Book Review – ‘The Rift’ by Rachael Craw

Title: The Rift
Author: Rachael Craw
Genre: YA, Urban Fantasy
Word/Page Count: 368 pages (paperback)
Publication Details: by Walker Books Australia on November 1st, 2018
RRP: $19.99 AUD (paperback)


Blurb from Goodreads:

When the Rift opens, death follows.

For generations, the Rangers of Black Water Island have guarded the Old Herd against horrors released by the Rift. Cal West, an apprentice Ranger with a rare scar and even rarer gifts, fights daily to prove he belongs within their ranks. After nine years away, Meg Archer returns to her childhood home only to find the Island is facing a new threat that not even the Rangers are prepared for. Meg and Cal can’t ignore their attraction, but can they face their darkest fears to save the Island from disaster?

This has to be one of the most creative and unique books I’ve ever read – the author’s pitch is ‘mythology and dimensional rifts and mutant space dogs‘, and that’s not even the tip of the iceberg! There’s also a running theme of the importance of environmental conservation and it’s amazing how naturally this nestles in alongside the paranormal aspects of the story. It’s easy to see why ‘The Rift’ is a finalist in The New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults!

Normally I would start off by discussing the protagonists, but I have to discuss the setting  first because it is every bit as important as the humans we follow. Black Water Island is this magical place where nature co-exists in a fragile balance with the island residents, many of whom are of the Ranger bloodline, which means that they share a direct intimate connection to the land itself, feeling a magnetic pull that inextricably bonds them to Black Water. It gives them a sense of awareness and belonging, and is so powerful that they willingly guard the exotic native deer against attacks from common poachers as well as deranged paranormal beasts, sacrificing their lives if necessary. Being a Ranger is seen as an honor, despite the constant danger and short life-span, and no Ranger would ever consider giving up and moving to the mainland.

Meg’s mother, on the other hand, saw that bizarre and hazardous lifestyle and wanted her daughter removed as far away as possible from it, so the two of them left when Meg was a child. She grew up rationalizing away the peculiar phenomena she’d seen as the product of an overactive imagination and forgot about the very real magic (and monsters) that thrived on the island. Her return nine years later stirs up a whole lot of drama and mixed emotions between Meg and her estranged father, her one-time best friend and the other residents who have to keep the supernatural shenanigans on the downlow with ‘outsiders’ around.

One of the strengths of this book lies in the complicated emotional dynamics that the author has set up – Meg wanted nothing more than to be a Ranger when she was a child and comes back home to find that Cal, who isn’t even of the bloodline, has been adopted into their ranks. The father that she left behind who never reached out to her over nine years has apparently taken him under his wing, which rankles even more as she now views Cal as having unfairly taken her dream position AND her father. The fact that this is irrational and she knows it’s unfair doesn’t make it any easier to stop feeling that way (so relatable).

To add more conflict, she and Cal both harbor long-festering guilt and grief over a childhood escapade that resulted in the death of the Head Ranger and serious injuries to both children and Meg’s father. Of course Meg and Cal both blame themselves for the outcome and think that the other must hold them responsible as well, so there is just a whole ton of angst going on! This means that their interactions are slow and cautious to start with, fraught with tension and misplaced hostility that they need to overcome, which is a very welcome dynamic instead of the insta-love that I enter every YA book dreading will rear its ugly head!

Meg and Cal together cause fireworks, but even better, the author has created some wonderful supporting characters to bounce off them. Meg and her mother Cora are the best mother/daughter duo I’ve read in a long time (maybe ever), their banter had me snickering and I totally recognized similar beats in my own interactions with my mother. Cal had Reeva, a raven he’s mentally bonded with, and she completely stole my heart. Reeva isn’t a talking bird (that would be just silly!), but her personality shines through loud and clear, and I loved how she sasses Cal, cozies up to him to get her pats and plays mischievous matchmaker, as well as how dedicated she is to his safety, coming to protect him when he’s under attack and carrying messages back and forth to get help. Two other Ranger apprentices, Joss and Rilke, form a quartet with Cal and Meg later in the book which is great as I always enjoy intrepid teenagers going on a quest, and it kept things from being too serious and romance-y as Joss provides good-natured teasing and Rilke has a power struggle going on with Cal while siding with Meg to gang up on the boys.

It’s impressive how the story is so grounded in reality despite the inclusion of telepathic animals and magical powers, and it comes down to people behaving in realistic ways to the phenomena they encounter. Unfortunately one of these very human responses is to attempt to profit from Black Water Island and monetize its assets, namely the deer antlers that contain a unique compound that has incredible healing properties. While the Rangers live in harmony with the island, an insidious corporation called Nutris Pharmaceuticals forces a treaty that allows them to cull the deer herd every four years, but when has a small percentage of profit ever been enough when there is more to be gained? Nutris is basically the Weyland-Yutani Corporation of ‘The Rift’, consistently prioritizing financial gain over basic decency and respect for human life. They certainly make for great villains!

While I loved the characters and the setting (and hating on the bad guys), I can’t quite give this full marks because there were a few parts which were confusing and needed to be clarified better for the reader. I’m all for being thrown into a new world and figuring out the rules on the run, that can make the story all the more fun and engaging, but the big conflict towards the end became a blur with so much going on and not enough properly defined. I re-read the chapter trying to picture it in my head and couldn’t quite understand what was happening at a few key moments, which lessened its impact. That was only a small negative for me because I was fully emotionally invested in the characters and could overlook it in favor of the juicy personal conflicts, but it may be more of an issue for other readers.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this and would recommend it to anyone looking for a great fantasy read without hesitation. The writing is top-notch, the characters will win your heart and the thrill of the adventure will have you breathlessly racing through this book!

Personal Rating: 4.5 out of 5 kitties recommend this book.


Disclaimer: Physical copy provided by publisher free for an unbiased review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

9 thoughts on “Book Review – ‘The Rift’ by Rachael Craw

    • yes, definitely do! it’s funny as Reeva is a bird, but she reminded me quite a bit of my cat with her antics! too bad my cat can’t telepathically communicate with me…but probs for the best as she would just nag me for food all the time, I bet she wouldn’t even try to save me if I was in danger, lol.


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