Wednesday, December 27, 2017
Nightglass is a Pathfinder Tales novel that's very different than the norm. It's not about adventurers on some sort of quest, but instead a book that traces, from childhood to adulthood, the life of a single individual. The novel is set in the country of Nidal, a dark but fascinating place where the rulers (and, by necessity, most of the people) have dedicated themselves to a god of pain and shadows. It's not easy to imagine what everyday life would be like in such a foreboding place, but author Liane Merciel does a fantastic job bringing Nidal to life. The book's main character strikes me as a touch bland and (no insult intended!) a bit too much like Drizzt Do'Urden, but on the whole this is an excellent job that adds more depth and range to the official Pathfinder campaign setting of Golarion. We need more clever and original books like this!
The book's main character, Isiem, is taken from his rural village as a child when he shows aptitude for the arcane art of shadowcalling: contacting and manipulating the evil and hungry forces of the shadow plane! The novel follows Isiem's training at Dusk Hall in Nidal's capital city of Pangolais, and we see what a very evil Hogwarts would be like. (There's something in there called Joyful Things--jeepers they're creepy!) The students who survive and progress in their studies at Dusk Hall are eventually initiated into the faith of Zon-Kuthon in a ceremony (the Needled Choir) that is ghastly but a perfect encapsulation and explanation of the faith's tenets. As often as role-playing scenarios are about heroes defeating evil cultists, it's really unusual to see the inner works of those evil faiths.
After being assigned to help (and spy) on a Chelaxian envoy, Isiem starts planning his escape from Nidal. Isiem's character isn't easy to pin down. He takes no joy in the evils deeds he's often asked to do as part of his studies and has no innate respect for the tenets of his faith and government. Yet, although he sometimes tries to curb the worst of their excesses, he's definitely not a heroic type of character. He's a survivor who wants, most of all, to be free--and that's why the comparison to Drizzt's escape from the Drow strikes me as an apt comparison.
The second half of the book shifts to a remote town in Cheliax called Crackspike where silver has recently been discovered. Isiem is sent with a contingent of Hellknights (because Nidal cooperates with Cheliax by making its shadowcallers available to them) to pacify the birdlike strix that have been warring with the miners. The novel shows great insight (and adds worldlore) for the strix, creatures I haven't encountered in much Pathfinder fiction. After the strix overrun Crackspike, Isiem becomes their ally because he showed mercy to one of their warriors during the battle. He helps the strix in a later battle against Chelaxian reinforcements, and helps to negotiate a peace treaty between the two forces. It's an odd and unpredictable turn of events for the character, and although it ties into his freedom from Nidal, I'm sure if it fits the theme of the book as well. Nidal is such an interesting place that I'd rather see more of it than follow the life of one of its escapees.
Despite the review ending on a bit of a down note, Nightglass is an excellent novel and definitely worth reading. It has single-handedly turned a particular aspect of Golarion from an interesting idea to a fully fleshed-out and believable place, which is no small feat.