Review: The Tainted City (Book Two of The Shattered Sigil)
Looking at the cover of The Tainted City, the second book of The Shattered Sigil by Courtney Schafer, had me expecting many light-filled mage fights, and while you do get that, they happen more towards the end. This book, while darker than The Whitefire Crossing in some ways, feels like a crime-fantasy-mystery.
The goal this time is to save Kiran and catch the mysterious mage killer who wants to destroy Ninavel. The story starts out almost where The Whitefire Crossing left off, but it is immediately darker. It opens on Dev doing hard labor in Cheltman Gorge, a depressing, death-filled prison. He is much the same as he was, untrusting, planning, climbing, and generally a good guy. He misses Cara, the outrider he fell for in the first book, and is still desperate to save Melly from being sold to a brothel, or worse. Kiran is in Alathia, where we left him at the end of The Whitefire Crossing, working on figuring out the spell for the charm to bring back the taint. He’s still innocent, trusting, and heartbroken, for now, but he becomes more interesting when they return to Ninavel. Kiran’s dilemma—whether to kill as blood mages do or not—is one of my favourite parts of the story, especially in the end. One dark scene where Kiran is shown the unstoppable pleasure a blood mage feels while torturing a victim makes this dilemma very intriguing. Unfortunately, we know Kiran so well that we never really worry he will do something terrible, which diminishes the story’s suspense. So while he’s more morally grey than in the first book of the series, I never believed he would choose wrong.
The rest of The Tainted City has the same feel as The Whitefire Crossing. I never had a moment of shock when something happened or felt the need to look away. While darker and bloodier, the grit felt like something out of a crime novel. The deaths occurred off stage and were investigated and discussed by the characters instead of actually allowing the reader to see the action happen, and when the action does come I never feared the protagonist would actually die. Although characters are killed, it is never a huge surprise.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed the strong female characters in this story. Cara is a good leader and great climber. Melly is very powerfully tainted, and it is fun to see her use her telepathic powers. Jylla is manipulative and smart. Yet all three frequently end up being damsels in distress. I was disappointed each time a female character was hurt or needed to be saved. These strong women are merely mirrors of their stronger male counterparts. It would have been nice to see at least one of them come out ahead of the men.
My hopes were high for this sequel, and in some ways my expectations were met. It had more grit, action, and crime-scene gore than The Whitefire Crossing. Though it was slowed down at times by extended dialogue and discussions, it was fun to read. Unfortunately, it was still not what I consider grimdark. The characters, while having moral dilemmas, didn’t feel grey enough. Like the first book in the series, if you want a dark fantasy with a bit of mystery and magic, this book is for you. Otherwise, for me, The Tainted City climbs along the edges of grimdark but never really falls into the muck. Nevertheless, I give The Tainted City four Grimdark Lords out of five for being a fun fantasy story with entertaining characters and interesting settings.
Read the review for The Whitefire Crossing, book one in The Shattered Sigil HERE.