Reading The Whitefire Crossing by Courtney Schafer is a bit like climbing a mountain. There is the anticipation of the climb, planning, some struggles, renewed energy and even joy. Then, after the last exciting push, you reach the top and find yourself staring at another peak, another book.
The story starts with a heartbroken smuggler and extreme climber named Dev. To fulfill a promise made long ago he takes on a dangerous job he otherwise never would have. He must smuggle a man named Kiran over the Whitefire Mountains into Alathia and then betray him. Kiran’s a city boy who’s led a sheltered life, but he has his own secrets. He is on the run from a mage named Ruslan, who is willing to do whatever it takes to get Kiran back. The mountains are perilous enough, but with Ruslan close behind casting spells, the journey is that much more dangerous and suspenseful. Secrets are slowly revealed, plans are made and completed again and again, until the steady climb reaches its fulfilling, slightly grim conclusion. It is exciting, but I frequently found myself wishing more action would happen instead of continually reading about characters making plans for it.
The story is told from two perspectives, one in first person and the other in third. While I enjoyed how there isn’t a lot of jumping around, the element of surprise is lacking at times because we already know everything the characters are thinking. When Kiran reveals something to Dev, it is a surprise for him but not for the reader. Instead there is a feeling of relief that the secret has finally been revealed.
The relationship between Dev and Kiran is tense. They are both hiding too many things from each other, but as things progress they become closer. I especially enjoyed how Kiran had to learn from Dev how to climb and do hard labor during their crossing. Kiran’s amazement at the scenery was also a nice touch.
The story world is like our own in some ways. Dev’s city, Ninavel, reminded me of what I imagine Las Vegas to be like, filled with mage lights, riches, everyday people, and sin, but with snowcapped mountains in the distance. Mages sit at the top of the social ladder: powerful, rich, and deadly. The worst of these are the blood mages, which is exactly who Dev finds himself in trouble with. Alathia is in some ways the opposite of Ninavel. Magic is prohibited there. The only people who are allowed do perform magic are the mages who control city. There is a large border surrounding the city, and anyone who tries to bring magic over the border is met with harsh punishment. Getting caught smuggling Kiran could mean death, for both of them.
The Whitefire Crossing is an adventurous fantasy filled with magic and betrayal. While slow at times, it is an enjoyable read that will leave you wanting to go out and scale your own mountain. For lovers of grimdark, though, this is not the grim, gritty, action-filled story with unpredictable characters that we look for. Though Dev and Kiran have some moments of moral dilemma, they are still basically black and white. You can tell from the start who is good and who is evil. There wasn’t anything that greatly surprised me or made me cringe, although I have heard the next book is darker. I look forward to climbing that mountain, hopefully with blood mages close behind.
I give The Whitefire Crossing 3.5 out of 5.