If you had sacrificed everything to escape a nightmarish existence, why would you ever willingly allow yourself to return to it? Such is the dilemma faced by Dev and Kiran, the former an ex-smuggler with a passion for rock climbing, the latter a blood mage who wants to find a way to work magic without stealing life from those around him.
In Schafer’s first book, The Whitefire Crossing, Dev helped Kiran escape the city of Ninavel and cross a treacherous mountain range in order to get beyond the grasp of his ruthless master, Ruslan. Taking refuge in the foreign country of Alathia meant submitting to harsh rules and binding spells for both of them, since the Alathian Council outlaws most magic and despises blood mages above all. At least, though, they were safe from Ruslan, who could control Kiran’s heart and mind through a spellbond formed in his apprenticeship.
However, in the sequel, The Tainted City, Dev and Kiran are thrust back into mortal danger when a team of Alathian mages is dispatched to investigate a series of escalating magical attacks back in Ninavel–and they require the pair’s help to navigate the city’s warrens of corrupt politics and violent subterfuge. Dev sees it as his chance to rescue a child he left behind, one he swore to save from a life of depraved slavery. But for Kiran, it means exposing himself to the sway of a powerful master who will do anything to get him back under his control.
Before long, the investigation turns deadly, forcing Dev and Kiran to question who they can trust and what lengths they’ll go to in order to save those they love from destruction.
Two of Schafer’s strengths lie in the believability of the world she’s crafted and in the vibrant characters who inhabit it. Readers will be swept up in the vivid details that infuse each scene, from inner sanctuaries dripping with blood to the airy sweeps of snow-covered peaks. Dev and Kiran, themselves complicated and flawed, are surrounded by a fascinating cast, each with their own hidden agenda and history, and every interaction is fraught with tension and the potential for disaster.
The Tainted City raises the question of what exactly forms a person’s identity. Is one shaped solely by their experiences and memories, or is there an innate character that remains intact, virtues and values that cannot be shaken, no matter what the circumstances?
The Tainted City is a fantastic follow-up to The Whitefire Crossing, going deep into the culture of Ninavel, expanding the overall mythology, and giving a sense of breathless adventure on each page. Anyone not familiar with the first book should definitely start there to fully enjoy this new addition, and established fans should be excited to see Schafer’s world gain an even greater scope.