You read fantasy and you wish you could become a wizard detective, a clever thief, Superman...but, a rock-climber? That's precisely what I wished to become after I was done with Courtney Schafer's debut novel, The Whitefire Crossing. Not that the book itself was about rock-climbing, but the passages in which it was featured, were quite compelling. I'm scared shitless of heights, so one can dream. It's the first book in The Shattered Sigil series, followed by The Tainted City projected for a 2012 release.
Dev is an outrider for caravans as they travel from one city to another, particularly through the mountains in which he uses his mountaineering expertise to scout for any danger. He also takes smuggling jobs on the side. He's been lauded to be very good at his job, though a risk taker for his love and thrill of rock climbing, he's been risk averse on the smuggling jobs he takes; until now. Losing all his savings due to some circumstances, savings he needed to save the life of someone he cares and is responsible for, he's forced into smuggling a young man, Kiran, into a city with a heavily guarded border against his better judgement. Unbeknownst to him, Kiran is a mage on the run from a very powerful and dangerous mage who'd stop at nothing to get him back.
The book is narrated in both first and third person limited perspectives. First person belongs to Dev, while the third person limited belongs to Kiran. I personally love this exercise, while I know some will find the style not to their liking, but I thought it was handled quite well. The switches in POV are marked preceding the passages, so there will be no confusion. I don't think readers will have problem getting into rhythm if that is of concern.
The Whitefire Crossing was a real treat of a novel. I'm not a fan of books that spend a good portion travelling, yet this novel packs some good energy and enthusiasm along with a thriller element through this making it quite entertaining and fresh. It's in fact the best part of novel. Two thirds of the novel in or so, the energy of the book drops substantially as the action and movement slows down and the plot not as interesting as what came before it. Main problem for me that some of the "reveals" were already heavily foreshadowed and easily inferred so they lost the impact when introduced along with the emotional impact in our characters. Picks right back up towards the end though with some exciting turn of events followed by an aftermath portion which sets up the next stage of the series in a manner which is of great interest to me with some promise of political intrigue which I enjoy very much.
The novel itself can be characterized as one about choices and consequences, juxtaposed with themes of trust and freedom. Throughout the whole novel both of our main characters are presented with a myriad of choices, choices that weigh heavy on them. It's these dilemmas that drive the character conflicts throughout the novel. There's a lot of introspection in which these struggles are depicted, in particular when they involve questions of trust versus risking freedom. If that isn't enough, both characters are confined by self-interest agendas that may force them to betray each other, and themselves for that matter, as they view it as an inevitability of their situation charged by shackles from their past and potential future, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The book features plenty of magic use, and I thought some of it was quite interesting when considering the cost-benefit analysis of magic usage. Personally would like to see more details of how the magic works and what limits does it actually have. For purposes of what was featured in this novel, they're not that important but some events towards the end hints to me that they might be in the future. The Whitefire Crossing is limited in scope as plot needs demand, so worldbuilding suffers a bit because of it. But don't ignore that which was featured coming to life in the pages, particularly through the mountain trek. There's plenty of anecdotal evidence throughout the novel though, which fuels the imagination about the possibilities in this world. Very much looking forward to how the boundaries of what we've been educated on expand in future installments.
Courtney Schafer has written a very promising debut which I highly recommend. Well written in an unorthodox style giving a fresh energy to some traditional ideas among the new. Main strength being the character conflicts presented throughout, and the enthusiastic and detailed narrative of mountaineering portions of the novel energized by Schafer's expertise of rock climbing. Plenty of action and a fast moving book which should keep readers entertained and turning the pages. Sequel of the novel is The Tainted City, very much looking forward to it, and hope many of you give this series a try.
Thanks to Bastard for taking over Only the Best for today. Bastard is a good friend of mine and blogger at Bastard Books. We decided instead of doing a joint review, we'd just do a cross review on each other's blogs. Check out my review of The Whitefire Crossing by Courtney Schafer at the above link - I'll get a direct link once both are up and going.