Review of The Whitefire Crossing by Courtney Schafer

Part of the Worlds Without End Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge

Even though this is a woman-thang reading challenge, I seem to be on a bro-mance roMANce kick lately, witness my lovefest WOGF review of Luck in the Shadows from last month. This month it’s no different, though I didn’t intend to continue the trend. I got The Whitefire Crossing as a free Barnes & Noble download, thinking I’d probably never read it because I already have at least 90 books in my nook library. And yet – I started in on Courtney Schafer’s novel while on the treadmill at the gym, and I didn’t quit (I mean, I quit the treadmill after my usual 3 miles, puh-leeze, but I kept reading the book later at home).

Unlike Luck in the Shadows, there’s no gay love story here, but this is still a tale about the origins of a partnership and a friendship (this is the first book in a trilogy) that two men are both in desperate need of, whether they realize it or not. In the fantasy kingdom of Ninavel, Dev is an outrider, a sort of mountain guide-slash-smuggler between the two magical realms of Alathia and Ninavel, divided by the Whitefire mountain range. He takes a business deal to lead Kiran over the treacherous mountain passes to Alathia with a cargo convoy, assuming that Kiran is just a rich, inexperienced boy, when in actuality the boy is a blood mage with some serious issues, on the run from his scary mage-daddy Ruslan. Though Dev and Kiran come from very different backgrounds, both characters have backstories fraught with childhood abuse and tragedy, both have been influenced by magic, and both have hidden agendas, making them more alike than either of them know.

It was a big surprise to me that I wanted to finish this novel, because right away I was disconcerted by the way the author sets up the two main characters’ points of view.

Lemme break it down for ya: Dev and Kiran’s personalities are distinct, likable, and well-developed, but Schafer writes Dev’s chapters in the first person, and Kiran’s chapters are told from a third-person point of view. I can’t think of any other book where I’ve encountered this, but that doesn’t mean that this trick makes the book unique or better. No, it makes things really confusing, jarring, and disrupts the flow of what otherwise would be a smooth, captivating narrative. I kept thinking my nook was malfunctioning and I’d suddenly switched to a different ebook. I don’t know why an editor would have gone along with this dual-POV gimmick, but TAKE NOTE that I kept reading despite! That speaks a lot to how much I enjoyed the story.

The absolute best part of the book is the setting. One quick Google and you’ll find out that Courtney Schafer is a serious mountain girl with all kinds of badass rock climbing experience. I was impressed that she was able to bring in elements of wilderness skills and survival, as well as a reverence for mountains, and enhance the novel without sacrificing plot, world building, character development, or dialogue.

Most of the plot involves traveling over the mountains and avoiding spies, avalanches, and the evil mage-daddy’s Sauron-style I-will-find-you sorcerer-vision. Too many hyphens there? Too-bad.

There’s a suspenseful ending that of course involves a perceived betrayal, sex, a rescue, and lots of bloody knifey nasty magick (a few times I thought I was watching an episode of Supernatural….Castiel!!! oh wait…).

As a first novel, I could only lament that it didn’t undergo one final edit by someone more ruthless. There’s some incongruous, modern-sounding vocabulary that knocks the tone sideways (a character says “yeah, right” which seemed out of place to me; a thug is nicknamed ‘muscle guy’ – what, is he a bouncer at an LA nightclub? And also the word “pants.” That just bugs. In a sword and sorcery novel, really – pants? Why not breeches or trousers or even leggings?). Also, Dev uses the word fuck a LOT. Now, don’t get me wrong, I use the word fuck ALL the time, so I ain’t offended here. It’s more that the overuse struck me as a total copout by the author. And in most of the instances where the F-bomb is invoked, it was overkill. An S-bomb or even “Bollocks!” would have sufficed.

In closing, let’s talk about all these fantasy novels that go over the top in taking their gods’ and goddesses’ names in vain. Every other freakout, a character’s shouting “By Khalmet’s bloodsoaked hand!” Nightrunner series (it pains me to mock the series, but alas): “Bilairy’s Balls!!” I’m reading Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana right now, too, and it’s the same thing: “Oh, Triad, I am slain!!”

Hey, fantasy authors who DON’T fall into this sort of overkill, I applaud you – Alan Rickman just called to say, “By Grabthar’s Hammer, by the sons of Warvan, you shall be avenged!!!”

 

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