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Friday Reads: The Tainted City, by Courtney Schafer

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.

I read and reviewed the first book in this series, The Whitefire Crossing, just over a year ago, shortly after meeting Courtney Schafer at Chicon 7. I really enjoyed it and was looking forward to the sequel, and I’m glad to say that The Tainted City didn’t disappoint.

The book picks up shortly after the end of the previous one, with Dev condemned to hard labour at a mining site whilst Kiran remains a prisoner of the Alathian Council. It took me a little while to mentally reorient myself after a year away, but soon we were back in the Alathian capital amongst the scheming mages and the story took off. From there on it was an even tenser ride than last time, with Schafer not flinching from twisting the knife at every turn. In fact I came to wonder if her main plotting strategy isn’t simply: what’s the worst thing that could happen right now? The result may perhaps lack subtlety, but boy does it keep you turning the pages!

I can’t say a lot more without spoilers, though I don’t think it’s a major giveaway to mention that Ruslan returns and is just as sick and twisted as ever. We also learn a lot more about Dev’s home city of Ninavel, as well as glimpses of the wider world. Our heroes triumph—well, they survive and live to fight another day—but it’s going to be their biggest challenge yet. I know that Schafer is hard at work on the sequel, Labyrinth of Flame, but owing to family responsibilities it’s not finished yet and thus its publication date is unknown. Still, as long as we don’t have to wait as long for it as we had to for Scott Lynch’s The Republic of Thieves, I’ll be happy!