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.


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