The Whitefire Crossing, the first book in the Shattered Sigil series, is Courtney Schafer’s debut novel. The second book, The Tainted City, is due for release in October 2012.

As a smuggler who carries magical items into Alathia, a country where they are illegal, Dev is used to accepting jobs that could get him into big trouble if he were found out. When he is offered a job involving smuggling a young man named Kiran across the border into this same country, he has a feeling this job could be more trouble than most. Yet he’s down on his luck due to a business/romantic relationship gone awry, and he’s offered more money than he can refuse in his current situation, especially since he may need it to keep a promise he made to a deceased friend. After some initial trepidation, Dev agrees to get Kiran across the border – but he never imagined the scope of what he has actually gotten himself into.

Kiran, a young mage, is trying to escape from Ruslan, an older and more powerful mage. In fact, he fears Ruslan so much that is willing to spend the rest of his days in Alathia, where he’ll never be able to practice magic ever again. Of course, Kiran didn’t tell Dev the truth about why he is so desperate to flee the country, which just puts them in more danger. As a known informant takes more and more interest in Kiran, both men become increasingly worried about their situation. If Kiran doesn’t trust Dev with the knowledge of who he is and who he’s running from, it may cause more problems for both of them, especially since Dev is finding it harder to trust Kiran the more he suspects he is lying about important matters.

The Whitefire Crossing is a very good fantasy debut that both moves at a brisk pace and introduces an interesting setting and characters. It’s a somewhat more traditional fantasy with mages and it doesn’t seem like anything extremely different, although it did leave me with the impression the setting has a lot of history that will probably be explored later. What does make it stand from the typical fantasy adventure is the way it is told from the perspective of two likable but flawed main characters and how it slowly reveals information about each of them over the course of the novel.

It wastes no time getting to the heart of the story, as the first chapter begins with Dev being offered the job in which he has to smuggle Kiran across the Whitefire Mountains into Alathia. From there, the two have to traverse the dangerous Whitefire Mountains and avoid the wrath of Ruslan, the very powerful mage Kiran is running from. At the same time, the two face a lot of difficult choices in determining how much each can trust the other – and whether or not they are willing to pay the price in order to do what they believe to be right. Dev and Kiran are very different men both in personality and background, but they also both are faced with these similar defining moments in which they must choose what type of person they are going to be. Neither of them always make the choice that best reflects on his character, but each does have understandable motivations and is also capable of recognizing and trying to remedy his mistakes.

The story is told by alternating between the perspective of Dev and Kiran, the two main characters. Dev’s perspective is in first person, and Kiran’s is in third person. It’s not a choice I completely understand, although it wasn’t irritating, just slightly puzzling. Dev has a very casual voice that feels very modern with his use of expressions like “Yeah” and “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” It’s easy to read and he’s the adventurous rogue type, raised as a thief on the streets of Ninavel. He loves the adrenalin of dangerous mountain climbing and he combines that with smuggling goods over the mountain to make his living. As is usual with characters with roguish qualities, he has a good heart, though. He is trying to make money for a good cause – to take care of someone he’d promised a dying friend to protect.

Kiran is more serious, a bit naive, and is more academic than athletic, although he does seem to be a quick learner when he has to ride horses and climb mountains. At first, we don’t know a lot about Kiran or the details about what happened between him and Ruslan, other than that Ruslan was involved in the death of someone dear to him. As the novel moves along, more is revealed about Kiran’s past and what transpired between him and the other mage. As Dev and Kiran travel toward Alathia, Kiran also has to hide his mage powers, both to keep Ruslan from sensing him and to keep Dev from realizing he wants nothing to do with aiding a man sought by such a powerful mage.

The setting is not quite as developed as I would have liked, and I’m hoping to see the different types of mages and the political hierarchy explored more in future books now that they have been introduced. There’s quite a contrast between Ninavel, a desert area founded by a mage and home to many more, and Alathia, where magic is very limited and most of it illegal. In Ninavel, children are often born with some innate magical ability due to being in that area that goes away once children get older. Many aspects of the setting have potential to be interesting.

For those who do not like books that end on cliffhangers, be forewarned that there is one at the end of this book. By the end, the fate of the two characters is left in a precarious spot that feels rather unsatisfying.

While I enjoyed The Whitefire Crossing and thought worked well as an entertaining book, it also wasn’t one of those books I found terribly memorable after finishing it despite its focus on characters and their choices. It did a good job of putting the two in difficult positions that showed who they are, but it also never quite reached deeply examining their characters. I moved on to the next book without giving it much thought after I put it down. That doesn’t mean I didn’t find it worth reading since I would like to read the next book and find out where it goes, but I’m also not salivating for it despite the unresolved ending. It was a fun way to pass the time rather than a book that really stuck with me, but I do think that’s more my personal preference for something that delves a little deeper into myths or characters than any fault with the book itself.

The Whitefire Crossing is a fun fantasy novel full of danger and adventure. It has a lot of focus on the two main characters, a potential friendship between them, the choices they made, and their pasts that was well done and enjoyable. While it didn’t make me love it, I think that’s more due to my personal taste, which often doesn’t find lighter books memorable until there’s been more time spent fleshing out the characters and settings a little later in the series. However, it was a good debut with lots of potential for both the characters and settings, and I’m looking forward to reading more from Courtney Schafer.

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: Review copy from the publisher.


Other Reviews:


There are two giveaway winners that have been drawn. I’ve sent the book out for the Select a Book Giveaway already and Touch of Power should be going out soon too if it hasn’t already.

The winner of the Select a Book Giveaway is:

Rochelle from Indiana

The winner of Touch of Power is:

Mary from Texas

Congratulations, and I hope you both enjoy the books!

Now I am going to try to make progress on a review of The Whitefire Crossing while I have the chance since this looks like another busy week!

Cold Fire is the second book in the Spiritwalker trilogy by Kate Elliott, following Cold Magic. The next book in the series will be Cold Steel. As far as I know, it does not yet have an official release date.

Since this is the second book in a series, there will be spoilers for the first book. If you’re interested in reading about the series starting from the beginning, here’s my Cold Magic review. While I did find that one rather enjoyable, I actually found the second volume better and it ended up being one of my very favorite books in 2011, mainly because of its characters and the dialogue. There is nothing I didn’t love about Cold Fire.

Not knowing where else to turn when pursued by cold mages, Cat and Bee went to the radicals at the law offices of Godwik and Clutch. Unfortunately for them, their visit coincided with one from the infamous General Camjiata, who just escaped from prison and is also being pursued. However, Camjiata is rather happy to see both Bee and Cat for his wife had prophesied that he would need Bee, who also walks the dreams of dragons, and that she would also lead him to Tara Bell’s daughter, Cat – who will make a choice that will affect the course of the war. Camjiata is once again determined to reunite all the different factions of Europa into an empire ruled by himself and thinks both Cat and Bee would be valuable assets for his cause.

The two cousins are reluctant to join the cause of the man known as the Iberian Monster and are unsure of what to do next or who to trust. They are also warned that the attention of the mage houses and General Camjiata may be the least of Bee’s concerns since women who walk the dreams of dragons tend to die gruesome deaths at the hands of the Wild Hunt. Will the two be able to save Bee and resist capture or being used as pawns by the powerful?

Cold Fire took me completely by surprise when it ended up being one of my absolute favorite books read in 2011. While I rather enjoyed the first book in the Spiritwalker series, it did take a little while to get going. By the second half, it had completely hooked me and I’m happy to say that this trend continued throughout the entirety of Cold Fire, which was riveting from start to finish. It was a fantastic middle volume, and I found it better both because there was a lot of emphasis on the characters and dialogue and because the first volume had already done much of the setup (and gotten the infodumping out of the way). Since I was already familiar with the setting and characters, I was just able to immerse myself in this wonderful book with so many memorable elements – the main characters, the writing and Cat’s narrative voice, the often humorous dialogue and situations, the revelations about mysterious subjects, more of the world and various cultures, the depiction of the revolution, the romance, everything.

While there was a lot that was done well in this book, what really made it excellent was the characters, their relationships, and the dialogue. Cat as a narrator has a lively and unique narrative voice brimming with personality and a vibrant sense of humor. The way she words her thoughts and presents events around her to us is particularly striking. For example, here’s how she describes the confrontation between a cold mage and a fire mage:


The history of the world begins in ice, and it will end in ice. So sing the Celtic bards and the Mande djeliw of the north. The Roman historians, on the other hand, claimed that fire will consume us in the end.

Ice, or fire? As the two men faced down, I had a sudden and terrible premonition I was about to find out. [pp. 33]

As in the first book, both Cat’s voice and character remain a major strength of the novel. She is a realistically done character who strikes a great balance between being tough and being human. She can wield a sword and she has some special abilities, but she’s not invincible or the type to jump into a fight when it’s not necessary. She has hopes, dreams, a good and loyal heart, and devotion to those around her, but she also can and does make mistakes. Also, Cat can be quite funny (especially when drunk).

Likewise, the people surrounding Cat and their relationships with her are amazing, particularly as so much personality shines through their conversations with each other. Bee and her cousin Cat are best friends and they have this wonderfully close relationship. They tease each other mercilessly, but they are also always there for each other and each would do anything for the other. It’s refreshing to read about such a close friendship, and Bee comes alive with her bubbly personality that she often uses to cover up a hidden motive. She has a greater awareness of her surroundings and a much more devious mind than it would appear on the surface!

Although I did love the friendship and the little bits with Cat’s brother Rory, whose naivete about the human world can be quite charming, Cat’s relationship with Vai was the highlight. In the previous book, Cat and Vai were forced into a magically binding marriage where Cat had to deal with his vain and arrogant ways. At the end of the first book, it’s revealed that despite his actions and the fact that he tried to kill her when commanded to, Vai has been crazy about Cat from the moment he saw her. In spite of that, it’s not a love-at-first-sight relationship since Cat certainly finds Vai handsome but also thinks he invented his feelings for her to deal with being forced to marry her. After all, he doesn’t even know her. Cat doesn’t like being bound by a relationship in a way that’s not on her own terms, and as more is revealed, it turns out there is even more that binds her.

There is a heavy emphasis on the two of them and Vai’s attempts to win Cat in this book, and every conversation between the two is just phenomenal. They bicker and banter and it is at times quite hilarious.

At the end of the previous book, it’s obvious Vai is a more complex character than he initially appeared and in this one he becomes much more likable. He’s still vain and arrogant, but he’s also redeemed himself from his previous actions. Now he’s got a great balance of respectable qualities and roguishness since he respects Cat but he’s also not perfect or so good he is dull. I just loved his response when he was asked about whether or not he’d tamed Cat yet:


“Tamed her? Why would you want to tame a woman who defied the mansa with only her wits and her determination to live?” [pp. 438]

Both Cat and Vai’s characters are given more complexity in this book since they both have reasons and coping mechanisms they learned that make them act the way they do.

The characterization and dialogue was what shone in this book for me, and I think some who want to see more forward momentum with the storyline might not be quite as taken with it as I was. It does reveal more about some of the central mysteries, like Cat’s father, General Camjiata, the Spirit World, and more about Cat’s parents. However, it is in some ways different since the focus is outside of Europa with most of it taking place in the Caribbean. It expanded the world and continues to have a wonderful blend of cultural diversity, but those who wanted to spend more time with the cold mages and the Romans may be disappointed. However, it does tie in with General Camjiata’s attempts at expansion and some glimpses at the revolution many of the common people are joining in order to remove the chains that bind them to others who are considered “superior.” Freedom and choosing for oneself are major themes in this book.

It does end on a cliffhanger, which may not be unexpected considering the end of the previous book.

Cold Fire exceeded my expectations in every way and is a new favorite book, mainly because of its characters with strong personalities,  well-written dialogue, and an exciting romance.  All of the major characters came alive, especially Cat who has a wonderful narrative voice. Those who want to see more of the same parts of the world as the first book may feel differently, but Cold Fire was a rarity for me – not only did I love it, but I can’t imagine changing a single word of it because it worked completely.

My Rating: 10/10

Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.

Read Chapter One

Bonus Content (Chapter 31.5 of Cold Fire and a short story about Rory that coincides with part of Cold Magic)

Other Reviews of Cold Fire:

The winner of the nine books has been drawn and they are all boxed up and ready to mail! The winner is:

Misty from Texas

Congratulations, and I hope you enjoy all the books!

If you checked in here anytime between Friday afternoon and Sunday night, you would have seen a post where Maria V. Snyder talked about how she develops fantasy maps for her books.  I have decided to remove this post; if you’d like to read it, you can see it at Seeing Night Book Reviews.  In fact, I chose to remove it specifically because you can read it elsewhere.

As I explained to the publicist who contacted me about the book tour and initially offered to give me an “interview” with Maria where I could choose from a list of pre-written questions and answers, I prefer to only run original content on my blog.  I have this policy for many reasons, including that I do not want to feel that I am stealing content from another blog and that I hope when people visit Fantasy Cafe they will do so with the expectation of finding something they haven’t seen before.  Despite my expressing this preference to the publicist, they chose to send me the post you saw without informing me that it had already been published elsewhere.  I apologize to both you my readers and Seeing Night Book Reviews for using that content.

Since I have already been receiving entries for it, I am leaving the contest to win a free copy of Touch of Power up and only removing the duplicate content.

I don’t mean to make a big deal out of it, but I felt like I should explain why the post disappeared.  I’ll be back to regular reviews and updates soon, including (I hope) a review of Cold Fire!

It shouldn’t lean too much this week as there is only one new book to add to the pile! (For now. I am going to the bookstore to have coffee with a friend later today so that could change.) One unsolicited review copy showed up this week.

Seven Princes by John R. FultzSeven Princes by John R. Fultz

This is a debut novel and the first volume in a new series, Books of the Shaper. Seven Princes was just released earlier this month, and the second book Seven Kings will be coming out in early 2013. The prologue from Seven Princes is available online.

This is a book I had thought sounded interesting when I first started hearing about it, but I read this review at Staffer’s Musings recently and it made me wonder if I did actually want to read it. Maybe I’ll give it a try at some point since ages of legends can be fun, but it’s not a huge priority since I like more character-building in my novels than it sounds like this has.

It is an Age of Legends.

Under the watchful eye of the Giants, the kingdoms of Men rose to power. Now, the Giant-King has slain the last of the Serpents and ushered in an era of untold peace and prosperity. Where a fire-blackened desert once stood, golden cities flourish in verdant fields.

It is an Age of Heroes.

But the realms of Man face a new threat– an ancient sorcerer slaughters the rightful King of Yaskatha before the unbelieving eyes of his son, young Prince D’zan. With the Giant-King lost to a mysterious doom, it seems that no one has the power to stop the coming storm.

It is an Age of War.

The fugitive Prince seeks allies across the realms of Men and Giants to liberate his father’s stolen kingdom. Six foreign Princes are tied to his fate. Only one thing is certain: War is coming.


Some will seek glory.

Some will seek vengeance.

All will be legends.