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Fantasy Review: ‘The Tainted City’ by Courtney Schafer

Oh boy, finally a book that allows me to use up all the reviewer clichés in one go!  You don’t know how long I have waited for this.  Stop the printing; I am sure the next round of paperbacks is going to want a few of these blurbs for the back.  I’ll even make it easy and place quotes around what a publisher may want to blurb, because that is the kind of helpful guy I am.

“Even better than the original!”

‘Whitefire Crossing’ was a fine, fine book on its own.  A quick pace, tight cast of characters, plenty of excitement and a world that was laid in front of the reader in just the right amounts to avoid ever being dull.  While it tied up its loose ends, we were left with both of our protagonist in captivity, an extremely pissed of powerful mage promising to get his way.  Can the series shift from a two man escape story to a save the land type of one?  Oh yes, it certainly can.

Back to the city of Ninavel, home of magical anarchy, we go.  Dev is bound to rival Alathians, those who imprisoned him in WC.  Something unknown is attacking the confluence, the magical force that drew all the mages to Ninavel in the first place.  Whatever it is it’s threatening to tear down the Alathian’s magical barrier as well, so an unlikely alliance is forged between their chosen team and, Ruslan (main villain of the first book), enforced by an oath sworn to the ruler of Ninavel .

“The rare middle book that holds up on its own!”

What this second outing gives us is a completely different style, but it does so in a way that makes it seem similar.  The two POV narration style is back, with Dev in first person and Bloodmage Kiran in third (I have tried to reword that sentence a couple times, and you know what, the awkward phrasing stays.  Don’t judge me).  As they end up working for rival sides this allows us to keep up with both ends of the investigation, giving the book a magical whodunit feel with a apocalyptic threat hanging over the entire investigation.  This shift in style keeps the book from ever being in danger or rehashing old territory, despite some similar threats to the protagonists.  Dev helps with the investigation, but still is trying to save his friends daughter, all while knowing he is surrounded by people who can kill him with a thought.  Kiran’s story takes a completely different turn that would be hard to discuss without spoilers, but his love then hate relationship with Ruslan again plays the biggest role.  

Knowing that the city of Ninavel doesn’t just feed the mages the power they crave, but the magi are the only thing keeping the city’s residences alive, the stakes feel quite high indeed.  No the world won’t end, but one city certainly could be snuffed.  So while we know this is a middle book, and we know it is likely the protagonists are going to survive, it is not so clear whether or not anyone else they have interacted with will.

Speaking of the magic, a small note.   Though mysterious it stays believable, and it is one of the more memorable set ups I have read recently.  But I sure would like to learn a bit about the non-blood mages; there is supposed to be a diverse cast of them but we never see how they are really different.

The book finishes up in a similar manner as the first one.  With the main storyline wrapped up nicely but enough interesting threads to have me craving the sequel.  One of the most interesting dynamics of the book was the heroes being forced to work with a major villain to go against a different villain.  Especially when the secondary villain’s cause seems nobler, even if his actions to reach the goal are deplorable.  It is only a minor spoiler to note that though Ruslan may be working with Dev and Co., he remains a baddie throughout and the third book promises some big fireworks for a possible final showdown.  Great stuff.

Oh geez, time is almost up; better throw out a few more clichés!

“I have been a fan of the author for years” –Oh, not really true, just discovered her this year.

“A truly unique voice” – Good, but not really snappy enough.

“The best Urban Fantasy I have read in a long time” – Wait, how did that one get in there?

“The series has had me hooked from page one” –There it is, that’s the ticket.  Let’s go with that one.

4 Stars

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Fantasy Review: ‘The Whitefire Crossing’ by Courtney Schafer

Good Idea:  Taking advantage of a free book deal and downloading a book that has received good ratings from all of your friends.

Bad Idea:  Not reading the book for over a year because you are scared the “rock climbing elements” will overshadow everything else in the book.

I can’t believe I let this sit on my Kindle without reading it for so long.  I truly did put it off because all the talk was about how the author is a rock climber and put it into her book; my brain went meh and I skipped it repeatedly.  My loss.

Yes, the book does contain some rock climbing elements.  Protagonist Dev is an outrider who scouts the terrain for trade caravans with climbing being one of the many duties.  Dev is also making a bit of a side profit by smuggling magical items into a city with very strict controls on magic.  The book starts with almost no bull****; Dev going to his usual contact and learning that this time he is being asked to smuggle a person across the border.  With reasons of his own to take the cash he reluctantly agrees, taking on Kiran as an “assistant” to provide cover on the next run.

Bouncing back and forth between the point of view of both Dev and Kiran (with Dev’s chapters being in the first person) the author artfully makes us care about both characters; even when their goals may not be aligned.  Strong engaging characters may have been my favorite thing of many this story.  Not only do we have Dev and Kiran, both good people hiding something; but several of the support characters had almost as much life as the two protagonists.  Villains were pure evil but for some reason this was a story where that didn’t bother me as much.  Usually I like my villains to have a human element, but complete monster worked in this environment surprisingly well.

Pacing was a huge point in this story’s favor.  A good amount of the background info was told within the journey rather than funneled down our throat.  There was plenty of action, with magic that was enough of a threat to matter.  By switching PoV’s regularly I never got bored with one character, and by keeping it at two I never god mad when a switch happened; I knew I would see him again soon.  I have learned over time that I almost always prefer my fantasy in shorter chunks; at about 350 pages this book was perfect for what I needed.

“World building” doesn’t really occur here, but there is some very good “small area building.”  Only hints of a larger world are shown, this book deals with two cities and the passage between them.  But it is so full of life!  One city thrives on magic, living in an almost magical anarchy where mages of different types can do anything they want.  The other is almost Orwellian in their attempt to keep people safe from the magic; using the very magic they are suppressing to enforce the rules.  Charms are sold for different uses, some quite powerful.  Different mages use different power bases, and if some of the “blood mage” power felt like mana in a video game to me it is probably proof that I have played too many damn video games.

My only real complaint comes the warded city of Alathia, it of magical suppression.  The city is protected by spells that will alert the guard if the wrong types of magic are used, while ignoring the more benign.  In theory.  In reality it felt like one of the most blatant author’s conveniences I have ever read, a nice security blanket that let the author do just about anything with it.  We see all kinds of magic take place within it without setting off the alarms, but also see the guards called in for something they didn’t come for the first time we saw it.  I would have liked some more consistency on that front, but maybe it is addressed in later books as a misconception (or deliberate misleading).  In any case, it didn’t distract much from the reading.

Oh yes, I even liked the areas of the book that dealt with mountain climbing.

4 stars

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