read The Whitefire Crossing because the author is an avid mountain climber and hiker, and her debut
novel is clearly about mountain climbing and outdoors adventure. I was hoping that Schafer would be able to
translate her personal experiences into a riveting description of mountain derring-do in a fantasy world. Having read this
book, my conclusion is that she was only partially successful. The amount of time the heroes spend actually in the
Whitefire Mountains is too brief.
The Whitefire Crossing is the story of Kiran, an apprentice to Ruslan, who is a Blood Mage. Blood Mages are the nastiest, most
powerful type of sorcerer. Kiran is trying to flee from the evil Ruslan. But to escape, Kiran will
have to make his way to Alathia, a land where no sorcery is permitted (and thus Kiran would be safe from Ruslan's powerful magics.) Alathia is on the other
side of the Whitefire Mountains, so it is no easy trip to get to there. And once there, getting Kiran across the border would be a challenge, because
magic wards protect the Alathia entrance, and Kiran (as a Blood Mage apprentice) clearly has the taint of magic all about him.
Kiran hires a young caravan guide named Dev to smuggle him into Alathia. Naturally, Kiran does not divulge to Dev the true reasons why
he needs to reach Alathia - if Dev knew he was interferring in the affairs of Blood Mages, he would never help Kiran. So the caravan sets out for Alathia,
with Dev disguising Kiran as a fellow guide.
The story is told in alternating chapters betweem the two protagonists. Dev tells his chapter in the first person, while the chapters on Kiran are
related in the third person. I think this ping-ponging between the two protagonists slows the pace of the novel. Schafer will cover the same
event twice, showing us a particular action from both perspectives. This does give us insight as to what each character was thinking, but also
results in repeating some scenes, to the deteriment of the forward momentum.
Here are some of the things that I liked about the novel: the creepy villain Pello who spies on Kiran and Dev is an excellent
portrayal of a cunning and vicious opportunist.
It is clear that Schafer has tried to put some thought into world building of her fantasy land. The characters have backgrounds with some
depth, plus there is a least a some sense of history for Alathia and Ninavel.
The concept of Tainted children is pretty cool. A tainted person is someone who is born with some kind of magical talent. Only a percentage
of children have this gift, and some of the powers are of dubious strength or merit. Nonetheless, certain Tainted abilities can be exploited for various
schemes, which means these children can be used by unscrupulous schemers. However, when children reach the age of puberty, all Tainted talents dissipate.
This is an original idea, so give Schafer credit for that.
Here is a couple of things I didn't like about The Whitefire Crossing:
***!!!MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW!!!***
My major complaint is with the conclusion of the novel. Ruslan, the Blood Mage who was Kiran's master, has rigged Kiran's
entire escape as a clever scheme to trap Simon, a rival mage who is hiding out in Alathia! But if this unlikely idea was true, why did Ruslan send that killer avalanche to
engulf the entire caravan?
Dev and Kiran escaped certain death by a combination of luck and quick action that barely succeeded. Dev and Kiran SHOULD have died in Ruslan's avalanche,
which of course would have foiled Ruslan's entire plot. It makes no sense for Ruslan to have sent that avalanche, he can't pretend to have forseen they would
escape. Again, when Dev and Kiran are climbing the Whitefires, Ruslan sends a wave of killing cold that is certain to freeze our heroes to death.
Once again Ruslan almost ruins his own plans, though Dev and Kiran manage to
make another miraculous escape. So I hated Ruslan's chortling explanation at the end of the novel - "Yes, I
planned your escape all along, Kiran!". Ruslan's actions make no sense and really ruined the novel for me. Bad guys should act in a logical manner, they
do things just because it moves the plot of the novel along.
A second complaint of mine is the arbitrariness of the magic system. Schafer defines certain rules of magic - for example, in Alathia
there is no magic allowed - and then Schafer breaks these magic rules almost immediately - well, it turns out you can do some magic in Alathia
if you are close enough to touch
the other person. This rule breaking kept happening - the magic border wall between Alathia and Ninavel is impenetrable - except maybe it
suddenly isn't. This seemed like lazy plotting to me. How is it that Dev seemed to know as much about that magic properties of things as Kiran?
Dev was a tainted child once, but that is a natural talent, not a product of learning, and once the taint ability faded from Dev as he grew older,
he would just be an ordinary citizen.
I started the Tainted City, the second book in this series, and I got about 50 pages into it before I realized I was tired of Kiran and Dev.
I think I will look for other new authors on the fantasy shelves, it is clear that Schafer is not my cup of tea.