I cross-posted this review over at reddit in case anyone wants to follow the discussion there.
Earlier this month I read The Shattered Sigil Trilogy by Courtney Schafer. I loved it so much, I wanted to share my thoughts on it, but had to wait a bit before doing a proper review so that I could come out of my book hangover the series left me with first.
The three books in this series are The Whitefire Crossing, The Tainted City and The Labyrinth of Flame. To oversimplify the plot, each book focuses on our two main characters, Dev and Kirin, and their struggle against a powerful evil mage.
The first book is where our main characters meet, Dev is a mountain guide and secretly a smuggler who agrees to take a dangerous job and escort Kirin across the border into the neighboring country for a high payout. The Tainted City changes things up a bit and the plot is a bit of a murder mystery. Who is killing all of these powerful mages in the city and why? Forced to work with their enemy in order to solve the mystery, our heroes are never sure who they can trust, who is friend or foe, even each other at times. The third book brings us to solving the overarching story of Kirin’s past, learning how certain magic works, and tying together some threads from earlier books. It’s a flight across the desert, meeting new people, fighting new and old enemies alike.
I’d wanted to read this series for a while because of several users here giving such high praise for it but I just haven’t ever gotten around to it. I thought I would like it because of what others have said about it, but I also wasn’t 100% sure because a) not everyone loves everything and b) I wasn’t sure I’d get into something that so prominently featured rock climbing (because what do I know or care about rock climbing?). Turns out that I loved the books, and the rock climbing aspects of the story were especially interesting. I think when an author is able to write passionately about something they love, that enthusiasm carries over to the reader so even if it isn’t something I personally am into, it’s still interesting and enjoyable to read about.
The pacing of the plot in this series is fantastic. Each book had me on the edge of my seat wanting to find out what happened next. These were quick reads for me. There were such great twists and turns, reveals that had me gasping aloud and wanting to yell things at the book the way I do when watching tv sometimes. The only time the pace slowed for me was a little bit in the third book near the beginning, but other than that I’d call the pacing ‘relentless’.
Our two main characters and the bond they form, was really the highlight of the story for me. I’m the type of reader that needs to be able to connect with characters and care what happens to them in order for me to enjoy a story. This wasn’t a problem in these books. Dev and Kirin are such well-crafted characters and they both undergo a ton of growth throughout the books. They’re also dealing with some pretty heavy stuff. Magic is almost likened to an addiction at times, and because Dev was able to use it when he was a child, before the effect wore off, when he encounters it again briefly in the series it’s clear that it could easily become an all-consuming struggle for him, the want for more of it. Meanwhile Kirin is involved in a highly abusive relationship with a group of people that are as much his family as his lovers. And it is so well written, too well written, parts of that really hit home for me. The characters are put through the ringer, again and again and again. But it makes the conclusion that much more satisfying.
Honestly, the relationship between Dev and Kirin was my favorite thing about this series. Dev is loyal to a fault. There were times when that became a major source of conflict for him, especially when those loyalties clashed and he had to make certain tough decisions. Sometimes I wanted to shake Kirin because he was so unbelievably stubborn about certain things, but then when you realize the extent of what he’s gone through, well then you just want to give him a hug. Lots of hugs.
Other characters in the books are well written too, although I don’t think some of the other characters start becoming well-developed until the second and third books. Even so, there are a couple that I wish had gotten a little more focus, but because of the way the story is told (alternating POV between Dev and Kirin) I’m mostly fine with the focus remaining on Dev and Kirin. I also wish the villains had been just a tad more fleshed out and multi-faceted as the main characters, but then I probably wouldn’t have loved to hate them as much so there’s that.
The settings felt pretty fresh, and were a good mix of cities and wilderness that all felt distinct and yet cohesive enough that it felt like they existed in the same world. I felt the same way about the rest of the world building; the various cultures and classes encountered throughout the series were well developed. I also appreciated the way the magic was treated in that different cultures utilized it in different ways. There is also an undercurrent of what might seem the right way to do something in one culture might seem atrocious or barbaric in another, and I liked seeing that clash, even though it wasn’t necessarily a main focus of the story.
To sum up, I absolutely loved this series and it’s responsible for me staying up way too late reading into the early hours of the morning and nearly missing work the next day, which is something I haven’t done in a really long time. 🙂