Welcome to Booked!, a feature where we ask an author to share their favorite books with our readers. Today’s guest is Courtney Schafer, whose latest novel, The Whitefire Crossing, was released on July 26.
When I think of my favorite books, one series stands head and shoulders above the rest: Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles. Six books, with every one a marvel of intricate plotting and perfectly drawn characters. They’re shelved in historical fiction, but I’d argue the series could equally well be called historical fantasy, thanks to the suggestion of clairvoyant mental powers in certain characters. The first book in the series,The Game of Kings, is set in 16th century Scotland and follows the efforts of Francis Crawford of Lymond, accused traitor and outlaw, to redeem his reputation and foil a plot against the throne. Lymond is a terrific character: frighteningly intelligent, sharp-tongued, a gifted musician and actor, yet with faults as deep as his gifts. Later books follow his exploits in arenas as varied as Czarist Russia and the Ottoman Empire.
Dunnett’s portrayal of 16th century Europe is flawless in depth and detail, but it’s not the historical accuracy of her novels that makes me rhapsodize over them. Rather, it’s her ability to construct a multi-layered plot that fits together as seamlessly and beautifully as a Japanese puzzle box. I once saw Dunnett described as the mistress not of the unreliable narrator, but the unreliable reader: you think you know what’s going on, until in a moment of stunning clarity, seemingly unrelated pieces slot together to cast every prior scene of the book in a completely new light. (Plenty of authors have surprised me with plot twists, but Dunnett is the only author where I’ve yelled “Holy s***!” and dropped the book out of sheer amazement.)
Perhaps the best thing about the books is how richly they reward multiple readings – I’m still finding clever hints and bits of dialogue whose true meaning I didn’t fully catch, even after reading the series several times over. This level of pay-off doesn’t come without price: I’ll be the first to admit that the Lymond books are no easy read. Dunnett’s prose is dense, character dialogue can be cryptic, untranslated quotes in foreign languages abound along with classical references, and Dunnett makes no attempt to hold the reader’s hand. But oh, the rewards for perseverance! As a writer, I learned more about plot and characterization from reading Dunnett’s novels than I could’ve from a hundred other books (or workshops, for that matter). I can’t recommend them highly enough.
The Whitefire Crossing by Courtney Schafer:
Dev is a smuggler with the perfect cover. He’s in high demand as a guide for the caravans that carry legitimate goods from the city of Ninavel into the country of Alathia. The route through the Whitefire Mountains is treacherous, and Dev is one of the few climbers who knows how to cross them safely. With his skill and connections, it’s easy enough to slip contraband charms from Ninavel–where any magic is fair game, no matter how dark–into Alathia, where most magic is outlawed.
But smuggling a few charms is one thing; smuggling a person through the warded Alathian border is near suicidal. Having made a promise to a dying friend, Dev is forced to take on a singularly dangerous cargo: Kiran. A young apprentice on the run from one of the most powerful mages in Ninavel, Kiran is desperate enough to pay a fortune to sneak into a country where discovery means certain execution–and he’ll do whatever it takes to prevent Dev from finding out the terrible truth behind his getaway.
Yet the young mage is not the only one harboring a deadly secret. Caught up in a web of subterfuge and dark magic, Dev and Kiran must find a way to trust each other–or face not only their own destruction, but that of the entire city of Ninavel.