The novels set in the Pathfinder RPG world are varied in tone and complexity. I particularly enjoyed this book because it actually has a Pathfinder character unlike many of the other Pathfinder novels, which use privateers on undercover missions, diabolical court intrigues, or a Lovecraft inspired monster that must be defeated.
In this novel Shiera Tristane, an up and coming Pathfinder, strikes out on her own to find a hidden temple near a cursed chasm called the Worldwound. On this adventure she meets renegade knight, Daryus Gaunt, an enchanted talking rat named Toy, and the wicked male-witch, Grigor Dolch.
Shiera is not like a Heavy Metal fantasy heroine who acts as a romantic subplot while wearing very revealing and ineffective armor. She is a small, slight, scholar turned adventurer who relies on her quick intellect, speedy reflexes, and intuitive problem solving. It is this intuition that leads her to hire the down-on-his-luck Daryus Gaunt as a guide.
Now Daryus Gaunt knows the Worldwound well. He used to be a Knight charged with protecting the world from the demons that pour out of it. His reason for leaving the Order of the Flaming Lance is a welcome and slow reveal. Too many stories like this drop a ton of exposition to introduce a character. To have one of your two protagonists a mystery is good storytelling.
A common narrative challenge all RPGs face is this; why would a diverse group of player-characters come together and set off on dangerous adventures? Paizo came up with a great narrative-framing device that dovetails with the shared storytelling of many pencil and paper games. The RPG Pathfinder created a Society whose purpose is to discover the many mysteries of Golarion. The largest requirement of this society is to chronicle these adventures.
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Having a society of committed adventures who must recount their stories to carry on research makes even the most self-centered treasure seeking characters part of a larger community. This community even possesses a loose rank structure where a Pathfinder can aspire to be a Venture-Captain even while working for one.
It is just such an arrangement that causes Shiera to look elsewhere for adventure when her Venture-Captain uses her gifts and takes all the credit, and the loot!
This term Venture-Captains comes very close to venture capitalist and for good reason. Just as a venture capitalist provides capital to startup ventures and resources to entrepreneurs so the Venture-Captain gives resources and guidance for junior Pathfinders and helps them publish their adventures in a famous journal called the Pathfinder Chronicles.
If you’re a Pathfinder fan you will enjoy this book. If you’re not familiar with Pathfinder, you can still read and enjoy it as a stand-alone fantasy novel.