So, a bit over a year ago or thereabouts, Paizo Publishing kicked off their Pathfinder Tales novel line. I subscribed immediately and have been a subscribed for a year now. I think the fifth novel just came out.
I finally got around to reading one of them. I wasn’t originally intending to review it, but as it happened, I got an extra copy in my monthly adventure path shipment a couple of months back, so I figured this is the least I can do.
It’s the first of the series, Prince of Wolves by Dave Gross, and as far as light fantasy goes, it’s not a bad book.
Prince of Wolves is set in Ustalav, the place in Golarion that’s designed to accommodate all the Ravenloft stuff. It’s gothic and there are vampires and werewolves and superstitious villagers and all the tropes of Gothic literature.
The tropes go so far that I kept a mental checklist and ticked off stuff as it appeared. Not a whole lot of bases that the novel didn’t hit, which is both a good and a bad thing.
The main characters are Count Varian Jeggare, a half-elven Pathfinder Venture-Captain from Cheliax, and his bodyguard Radovan, a tiefling. The novel alternates with their points of view. Each character has a strong, identifiable voice, and they are easy to keep apart. The two head to Ustalav to find out what became of a Pathfinder agent that Varian had sent forth. While Varian Jeggare explores the strange manor of their host, Radovan gets involved with a clan of Sczarni, Varisian thieves. This goes on for about 350 pages and is good for about two hours of reading. The mystery in the novel is compelling and in the end, sufficiently clever.
Dave Gross is a competent writer. His prose isn’t especially artful, but it is lively enough. There was one annoying editing error I spotted, where the word “tenant” had been used in place of “tenet”.
The Gothic novel, then… Gross has apparently read his Walpole and Stoker and even LeFanu. I would also suggest there was a trace of Chambers to be found in Prince of Wolves. I had to suppress my inner literary critic in a few spots, especially when it came to the female characters and the Sczarni (gypsies, essentially). There are a few twists here, though.
From the gamer’s point of view, the novel ties in neatly with the Carrion Crown adventure path. It’s also set in Ustalav and has a similar tone, though I don’t think the two share any characters. A few of the minor characters in the novel do appear as major players in the Ustalav sourcebook Rule of Fear, though. Apparently, they also had a tie-in article for the novel in Kobold Quarterly #14, with some stats and spells and stuff. If I ever run Carrion Crown, I’ll be picking that one up.
In addition to presenting an interesting mystery – a far too rare a thing in fantasy literature, in my view – the novel does a good job of bringing Ustalav to life and depicting life in the Principality of Ustalav, both amongst the nobles and the peasantry, though more of the former.
In summary, taken for what it is, a short fantasy mystery and nothing else, Prince of Wolves is a good way to pass a couple of hours. I’d especially recommend it to Carrion Crown game masters. Look for anything deeper, and you will face disappointment.