Monday, December 24, 2012

Death's Heretic

Death's Heretic
is my second Pathfinder Tales novel, after Elaine Cunningham and Dave Gross' Winter Witch.The Pathfinder Tales novels are set in the world of Paizo Publishing's Pathfinder Role Playing Game, though knowledge of the game isn't necessary to appreciate either work. In fact, Death's Heretic was chosen as the number three fantasy novel of the year in the Barnes & Noble Book Club's 2011 Best Fantasy Releases (a fact which more than legitimizes the Pathfinder Tales fiction editor, James L. Sutter, in publishing himself in his own line).

Death's Heretic stars Salim Ghadafar, a man from a country of militant atheists, who now finds himself bound in the service of Pharasma, the goddess of death (as well as birth and prophesy, but it's her aspect as goddess of death with which the novel is chiefly concerned). Salim is sent to the nation of Thuvia, where a recently-murdered powerful merchant's soul has gone missing. The local church of Pharasma obviously has an interest in seeing the matter dealt with, as does Neila Anvanory, daughter of the murdered and missing merchant. The novel reads like (and actually is) a classic noir transposed to a fantasy setting, though not in the Jim Butcher sense--no fedoras or trenchcoats, though there is a damsel in distress and a suitably compromised investigator. The plot points don't stray far from the archetype -- eliminate the obvious suspects, identify the guilty party, tables turned while trying to apprehend them -- but it's the richness of the language, the breadth of the world-building, and the depth of Salim Ghadafar himself, hung upon this rather straightforward scaffold, that make the novel exceptional. Without spoiling anything major, the excursions to multiple planes of existence really take the novel into exciting and most unexpected territory, even as everything ties together nicely in the end.

There is a little bit of "male gaze" in the description of women, which I could do without but probably won't throw off fans of either noir mysteries or old school sword & sorcery, and Sutter's language, which for the most part is one of his core strengths, does go a little overblown in a few places, but these are quibbles in a unique, fascinating, engaging, and interesting fantasy work that I have no trouble recommending highly. If every Pathfinder Tales novel is as good as the two I've read so far, then this line is certainly a place for vanguard swords and sorcery fiction. Clearly, anyone expecting merely serviceable, by-the-numbers tie-in fiction is in for a very pleasant surprise.

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