So, I have to start this out with a moment of honesty: I’ve been biased against novels published by gaming companies for…as long as I’ve been buying books. There’s no particular reason for it, and I really should have known better, but I just didn’t see myself as the target market. I don’t know the world, I don’t know the characters, and the couple of times I’ve looked at it, I came away with an impression of fan-service.
I started out with James Sutter’s Death’s Heretic. I’ve only played original RPGs, never played in the Pathfinder universe, so I had no idea if I would be able to keep up with the story. I love world-building and detail and unique creatures.
Death’s Heretic delivers on all points.
Salim is a hunter for Lamasara, the triple-aspect goddess of birth, death and prophecy. He hunts the restless dead and the people who create them. He himself is deathless, held to life to pay off his debts to the goddess, and the irony is not lost on him.
Now, the goddess has a new task for him, and calls him out of his exile to hunt something much closer to home. Reluctantly, he returns to the desert and meets with Khoyar, the high priest of Lamasara’s death-aspect, and Neila, his client. Neila’s father won a vial of Sun Orchid Elixer, a sort of immortality potion.
The pair chase leads through the Boneyard, into the Eternal City of Axis, even into Hell itself. The action is quick and unrelenting, and Sutter does an excellent job of writing vivid landscapes and bringing the Pathfinder world to life, while still keeping it interesting for a reader who is not familiar with the world. Salim is a dark character, but not given to dramatics or bouts of trying to prove his manliness. Neila is a kick-ass woman who does not rely on her gender, wealth or beauty to get her way. They have good chemistry, and the ending is unexpected and bitter-sweet.
The world-building aspects from the game are a bonus, not a detriment, and Sutter explains them without lapsing into ‘as you know, Bob’. The action is a nonstop romp through fabulous settings, and if it sometimes seems like an excuse to tour the world for the sake of those settings, Sutter backs it up with a surprisingly un-preachy contemplation of mortality and human relationships.
In short, Death’s Heretic is sword and sorcery like I grew up with, but updated. I’m looking forward to more work from both the author and the publisher.