Ohmygod. Pretty much all I can think right now is “holy shit, my mind just exploded.” Because seriously. This book? More dangerous to minds than nuclear weapons are to people. I don’t even know where to start.
The best place, probably and unfortunately, is the disappointment. It wasn’t at all what I wanted it to be. Now, I know that’s probably unfair of me to say, but I had high hopes for this, and it didn’t live up to them. It was too…linear? Too fast. Things moved too quickly and always only in one direction. This was the book that was supposed to answer the questions, solve the problems — not introduce more that would prove to be utterly unsolvable. Of course I know more now about the Om’ray, and the M’hiray, than I did before reading this, but not the kinds of things that I really wanted to know. Too much of this book felt like useless information, the stuff I read through to get to the “good part.” Except that the “good part” never came.
Before I skip ahead too far, I should say that the first 50 pages or so were delightful, like coming back to Italy after four years and discovering that I loved it so much more than I’d remembered was possible. Even the things that bother me about Julie’s style felt like coming home—her strange interjections, heavy overuse of fragments, none of it mattered, because I was there with Enris and with Aryl and they were adorable and in love and about to embark on something like a great adventure.
And then things just went strange. A hundred or so pages in, I started remembering what Vikram and Melanie and my instincts have taught me about writing — start with a conflict on page one, let the reader know what the story is about, and make sure that there are new challenges and new obstacles that build upon this up until a climax. But it took far too long for this story to make its way to its eventual conflict and climax, and in the end, the storyline really meandered too much for its own good. I personally don’t see why the whole storyline about Naryn going to Vyna and Anaj showing up as her unborn child (and then the thing with going to Tikitna afterward) had to be there. The real dangers in the story are the dangers that A) more and more Om’ray are learning how to ‘port and disturbing the balance, and B) pirates are coming after Marcus’s Hoveny Concentrix finds, threatening not only his life but also the security of the Om’ray. As far as I’m concerned, the story could quite easily have started with Marcus’s fear that pirates might appear to cannibalize his find, and Aryl’s fear that the Om’ray are becoming something else, something heretofore unknown and uncontrollable.
Every scene with Marcus in it — especially those toward the end — tore my heart away. I had a bad feeling from the first time I met him and started to fall in love with him that he wouldn’t survive to the end of the series, but to see him die the way he did, and for him to live on with the sort of name that history made for him, just struck me as far too terrible to be true.
Well, I think I’ve made my way here now — the first ending. The first epilogue. The moment when I went, “oh shit, what’s going on?” The moment when the ground disappeared from under my feet and I just went falling down into a dark dark hole, not knowing if I’d ever come out again. An epilogue? But isn’t there more of the book? From the moment that the thing had started with an effective “Part One” entitled Cersi, I’d been ready for the Stratification — the leaving of the Clan homeworld, the movement outwards — but nothing could’ve prepared me for what happened next. Nothing could have prepared me for what became of the M’hiray almost as soon as they set foot on Stonerim III. All the things that mattered, the things that made them who they were, that linked them to each other and to their own memories, their own past, gone. Each and every one of them lost. Wondering what it meant to be a certain way and not know why. Aryl, knowing she loves heights, knowing how to climb and fight and protect and be strong, but not knowing who that makes her. The shock of an epilogue with at least 100 pages left in the book was nothing to the shock of seeing these characters suddenly stripped of everything I’d come to associate with who they are.
All of a sudden, the Om’ray became the M’hiray — the innocence of one world exchanged for the power games of another in less than a blink and with no knowledge of motivation. What was worse for me was the fact that the rest of the M’hiray were perfectly content to go on with their lives like nothing had gone wrong. Aryl cries to herself in her sleep, but what of the others?
Of course, their deepest natures still poked through. Aryl and Enris were still good, kind, benevolent people. Others who had had their problems back on Cersi only had them aggravated by a change of place. But the biggest disappointment about the end of the book was how soulless it felt, like all of the people had left. It reminded me of the last episode of the fourth season of Bones — the actors are the same, but where did the characters go? Only Czerneda didn’t have the decency to let anyone wake up and realize it was all a dream.
Oh, she set up the world the way that it is. She got from Aryl to Sira. But — as much as I hate to say this — I can’t feel at all proud of the way she did it. These people deserved more dignity, more respect. They deserved the honor of their own story, not tainted by their inevitable future.
When I read Julie’s stories, very rarely am I compelled to start sentences with the phrase “If I were writing this.” But so much of this book had me doing just that. And I’m going to further the sacrilege by extending it now: If I were writing this, it would have been two separate books, one centered around the conflict to leave Cersi, another centered upon the conflict of surviving upon Stonerim III. There was definitely enough material here for two books — the author appears to have realized this, since she’s set it up in such a dichotomous structure. In this scheme, the “first book” would have involved more of a threat from these alien pirates, perhaps the beginning of a war between them and the Om’ray (a war that they would only get involved in due to Aryl’s firm faith in Marcus, who would still die to give them the coordinates to leave for his old home when he saw there was no other choice).
The “second book” would have begun with the arrival on Stonerim III, and the conflict to find a place to live and people to become would have been expanded. There would have been a general panic at first about the loss of memories, more infighting, more power play amongst the M’hiray before the rest of the world ever got involved. There would have been argument over whether it was right to control susceptible humans, instead of simple acquiescence. There would have been dissent. The fate of the M’hiray would not have been unanimous. And the book would end with Aryl and Enris, alone if necessary, finding Karina Bowman, and finally remembering. Not just some of it, all of it, and knowing it for themselves, even if it meant never sharing it with anyone else because no one else would possibly believe.
If I had written this book, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this as a way to explain my disappointment and fervently hope that the next book will be better.
Again, I know I’m probably being unfair. I loved Riders of the Storm in a way that only really matches my love for The Wizard’s Dilemma. Both of those stories fight through pain to make me believe in the goodness of humanity, and the ability of people to make choices for the better, to shape the world anew — to fight through the tears. Rift in the Sky doesn’t do anything like that. It doesn’t fill me. It does what its title promises — it empties. It evacuates, it nullifies, it destroys. It doesn’t try to do it, but it does. It takes everything I loved about this series and makes it truly, thoroughly alien.
I hate to say it, but I’m afraid. It used to be the case that anything Julie wrote would be enough to pull me out of the worst of my life , enough to celebrate the best of my joy. Now, for the first time, something she’s written has left me feeling less than whole.
Maybe I just need some time. Maybe a second reading, in due course, will salvage this novel’s merit. But for now? I guess I’ll have to learn what it’s like to read a book that empties where I’d had such high hopes that it would fill.