After finishing up Prince of Wolves, I was all too happy to dive into another adventure featuring Count Varian Jeggare, and Radovan, his Hellspawn bodyguard. This time, they head to Tian Xia...
Master of Devils - by Dave Gross
From the back of the book:
"On a mysterious errand for the Pathfinder Society, Count Varian Jeggare and his hellspawn bodyguard Radovan venture to the distant land of Tian Xia, on the far side of the world. When disaster forces him to take shelter in a warrior monastery, "brother" Jeggare finds himself competing with the disciples of Dragon Temple as he unravels a royal mystery. Meanwhile, Radovan - trapped in the body of a devil and held hostage by the legendary Quivering palm attack - must serve a twisted master by defeating the land's deadliest champions and learning the secret of slaying an immortal foe. Together with an unlikely army of beasts and spirits, the two companions must take the lead in an ancient conflict that will carry them through an exotic land, all the way to the Gates of Heaven and Hell and a final confrontation with the nefarious Master of Devils."
To start off with, for those that may be new to the Pathfinder setting, this novel is set in the land of Tian Xia, which may best described as being similar to ancient China. In many ways, the Pathfinder world is very similar to our own, with many different continents and countries, each complete with their own cultures and customs. Not everything in this universe is based on the stereotypical western-style Medieval fantasy setting so often seen. In Pathfinder, you can encounter places similar to ancient China/Japan, Egypt, Romania, and yes, even the typical fantasy setting. Now I must confess, from a roleplaying standpoint, Tian Xia does little for me. You'd think that wouldn't be the case, given that I am a Martial Artist, I like the ancient chinese culture, kung fu/martial arts films, and the food.... must not forget about chinese food! But I still think I would have a hard time roleplaying, and relating to anything in that setting. Honestly, I thought I would have a difficult time getting into this novel due to the setting, luckily this was not the case!
Once again, the main characters (Jeggare and Radovan) are definitely interesting and well presented. They come from two distinct backgrounds, and once again, that background came out in their mannerisms and actions. While I had read the previous novel Prince of Wolves, there were only a couple of nods to the earlier story, so the story was very self contained, and you wouldn't be missing a whole lot if you started reading this novel all by itself. The action starts from page 1, and it's a roller coaster ride from there. In general, the story was well written, and I definitely felt for each of the character and their respective predicaments. In the last novel, Prince of Wolves, there was a bit of an issue with the first person perspective in which it took a few paragraphs to get back into character, and to figure out exactly which character's head you were into. Thankfully, that issue was resolved in this one, you learn some of each character's mannerisms, and within a sentence or two, you remember which character you were focusing on. I don't want to give anything away in regards to the plot, but I really enjoyed both character's unique situations, with Radovan's story probably being my personal favorite. Finally, without giving anything away, the author has a pretty masterful way of tying everything together, while leaving the reader wanting more! As soon as the book ended, I instantly wanted to pick up the next one! (Queen of Thorns)
The not so good (because nothing is perfect!):
Without giving too much away, there was a plot device used that separated the characters, which felt a bit too reminiscent of the outcome of the "bridge scene" in Prince of Wolves. It is a bit hard to really explain without giving too much away, but those that read the previous novel will hopefully understand what I mean. This novel also introduced the viewpoint of a third character, Arnisant the dog. His chapters just felt "off" with the overall tone, or feeling of the other chapters, despite being pretty well written from the perspective of a smart, yet simpleminded dog. Without giving away too much, it felt like a lot of lead up for such a minor part to play in the finale. The overall plot, or the "why" the characters were in Tian Xia in the first place kept getting lost in the overall action of the story, playing second nature each character's current predicament.
All in all, I thought this was a pretty fun book. A bit light, and pretty straightforward with not a lot of plot twists, but still a fun little adventure. In a lot of ways, the story (Radovan's at least) reminds me of the Bruce Lee film: "Game of Death". If throwing the characters in a Pathfinder version of "Game of Death" sounds interesting to you, then I'm sure you'll enjoy it. If you are a fan of Jeggare and Radovan (as I am), then I'm sure you'll enjoy it. Overall, the story brought a great number of changes to the characters, and I'm curious to see if they'll carry over into the next novel: Queen of Thorns, and if so things could get really interesting in that one...