Summary: 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.
Thoughts: There comes a time in every avid reader’s life when their biggest regret about a book is just how long it took them to pick the thing up and open it to the first page. This is how it is with me. The Whitefire Crossing originally looked like it would be an enjoyable novel, but I had other books I wanted to read first. Then when it finally came time for me to read this one, I couldn’t believe that I’d put it off for so long.
The Whitefire Crossing is a lovely combination of many traditional fantasy elements that made the genre so good in the first place. Smuggling, magic, secret identities, a dark mage coming after the heroes, a grand adventure and trek over dangerous mountains. Reading this made me feel like I was stepping back in time to the days when fantasy authors didn’t feel the need to be gritty and edgy and dark just to catch somebody’s attention. For all that the book wasn’t exactly thin, I still tore through it, the sense of nostalgia and mystery and adventure driving me on far more effectively than reading yet another story about an assassin with a tragic past who’s trying to kill hordes of zombies. It’s no bad thing to work with the tried and true, and this is a fine example of that.
Schafer’s world-building was exquisite, giving us a richly-developed culture and sub-cultures. Her knowledge of geography and mountaineering added fantastic detail that could have been glossed over without much problem, but its very presence gives you another way to learn and feel the world, to connect with the characters and really get into their heads and understand what they understand. There’s established slang, herb lore, terminology, and best of all, Schafer didn’t only throw in terms and plants and things that would be essential to the plot. The casual mention of various herbs, places, gods, and all sorts would prove to be another piece of the support structure that worked so well in turning this from a very good story to a amazing world.
And the characters! Schafer’s characters were wonderful, complete and fleshed-out people with pasts and passions and complex psychologies. Kiran’s reactions to the mage who trained him are a study in just how much hurt/comfort can screw with a person. Kiran hated him while still eager for his approval, clung to him for reassurance even while trying to fight his way free. Ruslan provided the standard abuse dynamic of hurting Kiran while still, in his twisted way, caring for him. And I don’t doubt that it was actual affection that Ruslan felt. He himself was twisted enough to consider that being cruel to be kind was the best way to handle Kiran. The complex psyches that each and every character demonstrated were a treat to see, and it was easy to feel that they were real people instead of just names and descriptions on a page.
It’s worth pointing out that this is Schafer’s debut novel. The Whitefire Crossing would be notable enough if it came from an author who had 5 books under their belt already, but that this is her first novel is an inspiration. If this is what she starts with, just imagine where she’ll go, and what her literary journey will be like for the fans that I have no doubt she’s going to be piling up as she goes.
I can’t recommend this book enough, especially to people who grew up loving more traditional epic fantasy. More pleasing is the fact that while this is mostly a complete story in itself and could well have ended where it did, The Whitefire Crossing is just the first part of a series. And believe me, nothing will stop me from getting my hands on the second book as soon as I can. It won’t be out until 2012, and I’m already counting down the days until I can continue the story of Dev and Kiran and the rich world they live in. Don’t let a chance to read this book pass you by!
(Book provided for review by the publisher via NetGalley.)