what I've been reading: The Tainted City by Courtney Schafer

A disclaimer before I begin this review: Courtney and I are both former NSB authors, whose debut novels were published within months of one another. Since then, she and I have emailed one another frequently and I consider her to be a friend. That doesn't mean that I will pull punches in my review. It's just there for your information.

For those of you who have not been keeping up with Shattered Sigil series (gives a stare worthy of Chuck Wendig), you should be. The first book of the series, The Whitefire Crossing, was a wild romp of a read. I thoroughly enjoyed it and if you want to read my review of The Whitefire Crossing, it is here.

And now, The Tainted City by Courtney Schafer:

From the 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.

While The Whitefire Crossing was a breathtaking climbing adventure, The Tainted City takes place almost entirely in Ninavel. In spite of the location, Courtney manages to fill the story with intrigue, blood magic, and climbing. She brings Ninavel, with its blood mages and minor magicians, to life.

What she did right: I loved the characters. All of them. If you've ever read any of my reviews, you know that I read primarily for good characterization. Courtney does an amazing job of bringing out the subtleties of her characters' personalities. I think the most complex character, and the one I enjoyed the most, was Marten. He never lost his moral compass, even though it meant sacrificing someone he loved. He faced hard choices and accepted responsibility for his decisions. He was not an easy character to like, or even love, yet by the time the story rolled to an end, I had a grudging respect for him and the choices he made.

As always, Courtney was dead-on with both Dev and Kiran. I liked the way she managed to change Kiran in this book, and I hope the third book shows more maturity and depth as she continues his journey. He became a darker character in The Tainted City and less of an innocent. I loved the way Courtney handled his progression and the really cool twist on the end. Of course, I've always been more partial to Kiran than to Dev, so MORE KIRAN in the final book, please.

Dev is no less complex than Kiran. He is torn between loyalties to Kiran and his dead friend's daughter, Melly. Dev is a survivor, and even though his magic relies on charms designed for him by others, he manages to hold his own by being streetwise and tough as nails.

The plot kept me engaged to the end. Courtney has a talent for moving the reader from one development to the next without ever losing the reader's interest.

What I didn't like: I don't think Courtney put a foot wrong in either characterization or plot; however, the constant use of magic seemed to wear on me a little in this novel. I'm not sure precisely why that was. This is merely personal preference, not necessarily something wrong with the story or writing. In The Whitefire Crossing, the characters were forced to depend on their skills and wits more than magic, whereas in The Tainted City, the magic takes precedence.

I found myself thoroughly enjoying the story, and I think you will too. The Tainted City is a magical journey wrapped in political intrigue, and fascinating characters. Shafer is an author to watch for. She has an amazing amount of fun with the story and it shows. I'm greatly looking forward to the third book in the series, The Labyrinth of Flame