Dev is a smuggler with the perfect cover. He’s in high demand as a guide for caravans that carry goods all the way from the mage-ruled city of Ninavel to the nation of Alathia. He makes good coin smuggling contraband charms from Ninavel–where all magic is permitted, no matter how dark–into Alathia, where most magic is outlawed.
Smuggling a person through, however, is another story, but, having made a promise to a dying friend, Dev agrees to take Kiran–an apprentice on the run from one of the most powerful mages in the land–on the perilous trek across the Whitefire Mountains, ignorant of the true reason behind Kiran’s desperate plight.
Yet Kiran is hardly the only one harbouring a deadly secret, with enemies on all sides and no idea who to trust, can the two men learn to trust each other in time to prevent their own destruction, and that of the entire city of Ninavel?
This book, what can I say about it?
I originally learned of this book’s existence by reading Fangs for the Fantasy’s review of the sequel “The Tainted City” (ALL the spoilers!) and, determined not to make the same mistake they did, added the first one to my wishlist. It has been sitting in my queue since Christmas, so that’s how distracted I’ve been by other books that I wasn’t able to get around to it. I think I might have also been intimidated by its size (don’t be fooled by the bulky look, the book is a fast read
Now that I’ve read it, I honestly have no idea why I like this book so much.
Let’s start with the premise. The idea of a magocracy where there’s unrestricted use of magic (including the type of magic that requires a pile of corpses in order to work) is an interesting one, the magical system is the type that has definite rules, but not so many that you need an appendix (or, gods forbid, a guidebook) to decipher all of them. Ninavel in particular really comes alive, and I wish there were more scenes set in the city before they set out. The story is told from the perspectives of both Dev and Kiran (Dev in first person, Kiran in third) with the perspective switches clearly marked out in the text.
And then there’s the mountain climbing porn.
The author has a lot of experience climbing mountains, and the actual act of crossing the Whitefire mountains takes up a good chunk of the book (hence the title), a chunk of the book that involves avalanches, risky climbs, and sheltering in caves from a storm, you know, all the things you would expect from an adventure involving mountain-climbing.
Even if you’re not a fan of mountain-climbing, there’s still plenty of character drama to keep you engaged. Dev is a man who has very recently been cheated by his conniving ex-partner and is singularly driven to complete his deadly mission for the sake of a promise he made to a dying friend to protect his daughter (currently destined for a life in the world’s most unethical pleasure house) and Kiran is on the run from a mage who practically owns him (and he’s keeping his share of secrets as well, not from the reader, but definitely from Dev). Other important characters are Pello, a spy of the sort who would sell out his own mother if he had something to gain from it, and Cara, who heads the team of outriders (scouts) which Dev and Kiran join as a pretext for their smuggling operation. The characters are all very human. Some books that I’ve read (Maledicte being one of the worst offenders) have characters that seem more like prose-dispensing machines than flesh and blood people, not so here. One of the more memorable scenes for me was when Cara cusses Dev out for doing something really, really stupid. She was saying pretty much what I was thinking. Also, Ruslan is one of my favourite types of villain, arrogant, powerful, cruel, brilliant, even tender….before he goes back to being cruel.
Speaking of Cara, it’s nice to see a very sexually-active woman who isn’t slut-shamed. In fact, when Dev complains that she’s been wasting time and possibly compromising their mission by making out with a potentially dangerous man, she replies: “Spy or no, he’s not bad-looking” (and that he has a nice ass).
It’s also refreshing to read an epic fantasy that isn’t Whites-Only-Except-On-This-One-Continent-Full-of-POC. There are a bunch of people of colour in The Whitefire Crossing, including Dev himself (brown skin and dark hair and eyes appear to be dominant in his country). However (and this is a big however) all of the antagonists except one are described as having “slanted eyes” (the third has brown skin, like Dev). Jylla, Dev’s ex, has the same trait, and she’s a conniving, selfish twatwaddle (although Dev admits that damn, he could use her skills, because she was always so much better at manipulating people). On the “well, that’s kind of creepy” front, we have one of the antagonists lustfully leering at Kiran as he lovingly describes how he’s going to make Kiran a mindless zombie slave for the rest of his life. Which is not creepy, or in any way suggesting that same-sex attraction is predatory OH WAIT YES IT IS! To be fair on this front, though, there is the casual suggestion from Cara that it would have been easier if Dev had just brought Kiran “for a little fun in bed” and Dev has his entire motivation to take care of his friend’s daughter, although that’s more of a father-son type relationship.
I’m telling you this because, judging by the review of The Tainted City, POC and LGBT+s get a bit more positive exposure, but you wouldn’t know it by reading The Whitefire Crossing, or it could be that I’m just over-analyzing everything.
Anyways, you can bet I’ll be picking up The Tainted City, because I like these characters, and I want to know what’s happened to them, and apparently IT’S SET ALMOST ENTIRELY IN NINAVEL!