Posted by: NiTessine | October 3, 2011

Review: Master of Devils

This was originally supposed to be a post about how I ran GnomeMurdered, a Uruguayan avant-garde roleplaying game. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find willing players for it, so you get this instead.

I got around to reading another Pathfinder novel. Dave Gross’s Master of Devils is a standalone sequel to Prince of Wolves, and like that novel ties in thematically with the Carrion Crown Adventure Path, so does this with the new Jade Regent Adventure Path, though the connections are a bit more tenuous. Whereas Carrion Crown and Prince of Wolves both take place in the same principality, Master of Devils and Jade Regent are only on the same continent of Tian Xia. Jade Regent heads into the Japan-inspired Minkai, while Master of Devils tells the story of Venture-Captain Varian Jeggare and his bodyguard Radovan as they try to survive the not-China of Quain.

The story goes much along the same lines as Prince of Wolves – Varian and Radovan get separated and each thinks the other is dead. Radovan wanders around the countryside at the behest of a sorcerer named Burning Cloud Devil, challenging local heroes to kung-fu duels, while Varian is confined to a monastery where he solves a mystery while being taught martial arts. There’s also a third viewpoint character, who was an interesting surprise, but perhaps insufficiently compelling as a character to support an entire branch of narrative on their own. Dave Gross has essentially written up a kung-fu film, and a lot of page count is dedicated to the characters beating each other up in the style of Shaw Brothers, Jackie Chan and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

I was not overly fond of this novel. Though Gross can write a catchy narrative, it still felt perhaps a hundred pages too long (clocking in at about 400 pages). Additionally, the novel only barely avoids the trope of white guys going to the foreign land to beat the locals at their own game, and I can feel the hot breath of Eddie Saïd at the back of my neck as I’m writing this. The orientalism is strong in this one. While there’s always the “it’s not really China” defence, it rings a bit hollow. At the same time, the setting fails to feel properly foreign or exotic even through the eyes of the outsider main characters. Ustalav was brought to life much more vividly.

The book was not bad, as such. For all the faults in the setting and the plot, Gross can still write good prose and his characters, especially Varian Jeggare, remained interesting. The story iteself was a bit of a disappointment, and I felt that Radovan’s later chapters could have used more characterization and less kung-fu. As it stands, they got repetitive and the reader was given insufficient insight into what was going on within the characters’ head.

So, light entertainment. Unfortunately not much in here for Game Masters, but if you’re going to run a game in the Quain area of Tian Xia, you can probably get some use out of it.


Responses

  1. I enjoyed reading it. It got better in the end, nad Gross really has imagination for names!Also, Radovan’s character getting darker was cool. Good review BTW.

  2. Heya, NiTessine. If you’d be so kind as to send me an e-mail to josephbrowning@gmail.com I have a question for you. Sorry to bother you on your blog, but I figured it was the best way to get a hold of you.


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