Witches’ Blood is the fourth installment of the Rifter series and oh it’s good. The usual disclaimer applies in that you shouldn’t try to pick this story up mid-series but start at the beginning. You should be reading anyway because it’s an epic fantasy story and seriously one of the better ones I’ve read, easily standing with mainstream fantasy stories. The difference is that the Rifter series is pared down to two important storylines and two main characters that presumably have a happy ending. So it’s even better!
The story this time focuses entirely on John during this time in the temple. There isn’t as much action as the previous book but my attention never waivers. John is such a dynamic character that he easily holds the entire novella and it was only at the end that I started to wonder what was going on with Kahlil. Hopefully the next installment will have some of the wonderful Kahlil and maybe even Kahlil with Jath’ibaye. I can only hope but I certainly wasn’t disappointed with this offering. The plot is character driven with a lot of dialogue and introspection. Yet the quick pace and inspired writing never let this part become rote, boring, or bogged down in too much information and background.
Instead the subtle details about John’s life and true purpose are starting to emerge. He’s integrated into the temple life for a few years now and though it’s hard work, he is finally finding his place. This is both good and bad since John realizes that this strange new world may not be one he wants to be a part of. It’s cruel and harsh, often letting philosophy and religion dictate over common sense and decency. John must battle not only his own desire for an easier path but the various pitfalls surrounding his friends, new and old.
John is definitely a complicated but compelling character. His latent power as the Rifter is shown in any number of ways and it’s fascinating to watch him grow and change into what he will become. His experiences with these men, good men and evil men, shape John into who he will be as well. You can see the various experiences that will make him into Jath’ibaye and I honestly love that. I love knowing the future so I can appreciate the circumstances and situations presented even more. Even as some of the events that happen are cruel and often difficult to take, which of course makes me sympathize with John and want him to embrace his future. Not to give any spoilers but if John just happens to kill Dayyid at some point in this series, I wouldn’t shed any tears.
Moving on from John the myriad of secondary characters come into their own. The old priest Samsango is shown with both good and bad traits. He’s kind and religious but almost blindly so in many ways. John’s unique perspective as an outside allows both him and the reader to view these men in all their complexity. John’s relationship with Ravishan is deepening in dangerous ways while Fikiri’s bitterness and anger starts to show with understandable reasons. The only problem in this cast is with John’s friends Bill and Laurie. In the first few books they were funny, irreverent, light hearted, and much needed additions to the otherwise gloomy landscape. Yet they’ve kind of disappeared into the story and setting so much they’re forgettable. The scenes involving these two are bland and so unlike their earlier vibrant presence that it’s too bad. They are still important and will be the source of new conflict to come but they feel misused and watered down right now.
That however is my only stumble with this particular offering in the series. The plot may be dialogue based with a lot of introspection but John’s perspective remains engaging and interesting throughout. The skillful leaps in time allow the story to move quickly without feeling as if important scenes are left out. In the last book the story truly hit its stride and book four continues that trend incredibly well. I can’t wait for the next installment, there are so many possibilities.