Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Redemption Engine by James L Sutter

The Basics:
The Redemption Engine by James L Sutter
Paizo Publishing, LLC
A Pathfinder Tales Book, Sequel to Death's Heretic
Published May 13, 2014
Source: Requested it from author who graciously sent me a copy.

Why I picked up this book:

I'm a Pathfinder player and relished the opportunity to read and review a Pathfinder book!


When murdered sinners fail to show up in Hell, it's up to Salim Ghadafar, an atheist warrior forced to solve problems for the goddess of death, to track down the missing souls. In order to do so, Salim will need to descend into the anarchic city of Kaer Maga, following a trail that ranges from Hell's iron cities to the gates of Heaven itself. Along the way, he'll be aided by a host of otherworldly creatures, a streetwise teenager, and two warriors of the mysterious Iridian Fold. But when the missing souls are the scum of the earth, and the victims devils themselves, can anyone really be trusted? 

My thoughts:

I had a hard time settling down to read this one because I knew it would be meatier in some ways than the romances that I tend to read of late. I wasn't wrong, but it was also very entertaining and not the slow read that I feared.

I think I responded to it at two levels. One was as a fan of Pathfinder, and on that level I loved this book. I learned a lot about the extraplanar realms, I learned a lot about Kaer Maga, which is a fascinating city. I think the entire story reads like a really engaging Pathfinder adventure. Salim, the main character, was an interesting lens for experiencing the story. He's confident and arrogant in his own ways, and driven by pride/honour and his relationship to the goddess of death really drew me into the story. I wanted to know the why of it - why he is the way he is, why he continues to act on her behalf and I appreciated that Salim saw the irony of it all.

As a fan of fantasy novels, I found the story to be a little convenient. Everything kind of came back around together in the end, and there was an economy of plot components that kind of rubbed me the wrong way, for whatever reason. Still, the investigation took the reader to some crazy places, and Salim's method of following leads was relentless, very much about diving into the deep end without looking first, and made it difficult for me to put the book down.

The cast of secondary characters is colorful. Many are clear types - Gav as younger, chatty sidekick, the two Iridian Fold men as sorcerer and warrior types, and so on, but this *is* Pathfinder. The typing is expected, and I did find that the writing and story gave these characters a depth of personality and back story that elevated them. 

I appreciated, as a fan, that I could see the elements of the game in the writing. The entire book really worked to help visualize things that could viably happen during a session of the roleplaying game, particular the way that magic felt, viscerally, as it was being used and the way that various planes looked and operated. 

There were a few odd notes for me - every thing is so carefully named by type or species or title. And Salim had an odd desire to identify gender of every person he met - mentioning why it was hard to tell when that was the case, which was really unnecessary, I think. 

At the core of it, there was this lovely philosophical bent to the story which, I think, let the book rise above being just another 'episode in the life of' (no matter how epic!) or adventure journal. 

The writing itself is very accessible and other than the few weird qualities that I mentioned above, it was excellent. It could have been bogged down by the details, but instead the pacing was quick (perhaps a little quick in terms of checking off each stop during the investigation) and I never felt the story drag.

And yes, I do want to know what happens to Salim next, so I have to rate this one as a success. 

Bottom line:

If you like Pathfinder, this is a great book. If you've never played it or an RPG like it, than I think there's still a lot to like about this book. Fantasy, mystery and some debate about choice and mortality, right and wrong, chaos and logic - these are all elements that might draw you in!

4 stars
For fans of Pathfinder, fantasy, angels and devils, extraplanar travel...

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