You can find the full review over at The Founding Fields:http://thefoundingfields.com/2012/09/...
Shadowhawk reviews Courtney Schafer’s 2011 debut novel, the first in the Shattered Sigil adventure fantasy series.
“If I could give out an actual award for best novel of the year,The Whitefire Crossing would be at the top of the list as one of the strongest contenders.” ~The Founding Fields
From all the reading I’ve done so far this year, one thing has become very clear to me: epic fantasy is no longer the big hulking juggernaut it once was. To be specific, epic fantasy that is defined by stories where you have elves, dragons, dwarves, goblins, trolls, orcs and so on, in the vein of the Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, Warhammer Fantasy, Lord of the Rings and so on. Don’t get me wrong, these books are still very popular and a big part of the market, but from my own experience, these big sprawling settings are facing some stiff challenges from other subgenres of fantasy: urban, parnormal, historical and others. And even when you get novels (or series) that are “mainstream” fantasy, the focus is quite often on human worlds with only the bare minimum of the fantastical creatures and races that once dominated the genre. Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations novels are a good example of this.
And joining the growing trend is what author Courtney Schafer has termed “adventure fantasy”, a fantasy story where it is all about the adventures that the characters go through, the journey itself, rather than the grandiosity of the beginning and the end. Now, you might be wondering just what it is that makes adventure fantasy different from other fantasy subgenres, or more specifically, how is adventure fantasy any different from epic fantasy (examples above). Remember that scene from Fellowship of the Ring where the Fellowship is crossing the Misty Mountains (aka the Redhorn Pass, or the Caradhras Peak) but are forced to turn back because of the intense snow storm stirred on by Saruman? Take that entire scene sequence and imagine a novel where half the story is crossing those mountains as part of a caravan and with the possibility of the most powerful (and nastiest) mages hunting you down. That’s what The Whitefire Crossing is about, an adventure through the Whitefire mountains along the most treacherous of routes.
To me, the term adventure fantasy constitutes a very specific imagery although there is a lot of overlap between it and epic/mainstream fantasy. Michael J. Sullivan’s Emerald Storm and Alex Bledsoe’s Wake of the Bloody Angel and Cassandra R. Clarke’s The Assassin’s Curse can all be considered to be adventure fantasy novels, as well as being “nautical fantasies” in that they all deal with pirate ships and adventures on the high seas. So, not an exclusive genre by any means but one that does have its place in what the current trends are. It fits right in and for me, the whole adventure part of the first half of The Whitefire Crossing was what drew me in and hooked me.
There are two principal characters in the novel, with backgrounds that are very different from each other, although in the end there are some similarities between them. Dev is a smuggler, a former street-urchin who was also a thief and could manipulate magic, the kind known as Taint. Kiran on the other hand is a noble, by virtue of his status as a mage in a city run by mages, Ninavel. When a new trade season starts between Ninavel and the neighbouring Alathian city of Kost, Dev finds out from his “employer” that apart from the usual shipment of special items he needs to smuggle across the border he also has to get a young man, Kiran, into Kost. Dev can’t resist the pay on offer since he has recently fallen on hard times and needs a lot of money to keep a promise to an old (dead) friend. What he doesn’t know however is that Kiran is a mage and the Alathians don’t take kindly to rogue mages, especially those who smuggle themselves into their cities. This sets the stage for a really delightful story of how two young men from vastly different backgrounds come together under the harshest of circumstances and become comrades, if not friends.
I really liked how the author portrayed these two individuals. There is a lot of attention to detail that has gone into them to make them realistic, to make them characters that the reader can identify with and who they’d like to be. Dev is competent smuggler and a mountain-climber who knows his way around mountains and city guards and less-than-reputable people. Kiran is an uncertain, frightened man who wants to escape his past and a dreadful future of servitude. For me, what separates the greatest compelling characters from the average compelling characters is not when the author portrays them as strong and confident, but also plays up their fears and exposes their darkest secrets. I don’t want to see just the strongest traits of a character, but also their deepest flaws. I want to see them fight against their own nature and win through, based on the good qualities that define them.