BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A rogue-ish hero and his intelligent sword hire onto a quest. Their employers are looking for a lost relic, and our pair are looking for gold any way they can find it.
PROS: A charming and convincing partnership based on mutual respect and a healthy dose of witty banter.
CONS: Nothing earth-shattering or overly ambitious here.
BOTTOM LINE: This is the sort of Fafhrd-and-Grey-Mouser-style sword and sorcery adventure that I love and would like to see more of in RPG novels.
The Pathfinder line of RPG novels is doing a lot of things right. They’ve been publishing intelligent adventure novels that showcase their gaming system and their campaign setting in lush detail. They’ve hired a variety of solid, professional authors, and they’ve spread their tales among a wide variety of heroes instead of following one party for multiple books. The one thing that they had been missing–until now–was the particular brand of charming that I have recently come to love in Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Grey Mouser series. Tim Pratt has done an excellent job of capturing that spirit in this Pathfinder outing.
Rodrick is a charming rogue who prefers to talk his way out of fights, into beds, and into gold. Hrym is his intelligent talking sword who is happy to provide back-up for Rodrick’s plans, especially if it means that he gets to sleep on the gold acquired thereby. They’ve obviously been adventuring together for quite some time, and their good-natured ribbing of each other provides much of the charm of the novel. Teasing, jests, and references to past shared adventures combine to paint a convincing portrait of two old friends, one of whom happens to be a soul-stealing sword of living ice.
The tale starts out in a town known for its gladiatorial combat, which is becoming less hospitable to Rodrick and Hrym after Rodrick propositions the sister of a leading gladiator. Luckily, he and Hyrm are offered employment in a small party in need of a bodyguard as they travel north in search of a lost relic. The party initially consists of a taciturn and rather bloodthirsty priest and his eccentric female sorcerer assistant. The priest seems to have a suspicious interest in Hrym, and the assistant has an intense loyalty and obedience to the priest, and a hump that doesn’t seem to be in the same place every day… In the course of their adventuring they also acquire a half-elf archer who reads the omens of nature in search of his destiny. It will come as no surprise that no one in the party is exactly what they seem; even Rodrick and Hyrm have more to learn about each other.
There is a lot of humor here without resorting to insulting parody or snark. Pratt knows his game and his gaming groups, and there’s a lot of affection here for the adventure and the adventurers. There’s also a lot of humor drawn from the contrasting styles of the members of the party, as anyone who has been part of a diverse group of gamers can attest: Rodrick and Hyrm are light-hearted and scheming, the priest and sorcerer are playing their parts from some sort of monster/mad scientist/cultist novel, and the half-elf ranger is living in a world of noble quests and high destiny. Their individual voices reflect their characters perfectly, and add a lot to the fun tone of the book. This adventure novel is easy to read and hard to put down. I was recovering from a nasty cold when I read it, and it was a perfect restorative.