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Pathfinder: Master of Devils review

Pathfinder Tales: Master of Devils – Dave Gross

Paizo Books £7.50

Master of Devils is Dave Gross’ second entry in the Pathfinder Tales library and a sequel of sorts to Prince of Wolves. Once again we have an adventure centred around Count Varian Jeggare and his hellspawn bodyguard Radovan. Jeggare is a roving adventurer who belongs to the Pathfinder Society and we join him on a mysterious new mission. Last time we were taken on a dark and gothic tour of the strange Transylvanian style land of Ustalav, full of creepy castles, ghouls and monsters, this time Jeggar and Radovan have gone much farther afield, into the distant mystical far eastern land of Tian Xia.

The radical change of location makes for a very different type of adventure which may come as something of a surprise for fans of the last book. Jeggare’s mission is to collect and bring back the shell of a Dragon’s egg to add to the Pathfinder Society’s archive of magical objects. The Dragon’s egg grants a wish to whoever earns the right to take it so there are many factions out to get their hands on the prize. You may think this doesn’t sound too great a challenge but the dragon in question rarely appears and getting the egg requires magicians and warriors of enormous skill and ingenuity. Jeggare and Radovan must both come to terms with the complex culture and traditions of this bewildering new country if they are to play their parts in the wider adventure.

Although the scenery is radically different some things remain comfortably the same. Jeggare is the same snobbish and aloof academic from before and Radovan remains a likeable rough and tumble scoundrel. The narrative structure is also familiar. Almost as soon as our heroes arrive in Tian Xia they are separated in a furious battle which makes for an exciting and frenetic opening to the novel. Each man believes the other to be dead and they embark on two parallel adventures with the chapters alternating between them. There are even a handful of chapters where the hero duties are taken over by Jeggare’s loyal dog Arnisant who, having been sent to look for Radovan, ends up having a bizarre adventure all of his own.

Jeggare is captured and taken to the Dragon temple where he joins the other disciple monks in the warrior monastery. There are some nice character touches when this snobbish proud Count discovers that his name and heritage count for nothing in this faraway land and he is suddenly at the bottom of the food chain. ‘Brother’ Jeggare is forced to join the humiliations of the other novices as they learn the many arts and skills of the warrior. As his training progresses Jeggare becomes embroiled in the intrigues of the monastery where things are often not what they appear. A visiting Prince and his eunuch bodyguard Jade Tiger are guests of the monks and seem to have murky plans of their own as the Day of the Dragon approaches.

Radovan, on the other hand, finds himself trapped in his demon form and held hostage by the one armed wizard Burning Cloud Devil who literally has Radovan’s heart in his hand after using the legendary Quivering Palm attack on him. Knowing he is one squeeze away from death Radovan has no choice but to obey his new master. Burning Cloud Devil wants to seize the Dragon’s heart for himself and needs the mightiest warrior to help him do it. Radovan is forced into a series of brutal battles, honing his skills by fighting and killing Tian Xia’s greatest fighters, to make him ready for the day he must face the dragon.

Dave Gross goes to town with the eastern mysticism and mythology and your enjoyment of the book will probably depend on how fond you are of the quirky oriental setting. On the whole it is great fun. Monsters and warriors are varied and suitably bizarre, mixing martial arts with magic. The standard eastern locations of small villages, palaces and temples are all present and correct with many magical animal spirits and other supernatural creatures filling the scenes. The intrigues and politics are well constructed and the feeling that both Jeggare and Radovan are fish out of water with only the vaguest idea of what is going on around them keeps the stranger in a strange land vibe ticking along nicely. The only problem is that every now and then the inscrutable oriental mysticism tips a little too far towards the ridiculous and you find yourself in the pantomime world of the old Monkey magic TV show from the seventies. This is a shame because it undermines some of the tension and drama Gross has worked so hard to create.

All in all Master of Devils proves a worthy sequel to Prince of Wolves. Dave Gross leaves the reader hungry for more adventures for Jeggare and Radovan and wondering where in this meticulously created fantasy world they might end up next. The setting may not be to every reader’s taste but what this novel certainly does show is the enormous range of creative possibilities that the Pathfinder environment opens up. As with Prince of Wolves this will satisfy Pathfinder enthusiasts but should also please anyone who enjoys well written fantasy fiction.

David Stonehouse

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