Courtney Schafer's The Whitefire Crossing piqued my curiosity when I received my review copy last fall. Unfortunately, prior commitments prevented me from reading it until now. I'm glad to report that it's another quality and original read published by the folks at Night Shade Books.
Here's the blurb:
Dev is a smuggler with the perfect cover. He's in high demand as a guide for the caravans that carry legitimate goods from the city of Ninavel into the country of Alathia. The route through the Whitefire Mountains is treacherous, and Dev is one of the few climbers who knows how to cross them safely. With his skill and connections, it's easy enough to slip contraband charms from Ninavel--where any magic is fair game, no matter how dark--into Alathia, where most magic is outlawed.
But smuggling a few charms is one thing; smuggling a person through the warded Alathian border is near suicidal. Having made a promise to a dying friend, Dev is forced to take on a singularly dangerous cargo: Kiran. A young apprentice on the run from one of the most powerful mages in Ninavel, Kiran is desperate enough to pay a fortune to sneak into a country where discovery means certain execution--and he'll do whatever it takes to prevent Dev from finding out the terrible truth behind his getaway.
Yet the young mage is not the only one harboring a deadly secret. Caught up in a web of subterfuge and dark magic, Dev and Kiran must find a way to trust each other--or face not only their own destruction, but that of the entire city of Ninavel.
The author is a mountaineering and rock climbing aficionado. Her enthusiasm for these activities permeates every single chapter of The Whitefire Crossing. Her passion is contagious, especially at the beginning of the novel. And yet, I feel that at times it got in the way of the storytelling. Nothing that could have a negative influence on the tale itself, but it occasionally became a distraction from the plot. Indeed, some plot twists are just an excuse for Schafer to have her characters go through another dangerous rock climbing interlude. Still, although it can prove to be a distraction, her enthusiasm for mountaineering and other hardcore activities is more a strength than a weakness.
The better part of the worldbuilding has to do with the Whitefire mountain range. Her wealth of experience allows Courtney Schafer to make the perilous crossing come alive. Her evocative narrative makes images leap off the pages and you live vicariously through the experience via the characters' points of view. I also enjoyed the few glimpses the author offered regarding Ninavel, a city controlled by mages of all ilks, and Alathia, a country where most magic is outlawed and which is warded by a magical barrier. I would have appreciated more information concerning blood mages, but I have a feeling those secrets will be unveiled in the forthcoming sequel. One thing is for sure: There is more depth than meets the eye in this novel.
The Whitefire Crossing is told through the POVs of two main protagonists. Dev is an outrider and a smuggler. Kiran is a blood mage willing to do anything to cross into Alathia to escape his demented master. Unaware of the truth, Dev has no idea how dangerous crossing the Whitefire Mountains and smuggling Kiran through the magical barrier protecting Alathia will turn out to be. There is a good balance between the two characters' perspective. Schafer also introduces their individual back story by increments, which allows her to flesh them out and elaborate on their motivations.
The first portion of the tale is more or less solely about the mountain crossing. Hence, it doesn't read like a rock climbing textbook, yet you can expect various mountaineering scenes in basically every chapter. Once the mountains are behind Dev and Kiran (and are no longer a distraction for a passionate and enthusiastic author), that's when the tale truly gets moving. Revelations are made that make The Whitefire Crossing resound with more depth than I expected, unveiling a variety of possibilities for the rest of the series.
The pace is a bit slow at the beginning, but as soon as it picks up the novel becomes quite a ride. Schafer proved that she had a few unexpected tricks up her sleeve, and she brings The Whitefire Crossing to a satisfying close. The kind of ending that all but forces you to read volume two!
Courtney Schafer's The Whitefire Crossing is an original, if unusual, fantasy title that shows a lot of potential. Whether or not The Tainted City, which should be released later this year, can live up to that potential remains to be seen. Hopefully the second installment won't feature another mountain crossing, as it would prevent Schafer's storytelling skills to shine.