Monday, April 24, 2017

The Worldwound Gambit [BOOKS]


Well, you know from the title that this book involves the Worldwound, which in the official Pathfinder campaign setting of Golarion is a massive tear in the fabric of reality through which demonic armies of the Abyss have invaded and established a foothold.  With such a setting, you could expect, and wouldn't be disappointed, to find gore, horror, and demons aplenty.  The novel is extremely effective in its depiction of demon-scarred lands, but it's not relentlessly dark.  The protagonists, although in a terrible situation, hold enough personality and interest to keep the story flowing.  This is one of those books where the reader isn't guaranteed a happy ending--and that makes it all the more exciting to get to the end and see what happens!  I think my only real criticism is that the author tries too hard to subvert expectations by having traditional heroes turn out to be foolish, weak, or evil and traditional rogues end up showing all of the virtues of courage, friendship, etc.  All in all, this is a good, well-written fantasy story of especial interest to readers who a) like demons or b) like non-traditional heroes.


The elevator pitch for this book would be "The gang from Ocean's 11 have a heist planned in Sauron's tower from Lord of the Rings."  After a demon attack on Mendev kills a long-time accomplice, a skilled con man named Gad vows revenge.  He assembles a diverse group of criminal types for a potentially deadly mission: he wants to infiltrate the Tower of Yath, a major new presence in the Worldwound, and steal the mystical orb that allows it to exist, thus dealing a heavy blow to the demons' plans.  One of the strong points of the book is characterization, as each of the team members have distinct personalities and skills.  In addition, Robin Laws does a fantastic job with the setting: the Worldwound definitely feels like no place else on Golarion, and is definitely not the place an adventuring party wants to visit!  A surprisingly long chunk of the book takes place within the tower itself, and those scenes are fraught with tension and surprises.  The weaknesses of the book, in my mind, are twofold and relate to what I wrote about above.  First, the author really goes out of his way to make the paladins and crusaders fighting against the tide of demons seem like arrogant, simple-minded idiots destined to fail.  Second, there's not enough motivation provided for why Gad (and especially the others) decide to undertake this mission when there is almost no chance of profit.  I get that revenge can be a powerful motivator, but we don't even get any backstory to explain why/if Gad and his dead friend were so close, or why all of the team members that Gad recruits would undertake what is portrayed as a near suicidal mission to help him get revenge against a fairly abstract enemy.  In general, I think the idea of subverting fantasy tropes by having a group of rogues sneak and bluff their way into the tower instead of knights fighting their way in is great; it just seemed like some depth to the story was missing to make the character's actions plausible.

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