Ourath’s pistol, and Ourath plus the incriminating documents discovered on the scene. It works.
  • Glasgow Grin: Kyle in the original timeline has this scar. The senior priest Dayyid cut him as a mark of shame after catching him with a man in an alley. Dayyid needed him to become Kahlil and so couldn’t have him publicly accused and executed, but everyone in Rathal’pesha knew what the scar meant and he was utterly ostracised.
  • God in Human Form: The Rifter is an incarnation of part of the god Parfir, who is the world, according to one version of the scriptures. Its current form, John, is certainly very human mentally and emotionally, but he has the power of a god too. He has a connection to the earth and living things which he can use to move storms in their tracks and cause rocks to grow, but also he has an immense reserve of furious energy that can rip the earth apart, and which responds to his negative emotions. Learning to control this power and use it for the good is a major part of the novel. The fact that the Rifter has human form meant that the Payshmura church could misuse the Rifter, killing its incarnations to unleash destruction on their enemies, and deeply damaging Basawar each time. If they’d continued on this way, they would have ruined the whole world.
  • Good Thing You Can Heal: After John finds out that no ordinary wound can kill him, he begins to charge straight into armies, shaking off innumerable bullet, pike, etc. wounds. The first time he deliberately let someone shoot him, he had to steel himself against the anticipation of pain, because he does feel it fully; but he found that pain awakened his Rifter powers, and he soon becomes able to go into a divine version of a berserk state where he ignores pain, feels only rage, and draws on his power to heal instantly.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Fenn died by serving as a diversion to let other Fai'daum escape; he was imitating John in doing so, not knowing that John couldn't have been killed when he volunteered for an apparently suicidal mission earlier (yet another thing for John to feel guilty about); Ji foresaw that her own death would be part of the events necessary for a good outcome for other people, and went right ahead.
  • I Choose to Stay: Subverted — because John finds out that he can’t go home, or rather that if he did open the gate between the worlds, it would destroy Basawar, which he would never consider doing. Laurie, however, intends to open the gate; she doesn’t care about destroying the world which has brought her great suffering.
  • Internalized Categorism: Ravishan and Kyle have some serious internalized homophobia to get past. Witnessing proud gay men in Nayeshi, and especially John, did Kyle some good.
  • Load-Bearing Hero: In Gisa, people are digging tunnels to try to break the accused witches out of prison. John, who as the Rifter has a deep connection to the earth, can feel that the tunnels are about to collapse, and he can also "persuade" rocks to grow as supports.
  • Grief Makes You Evil: When Ravishan died, John sank all of northern Basawar in the sea. But then he pulled himself together and began to rebuild the world. Laurie, however, mourning for her husband and child and ruined life, became a true monster, and never recovered. Love on the other hand is a great force for good.
  • Mama's Boy: Fikiri. Represented as being very attached to his mother at a young age, and not growing away from her, and also being cowardly and petty. She is burned as a witch, and Fikiri blames John, whom he already hated, but this cements an undying enmity. Not that it’s shown to be wrong, in general, to love and look up to your mother: the warm relationship between Saimura and his mother Ji demonstrates that.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: John and Ravishan/Kyle. But the author found a way of making the latter long-lived after all, by the same enchantments that create issusha’im. To her credit, it’s well-justified in the overall structure of the novel.
  • The Medic: Non-Action Guy Saimura’s role in the Fai’daum guerillas. His magic is also useful in many other ways.
  • Mike Nelson, Destroyer of Worlds: Previous Rifters fit this trope. It's heavily alluded that previous incarnations are usually otherwise-ordinary people brought to Basawar from Earth and tortured until their pain and anger spark an apocalypse. John's Rifter powers manifest a little differently.
  • Nay-Theist: John (the incarnation of the Rifter) is something of a Nay-Theist god. He doesn't want people worshiping him, is skeptical about the value of worship and faith in general, and isn't convinced that the creator god Parfir is looking after people. His religion is more like reverence for all living things.
  • Never the Selves Shall Meet: Averted. When Kahlil arrives in a Basawar where history was changed, the version of himself in the new time is already dead. He does have two sets of memories coexisting confusingly in his head, though. Eventually, he finds the bones of his other self and they merge into his body; at the same time, he feels like his two histories have become truly integrated into one personality.
  • Powder Keg Crowd: In Gisa, when the prisoners accused of witchcraft are due to be taken to the Payshmura temple by a troop of rashan’im soldiers, a huge crowd gathers in front of the prison gates, singing and shouting to the soldiers to go home. The guards at the gate don’t interfere. Even the soldiers hesitate, but the situation is hanging on a knife-edge between them leaving or starting a massacre, when The Cavalry arrives in the form of kahlirash’im warrior-priests who turn out to not agree with the Payshmura priests at all. The rashan’im turn tail.
  • Queer Romance: Almost a 50/50 balance of fantasy and romance genres.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Laurie accusing John of being controlling toward "his kingdom" that he’s the god of. This is something that John tends to worry about himself. It’s true that there’s danger in a country depending on a single ruler — an immortal one at that! — however well-intentioned (and John is a something like a paragon of liberal American values and environmental responsibility). John tries to be as non-interventionary as possible, sets up democratic institutions, and forbids people from worshipping him, but they do anyway... Laurie was John's oldest friend, and now that she's his greatest enemy she's accurate at getting past his defenses by pointing out what he'd see as a fault in himself.
  • Replacement Goldfish: John/Jath’ibaye took up with the young Ourath because Ourath reminded him of Ravishan who was dead, even calling him by the wrong name sometimes. Not only was it not a satisfactory relationship, but Ourath conspired to murder Jath’ibaye. Jath’ibaye, with his habitual sense of guilt and responsibility, wonders if Ourath would have been a better person if he’d had a lover who appreciated him for himself as his first relationship instead of Jath’ibaye.
  • Secret Relationship: John and Ravishan naturally have to be very discreet, since homosexuality is penalized by death. They don’t ever have sex for the first time until after leaving Rathal’pesha. Nonetheless, Fikiri, spying on them out of the Grey Space at the monastery, sees them kissing and blackmails them. It also turns out that one of the other supposedly-celibate priests at Rathal’pesha is secretly married (Hann’yu, one of the few truly good people at the monastery — Aesop: forced celibacy is bad).
  • Seers: The issusha’im. They can see multiple alternate times both past and future, but don’t have perfect control to always choose the future they want. The Payshmura have been misusing them to maintain their power. Ji, an escaped issusha leading the Fai’daum, foresaw her own death but chose to go to battle anyway; presumably she thought the results of her staying home would have been worse overall, for other people.
  • Sliding Scale Of Magic Versus Technology: Basawar has a technology level that is roughly equivalent to the late 19th century, and rapidly developing, but it is also extremely magical. However, the Payshmura church tried to keep technology out of their territories because, as John reflected, "Machines offered power that the priesthood couldn’t strictly control. A rifle and an ushiri might both kill in an instant, but rifles could be mass-produced. They could fall into the hands of peasants, who, unlike ushiri’im, had no doctrine to keep them from joining revolutionaries." The more advanced areas don't rely on magic much, and one young guy is depicted who even doubts some of the old stories about it.
  • Stop Worshipping Me: John is shy and humble by personality, and very much dislikes being called "my most holy lord". He doesn’t think worshipping him is a good idea, and is even a bit of a skeptic about the value of religion. He knows he has a lot of responsibility and doesn’t think he’s worthy of it.
  • The Time Traveller's Dilemma: Faced head-on. John, by going to Basawar at an earlier point than the point where he got the key to the gates from Kyle, changes history (and creates an alternate version of Kyle who never traveled to Nayeshi and lost the key); on the whole, the new history is for the better (thanks to American liberalism, the power of love, and perhaps the providence of Parfir), but bad things happen too — for example, John destroys northern Basawar and all its living things, which wouldn’t have happened in the original time. John is aware of this and feels guilty and responsible.
  • Training from Hell: Ravishan, Fikiri, and the other ushiri'im go through this at Rathal'pesha, where the Payshmura priests train them to travel through "Gray Space", a netherworld full of mysterious sharp edges that cut, blind, and occasionally kill them. They also practice bloodletting rituals on the boys, to the extent that most of them have their arms covered in scars.
  • Trapped in Another World: John, Laurie, and Bill have (without intending to) passed through the Great Gates from Earth to Basawar, and the gates are shut. Getting home will not be easy at all.
  • Truth Serums: Fathi, a drug used repeatedly in this novel, fits almost all the aspects of this trope. It makes a person feel relaxed and happy and willing to answer anything, and they also find themselves telling the truth even when they don’t intend to. Sometimes it doesn’t get the desired result because of a too literal answer, such as when John is asked where Ravishan is and says he doesn’t know (well, he doesn’t know exactly where, does he?) but more often it works all too well. This is how John lets it slip out that Lady Bousim has been practicing magic and gets her burned as a witch, cementing her son Fikiri’s hatred for John.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: The plan to frame Ourath for murdering Nivoun is described as it unfolds, and goes perfectly; the plan to rescue the prisoners in Gisa is discussed beforehand, and has to be abandoned due to unforseen circumstances.
  • Vow of Celibacy: Required for everyone with a role in the Payshmura. It is depicted as a bad thing. Most of the positive characters who are priests secretly break the rule, whereas the negative ones are severe about it.