This review was originally posted on Wilder’s Book Review
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 Kiran isn’t 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 Whitefire Crossing by Courtney Schafer was something fresh and different from much of the fantasy I have been reading lately. There were no swords, mercenaries, knights or many of the other standards currently so common in fantasy. But there was prevalent magic, mages, charms that could contain magic to be used by anyone, and in addition to magic wielding mages, there were children who were Tainted. These children had abilities of their own that defied explanation of the mages which is an interesting concept. I quite enjoyed the magic in this book, it was more along the lines of a Sanderson novel than a Martin or Abercrombie novel and I found that to be a refreshing change of pace.
Another component that I think makes this book stand out are Schafer’s vivid descriptions of the mountains and climbing. The author is a Mountain Climber herself and her first hand experiences really enabled her to do a superb job illustrating the mountain setting and the perils of climbing. Obviously when we deal with worlds of fantasy, we can’t expect authors to have first hand experience in all of therir settings. But in this case, I really think her experience shines through and adds more substance to descriptions of both the setting and to the characters’ experiences. Definitely strengthened the book in my opinion.
I also enjoyed Schafer’s characters. There are two POVs in this, Dev and Kiran. Dev is an outrider who has been supplementing his income with smuggling. Dev’s character is likable, fallible and while he may be involved in the practice of smuggling illegal charms to Alathia (a nearby land where all but the simplest magic and charms are prohibited), he has a moral compass that deeply impacts his decisions. He is a good person trying to do right with the circumstances he has landed in.
Dev crosses paths with the other POV when his smuggling job requires him to take more than just charms into Alathia, he has been tasked to smuggle a mage, Kiran. Kiran is a very doe eyed innocent young man who has lead an extremely sheltered life. Some tragedy has forced him to flee the life he has known and hide in a country where his discovery could mean his death.
And enter the villain. I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoilers, but I enjoyed some of the things that Schafer did with Ruslan, that gave him a bit of a creepy psychotic feel that added some dimension to the story versus having him play more of just a straight out “Evil Villain” role.
The only thing I noticed with this book is that I do have a sense of certain characters being “safe”. Not all the characters by any means, but some of them. I don’t want to say that is a fault of the book, it’s quite typical to feel there are lines that wont be crossed, but it just carries slightly less suspense, I feel like I know whichever character will eventually be saved, I just don’t know what the journey will be to save them and that’s the reason to read on, to experience the journey. But, as I said, I really enjoyed reading the book, and will definitely read the next one, so I don’t mind.