Jennifer Fallon

Rift Runners, Book One

ISBN: 978-0-7322-9084-9

Harper Voyager (2011)

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack

DISCLAIMER:   Lorraine Cormack is a judge for the Aurealis Awards. This review is the personal opinion of the writer, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of any judging panel, the judging coordinator or the Aurealis Awards management team.

The Undivided is book one of the Rift Runners, and it left me keen to read book two. I really want to know what happens to these characters, and how the plot plays out.

Jennifer Fallon is not an author I automatically look out for. I’ve enjoyed some of her books before, but can’t remember being particularly impressed by any. However, this one really caught my attention and kept me turning the pages with enthusiasm. Although I imagine it should please many of her existing fans, it should also win her some new readers.

The basic ideas in The Undivided are not all that original; quite a few have been seen before and in some cases they’re getting a bit shopworn. Frankly, if you set your story in a Celtic world with the Fae, then it’s hard to find a lot of new ground. It’s been very well trodden over the years. However, Fallon infuses these ideas with a new verve. She puts a slightly different twist on a few things, but it’s the strength of her main characters that will really draw you in. These are living, breathing people, and you’ll be falling over yourself trying to find out what happens to them.

Ren Kavanagh has more than a few problems, although a lot of people envy him his life. Adopted by a rich and famous movie star, he has no idea where he came from. He’s plagued by mysterious injuries; his mother thinks he’s self harming, but he just wakes up with injuries like knife wounds. The psychiatrist his mother sends him to is no help; he simply inspires the sort of behaviour that makes the “troubled teen” label adhere even more strongly.

As readers, we know very early on that Ren isn’t a lunatic. In fact, he’s the twin of Darragh, who rules in a Celtic world. Darragh is supposed to be ruling with his twin brother Ronan; as the Undivided they channel magic in a very special way. But a traitor Druid tossed Ronan through a rift into an alternate world when he was a toddler, and since then Darragh has ruled as the Divided. He knows, however, that if he doesn’t locate his brother soon and bring him back to their world, then the political machinations to unseat him might finally succeed. And that could ultimately lead to the ruin of their world.

Ren (as he’s now known) is found almost simultaneously by those who want him back and those who don’t.  Before too long his life is in chaos, he’s faced with unimaginable choices, and he’s beginning to wonder whether it might not have been simpler if he was just a bit nutty.

Fallon makes this a really exciting story. Both Ren and Darragh are very engaging characters who face distinctly different dilemmas.  Readers are likely to get caught up in both sets of problems and to really care about how things turn out. Fallon has written some great action scenes; I felt I was really right there in the middle of the drama.

The supporting cast are also strong and interesting. Many of the characters are lively and will get readers interested in their particular stories; while others are more subdued, they are still convincing and interesting characters. This is quite a substantial book, and I don’t think Ren and Darragh could carry it alone. Although they are the focus, and their “story” is also critical to every other character, the individual character arcs provide interesting texture, and in some cases sub-plots, which give the novel complexity and depth without ever feeling as though it has been padded.

Fallon does a particularly good job with the reaction of characters who find themselves in alien worlds – most notably, the Celts displaced into our world. This sort of thing has been done often before, but Fallon’s light touch and slightly indirect approach make it amusing and eye-opening all over again.

The Undivided is an extremely good novel. It sports interesting characters, a plot strong enough to draw readers in, vivid settings, and a cliffhanger that will have you watching for the next instalment. It isn’t the most original story you’ll ever read, but Fallon’s skill and engaging approach largely offset that. This should appeal to a range of fantasy readers, including Fallon’s fans, those who like urban fantasy, and those who tend towards more traditional fantasy.