Thursday, January 26, 2012
Review: The Whitefire Crossing by Courtney Schafer
I eavesdropped on a Twitter conversation a couple months ago between a couple of bloggers whose opinions I (generally) respect. The conversation was about the tired old issue of genre and sub-genre definitions and classifications. This is generally a topic I have little taste for as I tend to take a pretty broad definition and am not bothered when things become a bit nuanced for standard definitions. The book at the center of the discussion was The Whitefire Crossing by Courtney Schafer (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) and the meat of the discussion tended to revolve around whether or not it is epic fantasy. The Whitefire Crossing doesn’t quite fit into a traditional epic fantasy definition, though it shares many of the same tropes – it’s also not really urban fantasy or sword & sorcery. Apparently I wasn’t the only eavesdropper and the author herself eventually entered the discussion by saying that she preferred the term ‘adventure fantasy’. I now understand why the discussion occurred a bit more since reading the book, though I still tend to shy away from whatever classification ‘controversy’ may exist here. In the end, this is a fun book and impressive debut that is hard to pin down (finally, I did get to the point of the long intro).
The Whitefire Crossing tells the story of a young, desperate caravan guide and part-time smuggler (Dev) hired on for the biggest challenge he’s faced – how to smuggle a person (Kiran) past a tightly-guarded border on the other side of the Whitefire Mountains. What Dev doesn’t know is that Kiran is a mage and even more desperate than him. Kiran is wanted by many, including one of the most powerful mages in the world and Dev finds himself trapped in a deadly game, forcing him to choose between the morals he wants to cling to, his own well-being and promises made long ago.
One of the first things that stands out about The Whitefire Crossing is the way in which Schafer chooses to tell the story. The story is told through only two points of view – Dev with a first-person point of view and Kiran with a third-person limited point of view. This allows Schafer to create two very well-rounded characters, complete with flaws, limitations, stupidity, and moments of heroism (these are often moments of stupidity as well). It also allows the reader to share the ignorance of the two main characters, while at least getting a glimpse at the other. I rather liked the approach that at times borders on a ‘he-said, she said’ interplay. A potential negative to this is that the language used is decided ‘modern’ feeling, something that often turns off fantasy readers, though I’ve never been particularly bothered by it.
Another standout aspect of The Whitefire Crossing is that Dev is essentially a rock-climber. Sure, his job is that of guide, but climbing is his passion. It’s no coincidence that Schafer is climber herself, allowing for a fairly accurate view of climbing, though it’s a pretty minor aspect of the book. Since I’ve dabbled with climbing a bit over the years and I spend a lot of time in the mountains, I enjoyed this aspect of the book. And I think it’s worth noting that this places The Whitefire Crossing in the unique position of cornering the market for rock-climbing SFF fans.
The story itself is a pretty standard fair with desperate protagonists who don’t really trust each on the run from powerful enemies. It’s fun and engaging and throws in enough twists to keep things interesting. Schafer shows herself to be a new author with a few pacing issues from time to time, though they are minor and overall The Whitefire Crossing is well-done. The end resolves the issue the main issue, but of course sets the stage for coming books, as this the first book of The Shattered Sigil trilogy. In one respect, there is a bit of a cliff-hanger ending that would almost feel more appropriate in the middle book of the trilogy, which was a nice touch.
There’s a magical city in the desert, near impassible mountain range, backstabbing, mages battling for survival, desperate survivors on the run, rock climbing, and even a hint of romance. So whether you choose to call The Whitefire Crossing epic fantasy, heroic fantasy, adventure fantasy or speculative fiction, it is the debut of a new author talent and new fantasy trilogy that I look forward to seeing more of. Book 2, The Tainted City, is coming later this year and I look forward to reading it.