I really liked Courtney Schafer’s first novel, The Whitefire Crossing. I’ve not read her second, The Tainted City, yet although I have it in the TBR pile (need to do something about that). Those first two volumes of the Shattered Sigil Trilogy were published by Night Shade. Now Ms. Schafer is preparing to conclude the trilogy with the final volume, The Labyrinth of Flame. To publish the book, she’s running a Kickstarter. Courtney Schafer writes adventure fantasy that’s fun and fast-paced with characters you care about. I’ve pledged this one. I think it’s the kind of fantasy most of the regular readers of this blog would enjoy.
This is going to be the written report, mostly without pictures because I haven’t had time to sort through the ones I took and see what I want to post. It’s been one of those weeks at work and it started on the way down to San Antonio. I spent more time than I would have liked dealing with a couple of problems that waited until I was on the road to arise. I post some pictures in the next few days.
I had to teach class Thursday morning, so by the time I got to San Antonio, checked into the hotel and hoofed it over to the convention center to register, I just made it before registration closed. I wandered the dealer’s room and familiarized myself with the layout before grabbing a bite. At least I intended to. I ran into Adrian Simmons, editor of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, and ended up accompanying him to a private, invitation-only reception for James Gunn. Adrian had been invited, and I went along as his guest. It was a great event, and I took advantage of the opportunity to speak with him. He’s 90, and critics are calling his new novel his best. I picked up a signed copy before the weekend was over. There’ll be a review going up at Futures Past and Present sometime in the next few months. Learning of Fred Poh’s death made me extra glad I grabbed a signed copy, in spite of being a little overbudget.
Later I attended the Bookswarm party, which was packed. I got a chance to talk to Martha Wells for a few minutes, and I walked away with two free books. The theme of the party was Eat a Bug, Get a Book. The bugs were sanitized and freeze dried. (I ate a mole circket and a dung beetle and got The Other Half of the Sky edited by Athena Andreadis and Exile by Betsy Dornbush.) The highlight of the party was getting to meet Brad Beaulieu, Douglas Hulett, Courtney Schafer, and Zachary Jernigan. If you haven’t read them, you should. Other than a glimpse of Jernigan from across the street, the only one of that group that I saw after that night was Courtney Schafer.
The next day was one of those where there was about twelve hours of programming I wanted to attend, all of it in a three hour block. I went to most of the Robert E. Howard panels, of which there were many. Most of the hanging out I did with friends was with members of the Robert E. Howard Foundation or chatting with folks at parties. Saturday was much the same, but Sunday was a little more relaxed. Among the non-Howard panels I attended were a discussion of C. L. Moore’s “Vintage Season”, the history of firearms in the 1800s, a discussion on writing that included Michael Swanwick and James Patrick Kelly, a panel of Texas writers who have passed on, and readings by Jack McDevitt and Howard Waldrop. I only caught part of the panel on sword and sorcery since it was up against one of the more interesting Robert E. Howard panels. The autographing lines were either nonexistent or ridiculously long, so I only got a few signatures.
I went to the Alamo Saturday morning with Bill Cavalier, editor of REHupa. He hadn’t seen it, and it had been a while since I had paid my respects. Next to the Alamo is the Menger Hotel. Teddy Roosevelt recruited the Rough Riders in the bar, and it’s something of a mini-museum. I’ll do a write-up of it on Dispatches From the Lone Star Front over the weekend.
I didn’t try to attend the Hugos. I wasn’t impressed with the slate of nominees for the most part. But it’s a popularity contest, and currently my tastes and those of the field are in a state of moderate divergence. The Legacy Circle of the REH Foundation went to dinner Saturday night.
There were some free books, including NESFA’s three volume Chad Oliver set. I found the first two of the Heinlein juveniles I was missing, and picked up an extra copy of Glory Road. This year marks the 50th anniversary of that novel. I read it when I was about 14, and it’s about time for a reread.
Some overall thoughts. First, this was the first time I’ve been able to attend a Worldcon. It wasn’t quite what I expected. I’ve attended World Fantasy twice, and the density of pros in that venue is high, but then that’s a convention that’s aimed at pros. Worldcon is more geared for fans. I never saw some of the bigger names, although I know they were there. Most of the ones I did see, I only saw once or twice. The convention center is a bit too spread out for this sort of event.
I was surprised at crowded it wasn’t. I was also a little surprised with how old the average attendee seemed to be. While people seemed to be having a good time, I didn’t detect a great deal of excitement. Maybe that’s because I’m getting older, but everything seemed more laid back than I was expecting.
I’d certainly attend another Worldcon, but only if it wasn’t at the same time classes started. And only if it wasn’t too far away. While I enjoyed it and am glad I went, I wouldn’t travel halfway around the world, or even the country, to repeat the experience.
I’ll post some more photos later in the week.
In the acknowledgements to this first novel, the author states that the first draft of the book was written during NaNoWriMo 2007. That’s encouraging because I’m participating in NaNoWriMo this year, and I can only hope to write something half this good.
This is a dark, at times disturbing, adventure story with villains who are deliciously evil, yet have believable motivations. The heroes are young, flawed, make mistakes, grow, and learn about themselves and the world.
The suspense is intense at times, and the passage across the mountains, especially after the blood mage attacks, is downright nerve wracking.
The story opens in the country (city state?, kingdom?, the political structure isn’t clear) of Ninavel, a haven for mages. There is no restriction on the type of magic a mage can practice in Ninavel. All are allowed, including blood mages, whose magic requires human sacrifice. The neighboring kingdom is Alathia, where just the opposite situation exists. Magic is strictly proscribed, and only government sanctioned (and controlled) mages are allowed to practice, and then only in the service of the country. Most forms of magic are illegal and practitioners strictly punished. This is especially true of blood mages. Neither is a place I would particularly want to live, for totally different reasons.
The story opens when Dev, a young smuggler, is told by the man who gives him his commissions that on his next trip into Alathia he’ll be smuggling in a young man named Kerin, who is trying to escape from some of the local banking houses due to certain poor financial decisions. Dev is suspicious but needs the money. He promised his dying mentor he would buy the man’s daughter from the crime lord who owns her before she changes. It seems a common trait among children in Ninavel is the Taint, which is basically telekinesis. Slavery is commonplace, and there are a number of crime rings which use children as thieves. The Taint goes away at puberty, and the children are sold to whoever wants them, no questions asked. Dev was a slave to the same crime lord until he changed. When this girl changes, she’ll be sold to a brothel with a really nasty reputation. Dev is doing everything possible to raise money so he can to buy her first. And so he takes a job against his better judgment.
Dev is right to be wary. Kiran isn’t running from a banking house. He’s running from a blood mage, one he happens to be indentured to. Kiran has no stomach for the torture and murder that are a part of being a blood mage. Did I mention most mages in Ninavel regard those without magical ability to be little more than animals? This is especially true of blood mages, who tend to be possessive, vindictive, and ruthless.
Kiran and Dev travel with the first caravan over the mountains. Dev is a regular guide on these treks, and Kiran is posing as his apprentice. It doesn’t take long before trouble follows after them. They don’t trust each other, but soon they have to flee the caravan and depend on each other for survival. Dev is one of the most experienced guides around, but he can’t fight magic. Even if they make it across the mountains and pass the border crossing, their troubles will be far from over. Just being in Alathia is enough to earn Kiran a death sentence.
Courtney Schafer is a rock climber, a passionate one. It shows in her writing. She brings the passage across the mountains alive. The suspense, not just from the pursuit of the villains, but from trying to survive against the elements, gets intense. Maybe I’d had too much coffee and not enough food, but I found that whole segment of the book to be one of the most nerve wracking things I’d read in quite a while.
This book has some serious themes running through it. Betrayal, conflicting commitments, situations in which there are no choices that won’t leave innocent people dead. Both Dev and Kiran have to learn about trust. Both have to decide what kind of man they want to be and then pay the (excruciatingly high) price to be that type of man. In many ways, this novel is a coming of age story, albeit a grim and bloody one.
I recommend it highly and am eagerly waiting for the sequel.