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Monday, September 24, 2012

The Tainted City by Courtney Schafer (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website 
Order “The Tainted CityHERE 
Read the first two chapters HERE 
Read FBC’s Review of The Whitefire Crossing 
Read FBC’s Multi-Author Interview with Courtney Schafer 

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Courtney Schafer attended college at Caltech where she obtained a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and also learned how to rock climb, backpack, ski and scuba dive. She then earned her Masters at the University of Colorado. Courtney now works in the aerospace industry and is married to an Australian scientist who shares her love for speculative fiction and mountain climbing.

OFFICIAL BLURB: Dev is a desperate man. After narrowly surviving a smuggling job gone wrong, he’s now a prisoner of the Alathian Council, held hostage to ensure his friend Kiran — former apprentice to one of the most ruthless mages alive — does their bidding.

But Kiran isn’t Dev’s only concern. Back in his home city of Ninavel, the child he once swore to protect faces a terrible fate if he can’t reach her in time, and the days are fast slipping away. So when the Council offers Dev freedom in exchange for his and Kiran’s assistance in a clandestine mission to Ninavel, he can’t refuse, no matter how much he distrusts their motives.

Once in Ninavel the mission proves more treacherous than even Dev could have imagined. Betrayed by allies, forced to aid their enemies, he and Kiran must confront the darkest truths of their pasts if they hope to save those they love and survive their return to the Tainted City.

FORMAT/INFO: The Tainted City is 402 pages long divided over twenty-six numbered chapters. Narration alternates between Dev’s first-person POV and Kiran’s third-person POV. The Tainted City is the second book in The Shattered Sigil series. The third book, The Labyrinth Of Flame will provide a conclusion to this series.

September 25 2012 marks the Trade Paperback publication of The Tainted City via Night Shade Books. Cover art is provided by David Palumbo.

ANALYSIS: Courtney Schafer’s debut was one that was highly appreciated over here at FBC as well as other places on the blogosphere. I loved it and consequently it was #5 in my list of the 2011 top ten debuts. Based on the blurb details, one can make out that this time the story faces a reverse pattern, previously both characters were racing towards the Alathian border but this time they are coming back to Ninavel and it doesn't look like they might get a pleasant reception.

The actual plot opens with Dev being stuck to mine work as part of his punishment in smuggling goods across the border. Kiran on the other hand has been all but magically handicapped as his magic is just anathema to the Alathian magic moral code. Things have been a bit tumultuous with the Alathian borders facing a strange magical assault. The Alathians are forced to send a covert team to Ninavel from wherein these waves seem to emanate and it has been targeting the Ninavel power confluence as well. Kiran is very hesitant to join the Alathian team, as this will lead him right back in to Ruslan’s backyard, a situation he desperately wants to avoid. Dev on the other hand, is in two minds about the  trip but will be forced to go as his concern for Melly outweighs his personal concerns. The party selected to go to Ninavel will have to be on their guard as they are entering a nest wherein nobody can be trusted and there are more dangers than previously thought of.

This book is a very good sequel to The Whitefire Crossing and in many ways a book that is as different from its predecessor as oranges and apples. This book is a reverse journey for the characters, who go from Alathia to Ninavel and the reader gets a good feel as to why Ninavel is considered by many to be so dangerous. The storyline is drastically different in the style utilized as while the first book was very much an adventure thriller in the vein of James Rollins’ books, focusing on the Whitefire Mountain terrain that was so vividly described. This book is more akin to a Noir-mystery with multiple twists similar to Steve Hamilton’s stories wherein the protagonists and readers are equally in the dark.

The characterization is top notch similar to the first book and follows the curious pattern of Dev in the first and Kiran in the third-person narrative. This time around the side character cast is visibly widened. Kiran’s mage comrades Ruslan, Mikael and Lizaveta are given center stage as we get a detailed look into their way of life and behavior. It becomes very clear to the readers why Kiran was so wary and wanted to get away from them at any cost. Ruslan and Lizaveta’s behavior is sociopathic to say the least but the events that occur in the book reveal the depth of their cunning and determination to get things done their way. There are also quite some sexual shenanigans occurring in this story, which are again different from those in the first book. This curious turn of events harbors some dark forebodings and perhaps might be further explored in the concluding volume.

On the Alathian side there are a few new faces that get a chance to showcase their views on the usage of magic and also further complicate the relationship and view between the two primary protagonists. Dev’s past life (acquaintances, relationships, etc) also plays a huge role in the events of this book and the readers will truly appreciate the insight they offer about Dev. I was also very impressed by the world setting and nuances to this world created by Courtney. Beginning from the phrases utilized by the characters to the theology presented as well the cultures described; this world is a very rich one in terms of world-building factors. I think the author can perhaps explore other corners and timelines of the world once this story is over and I would be the first in line to read any book featuring such.

On the pacing factor, things don’t look so rosy for the first hundred pages when the story is being set up. The story seems to be stuck in stasis a bit however things do pick up once the crew reaches Ninavel and things soon go from bad to worse with a couple of plot twists. The author has to be lauded for making this story extremely unpredictable, beginning from the direction of the story to the style presented as well as the end twists. Nothing happens as expected for the characters and the readers will get to experience this form of literary confusion as well. Courtney Schafer is something of an enigma in terms of her writing as she allows to the story to go haphazardly as per the character dictates and yet it feels like part of her overall story plan. This curious move with the story direction is something that might stump a few of the readers who are looking for the action-oriented adventure feel of her debut. I would caution them not to throw in the towel but give the story a try as once they reach the end; they will get a definite idea about where the story is heading and what the climax entails for Dev, Kiran and the rest.

The only drawback to this story is the slow pace of the story within the first hundred pages but after that it’s a very good story with the twists coming left, right & center, leaving the reader and protagonists completely bewildered. The other deterrent to this fine mix is a personal nitpick, in regards to the lack of a map. I always prefer a map and in this case one of Ninavel as well as the terrain around it, is something that I would really loved to see. Also I would have liked if a glossary about the cultures, theology and nations of the world was also presented.

CONCLUSION: Courtney Schafer takes her story in a slightly different direction whilst never compromising on the positives that made her debut such a stand out one. This book is another excellent book from this very talented lady and I for one can’t wait to see how it all goes down in The Labyrinth of Flame. I hope that the author continues her superb writing form, and surprises us all in the exciting climax to the Shattered Sigil series.


Anonymous said...

I'm really looking forward to sinking my teeth into this one! Great review!

The Reader said...

@ Bibliotropic

Thank you Ria for your comments. I think you'll enjoy this sequel.



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