Thursday, July 7, 2011
Review: Robin D. Laws' "The Worldwound Gambit"
In The Worldwound Gambit, Robin D. Laws offers up a classic-style fantasy adventure with the twists and modern sensibilities that we've come to expect from Paizo Publishing.
Set in the Pathfinder Campaign Setting's world of Golarion, the Worldwound is a location where the chaotic and evil realm of the Abyss has encroached on the material world. In this land, demons have free reign, but their raids on the nearby people of Mendev have been limited by the wardstones, which weave a barrier of powerful magic to keep the Abyss in check.
Now, the great demon known as Yath, the Shimmering Putrescence, has established itself on Golarion and has the power to breach the wardstone barrier. From within the Worldwound, it stages a massive army of cultists and demons, preparing for an assault that might allow the Worldwound to overtake all of Golarion.
Gad, a charming rogue, sees that outcome as seriously bad for business, and he needs a team of companions to infiltrate Yath's tower and stop the minions of the Abyss. Fortunately for him, he knows just the right people: experts who are both talented and crazy enough to pull off a heist the likes of which two worlds have never seen.
The Worldwound Gambit is the fourth novel in the Pathfinder Tales line. While maintaining the level of quality for which Paizo is famous, the book adds new flavor to Pathfinder fiction. Laws' characters are as vibrant and enjoyable as previous books and fit comfortably within the world of Golarion. The locales provide us descriptions of places mentioned within the RPG books, with the Worldwound being the most obvious example, and add even more richness and depth to the already well-developed setting. Once again, we have a tale that draws on some of the best aspects of the Pathfinder world without recklessly announcing that it is a Pathfinder story at every turn.
I should point out that this book reiterates the fact that the Pathfinder Campaign Setting is not designed for younger people. The book deals with terrible, gruesome things and presents very adult concepts right from the beginning. If I had to give it a movie rating, I'd place it well within the R-rating. The material is not gratuitous...it fits perfectly within the story and the setting, but it is not something you want to present to young readers.
The story is told in third person, present tense, which I initially found very jarring. Most modern fiction is written in third person, past tense, so readers become accustomed to the flow of ideas in that format. Because of that, I found it difficult to get through the first couple of chapters. However, I'm very glad I persevered. Once I got comfortable with that voice, I found that it was very appropriate for the story being told.
Back in May, the Paizo store blog (I think Liz Courts wrote the entry) described the book as "Like Oceans 11, but with More Demons." The description is fitting and helps explain why the present tense is so helpful. As a reader, you get to follow the action as it happens, rather than read a description of what happened "some time ago."
The descriptions of the Worldwound are excellent and will be invaluable to anyone who wants to run a campaign in that part of Golarion. Additionally, the scenes inside the tower of Yath are sure to inspire a plethora of fun adventure ideas.
The story's characters are an excellent match-up, each with a strong mix of good and bad qualities—revealed with enough clarity during the journey to and through the Worldwound that the final scenes have the juice they need to keep you guessing until the very end.
I'm pleased to say that the ending did surprise me in very good ways. I actually laughed out loud at some of the jokes and a few of the sudden reveals throughout the novel. I will, of course, share none of those details, because you really do need to read the book, yourself.
Overall, this was another win for the Pathfinder Tales line. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars. It is a must-read for adult fans of fantasy fiction, whether or not you're familiar with the Pathfinder setting. Robin D. Laws has brought wonderful new characters and a wealth of descriptive talent to Pathfinder. I hope to see more Pathfinder novels from him in the future. (In the meantime, you can read more about Gad and his companions in The Ironroot Deception for free at Paizo.com.)
I look forward to reading and reviewing the next Pathfinder Tales novel, Master of Devils, scheduled for release in August 2011.