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The Tainted City: The Shattered Sigil, Book Two Paperback – September 25, 2012
"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
Read the absorbing new psychological suspense thriller from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Marisha Pessl. Learn more
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About the Author
After college she moved to the climber’s paradise of Boulder, Colorado, and somehow managed to get a masters degree in electrical engineering from the University of Colorado in between racking up ski days and peak climbs. She now works in the aerospace industry and is married to an Australian scientist who shares her love for speculative fiction and mountain climbing. She’s had to slow down a little on the adrenaline sports since the birth of her son, but only until he’s old enough to join in. She writes every spare moment she's not working or adventuring with her family.
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The great thing is that it's even better than the first book in that not only does it have the same streetwise outlook of Dev, and Kiran's emotional journey back to the city he fled, but it's a crack mystery, with turn on turn of events as they all try to solve the attacks on the city's source of power and also its water supply. Attacks that are not only baffling to the darkest of mages, but which threaten to destroy the entire city.
As with the first book, you never know what will happen next, or who can be trusted, and you're taken along for a ride as Dev tries to navigate both the backstreets he grew up in and the world of mages and their power plays at the highest levels of the city.
The heart of the story, though, is his friendship with Kiran, and here it's tested in a way neither could have expected. I won't give it away, but it's gripping in how the events unfold from it as Kiran struggles with being a blood mage with strong bonds to his fellow assistant and their master, Ruslan, who'd like nothing more than to wipe out Dev and his companions.
Working with Dev are the Alathians, the more refined mages from the neighboring kingdom, who have held Kiran hostage and are using Dev to help them save the power source that protects their border. They have no trust of Ruslan, and even fight within themselves in how to fulfill their mission.
What works really well is how, even with all this conflict, the plot doesn't simply set one group against the other - they're forced by circumstance to work together to solve the mystery and discover the source of their attacker's power, which both frightens and confounds them. This really adds to the tension as each group tries to outmaneuver the other.
The worldbuilding is excellent with layers of history and various cultures, and yet you're not told anything you don't need to know, and each character not only reacts to the world and its various subcultures, but is motivated by it as well. It was also great to see most of the characters from Whitefire reappear, some in surprising ways.
The title Tainted City is a play on those with the Taint, a form of magic only a few children can wield, and it's these few that ganglords use to commit robberies, which adds a touch of Dickens. How the author sets this untraceable, more rudimentary magic against the higher levels of the mages makes for some dramatic moments, in which even the strongest mages are vulnerable.
About the only fault is one stretch in chapter five that's a bit slow, as they prepare to take on their mission, but it gives time to add depth to the characters before they're thrown into the fire of Ninavel.
In short, it's like a fantasy take on "Chinatown," with deceit, revenge, street chases, murders, backroom deals, cool magic, and spies, all centered around a mystery that Dev and Kiran must solve to save themselves and the city. And yet the core of the story is how they're tested again and again in their friendship and trust. And if that weren't enough, there's even some mountain climbing, too.
For the characters, I loved everything that was done with them. The character development of Kiran is really interesting, where he has much of his memory missing, and this new version of himself is developing in a tangent to where he developed in the first book. With Dev, there isn't too much development, but I loved when he met and spent more time with his bitch of an ex-girlfriend that made him desperate enough in the first book to take on the escort mission, along with Melly and Cara. However, with Cara it was a little annoying how he kept trying to protect her by getting her to hide or run away, something I'm sure that a character like Cara would hate, however there is some redemption here leading up to the climax of the book. With the new main villain (other than Ruslan) he was effective as just some unbeatable force, but the attempt to humanize and give him a motive was a little weak. This is a slight spoiler, but the basic idea here was that he came to Ninavel with his wife and child, but after the child just happened to bump into a Mage, his family was murdered by the Mage without any consequence. That part is fine and really fits the world and it's a good motive for a realistic villain, but what we see of his reasoning doesn't really make sense. Where because of the actions of one mage, he slaughters Tainted children to gather enough power to destroy the confluence, which would not only kill every Mage linked to its power, it would also probably result in the slow death of everyone else in the city. As without the Mages summoning water, the entire populace (especially the poor) would all die of dehydration, and most of them probably wouldn't be able to flee to another city since it's pretty secluded. I mean I just couldn't wrap my head around his reasoning, it could make sense if the guy went crazy after his family was killed, but nothing written in the book implied that. Still, this villain provided a nice twist with who was helping him, one that I thought might happen, but I was far from certain and did come as a surprise.
For the world building, there wasn't too much here that wasn't already established in the first book, but the reader does get to see more of the magic, and the unique use of channels to power large spells, and there's the confirmation that demons are real in this world. The demons aren't clearly defined, but they are apparently evil, powerful, and will probably be one of the main threats in the third book. The writing in Tainted City is again very well done, causing the book to be a real page turner with lots of rise and fall that drives the story and reader on. I really enjoyed the two different uses of narratives for the two main characters, as it really helps differentiate between the two.
Overall, I really loved the book, and I'm disappointed that I'll probably have to wait a year for the next one to see the conclusion of the trilogy. You could read this one by itself, but you'd probably lose a lot of meaning in the plot of this book, so especially with the first book being free atm on Kindle, a new reader should start with Whitefire Crossing. I'd definitely recommend this book/series to any fantasy fan, and the fantasy might be light enough that even fans of other genres should love it too. With this book and the first entry of the series, Courtney Schafter has probably become one of my favorite new authors, and I'm anxiously anticipating her further works in the Fantasy genre.
While I found the first volume somehow clumsy in its psychology, The tainted city is much better balanced in this respect, as characters have gained in depth and consistency. They are more ambivalent too, including even the frightening magician Ruslan. The universe behind the books is also getting better described, with the way(s) magic acts getting more complex and linked with the past. The plot is however a bit shallow, from the reason for bringing the main characters back to their own town, Ninavel, despite the obvious dangers to them and their captors, to the occurrence of a global all-threatening danger, (spoiler!) to the final battle temporarily eliminating the vector if not the source of the danger, to the convenient re-apparition of Dev’s former love with a final twist… It nonetheless reads well and paves the way to the third volume in the series, currently in the writing. Looking around at others’ reviews of The tainted city, I could not find any negative one, with every critic praising the second volume above the first one. A point with which I obviously concur.
Most recent customer reviews
I decided to read The Whitefire Crossing attracted by a couple of good reviews I had seen from trusted sources and the fact that...Read more
Fun all the way.