Saturday, 4 October 2014

Review - Pathfinder Tales: The Crusader Road

By Michael A. Stackpole

Published by Paizo Publishing

A very long time ago I had the pleasure of helping to craft some interview questions for Michael A. Stackpole for the UK website Lightsabre, a Star Wars fansite now merged with www.jedinews.co.uk. Before then and since I read his science fiction work – primarily the BattleTech novels and Star Wars - so this book is the first fantasy work of his I’ve had the chance to delve into. I’ve mostly enjoyed the Pathfinder Tales books so what could Stackpole’s talent bring to the mix?

‘When the aristocratic Vishov family is banished from their native Ustalav due to underhanded politics, they're faced with a choice: fade slowly into obscurity, or strike out for the nearby River Kingdoms and establish a new holding on the untamed frontier. For Lady Tyressa Vishov, the decision is simple. Together with her children and loyal retainers, she'll forge a new life in the infamous Echo Wood, and neither bloodthirsty monsters nor local despots will stop her from reclaiming her family honor. Yet the shadow of Ustalavic politics is long, and even in a remote and lawless territory, there may be those determined to see the Vishov family fail...

From New York Times best-selling author Michael A. Stackpole comes a new novel of frontier adventure set in the world of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and the new Pathfinder Online massively multiplayer online roleplaying game.’

I’m no stranger to the Pathfinder world so it was nice to see the book dive straight into the plot. The opening wastes no time and sets the scene, giving us backgrounds, personalities, plot direction and, most importantly of all, gives us a reason to get attached to the primary characters:

Lady Tyressa Vishov is a sharp-witted, clever and determined woman who intends to do the best for her family as well as prove her doubters wrong. I like strong characters and she was definitely one of the strongest I’ve come across in any book. Her shoulders have a lot of weight to bear and it’s a delight to see how she confronts all kind of problems. She certainly has no qualms about getting her hands dirty.

Her daughter, Serrana, is a noble woman of the court who has to adapt to her new, crude and less than perfect new lifestyle. It’s a classic fish-out-of-water story.

Finally, there’s her son Jerrad. He’s the one you root for as he’s young, inexperienced and very, very scared of this sudden change to his once privileged lifestyle. He knows, and you know, that he’s nothing special but he has a good character arc in which, yes, you do think he’s something of a coward, even a fool, but there’s something endearing about him that makes him a very likeable character.

As the plot unfolds we’re entertained with plenty of action, conflicts of both violence and personality. There’s not only battles against the local rampaging goblins (amongst others) to contend with, there’s also political shadows being cast that threaten to topple the Vishovs and destroy their plans for a future. It makes for not only a great adventure but also an intriguing thriller.

Stackpole has written a great story that kept me entertained from the opening chapter to the very end. The complex and interesting characters and enjoyable plot makes for a satisfying read and I have no problem in recommending this to not only Pathfinder fans but also fantasy fans in general. Hopefully this will not be Stackpole’s only venture into the worlds of Pathfinder, and a sequel to this particular book would certainly be welcome.