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RPG Superstar 2015

Pathfinder Tales: Death's Heretic

****½ (based on 41 ratings)
Pathfinder Tales: Death's Heretic
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by James L. Sutter

A warrior haunted by his past, Salim is a problem-solver for a church he hates, bound by the death goddess to hunt down those who would rob her of her due. Such is the case in the desert nation of Thuvia, where a merchant on the verge of achieving eternal youth via a magical elixir is mysteriously murdered, his soul stolen from the afterlife. The only clue is a magical ransom note offering to trade the merchant’s spirit for his dose of the fabled potion. But who could steal a soul from the boneyard of Death herself ? Enter Salim, whose unique skills should make solving this mystery a cinch. There’s only one problem: The investigation is being financed by the dead merchant’s stubborn and aristocratic daughter—and she wants to go with him. Together, the two must embark on a tour of the Outer Planes, where devils and angels rub shoulders with fey lords and mechanical men, and nothing is as it seems.

From noted author and game designer James L. Sutter comes an epic mystery of murder and immortality, set in the award-winning world of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

400-page mass market paperback

ISBN–13: 978-1-60125-369-9
ePub ISBN-13: 978-1-60125-370-5

Download a free sample chapter by clicking here! (45 KB zip/PDF)

Death's Heretic is sanctioned for use in Pathfinder Society Organized Play. Its Chronicle Sheet and additional are a free download (229 KB zip/PDF).

Note: This product is part of the Pathfinder Tales Subscription.

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Are there errors or omissions in this product information? Got corrections? Let us know at webmaster@paizo.com.

PZO8506


See Also:



Product Discussion (86)
51 to 86 of 86 << first < prev | 1 | 2 | next > last >>
Marathon Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

Paizo Charter Superscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Deluxe Comics Subscriber
Vic Wertz wrote:

That's actually precisely why we chose the 5-star system: the more rankings there are to choose from, the more people's own impressions of the system vary.

For example, if given a 1-to-100 scale, some people assume 50 is average because it's right in the middle, and others assume 70 is average because it's a "C" in well-known educational grading systems. And people used to scoring wine on a 100-point scale would probably consider anything lower than about 85 a failure hardly worthy of mention.

With the 5-star system, I think most people peg "3" as "average."

Yeah, I see what you mean. All the more reason for me to only rate things if I'm going to give them 4 or 5 stars, I guess :)

Paizo Employee Managing Editor

Vic's right that there are several schools of thought when it comes to rating books. But that's one of the nice things about having the chance to actually write a review, rather than just clicking a star rating--you can clarify your opinion in as much detail as you want. It doesn't affect how the numbers average out, but at least someone can tell whether you meant your 3-star rating to mean "pretty darn enjoyable!" or "strictly competent," etc.

And regardless--thanks to everyone who's reviewed Pathfinder Tales novels! Your feedback really helps not just potential purchasers, but us as the publisher as well. We put a lot of stock in audience opinion, and it's already helped us shape the direction of the line numerous times in just the 16 months we've been publishing novels.

Liberty's Edge

A great book! I was hooked from the start, and can't wait to read more from you Sutter. Will post a review soon. Congrats...


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I was definitely hooked on this story. My copy is already rather battered, as I forced a couple of my players to read it! Review posted here and at Amazon (my first product reviews anywhere, if it gives you an idea of how much I loved the story!)

Paizo Employee Managing Editor

Wow, thanks dudes! I'm really glad you enjoyed it! And double thanks for posting reviews--they really do help a lot when it comes to convincing folks who might be on the fence about buying a given book.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion Subscriber

I'm reading it.

I like it.

Very much.

It's gonna get a 5-star when I finish it.

But it's not going to stop me fighting to excise fiction from PF APs! Never! Muaaarghbblllle!

Paizo Employee Managing Editor

Gorbacz wrote:

I'm reading it.

I like it.

Very much.

It's gonna get a 5-star when I finish it.

But it's not going to stop me fighting to excise fiction from PF APs! Never! Muaaarghbblllle!

That is fair. :)

Thanks, Gorbacz!

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion Subscriber

My review is up :)

Paizo Employee Managing Editor

Gorbacz, you just made my day. :D


It says its sanctioned for organized play, whatever that means. Does that mean that the details of Golarian revealed in the novel are to be considered "canon."

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

Gururamalamaswami wrote:
It says its sanctioned for organized play, whatever that means. Does that mean that the details of Golarian revealed in the novel are to be considered "canon."

All of the novels are canon.

Sanctioning, in this case, means that there's a little perk available for PFS players who have the book.

Dedicated Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

So James... be honest, are you working on a follow up featuring Salim? You can tell us... ;)

Paizo Employee Managing Editor

LoreKeeper wrote:

So James... be honest, are you working on a follow up featuring Salim? You can tell us... ;)

Yup. :)


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game, Tales Subscriber
James Sutter wrote:
LoreKeeper wrote:

So James... be honest, are you working on a follow up featuring Salim? You can tell us... ;)

Yup. :)

Well at least some body around here will leak that they are working on something... Hear that Jacobs!!! [J/K] ;)

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Justin Franklin wrote:
James Sutter wrote:
LoreKeeper wrote:

So James... be honest, are you working on a follow up featuring Salim? You can tell us... ;)

Yup. :)
Well at least some body around here will leak that they are working on something... Hear that Jacobs!!! [J/K] ;)

Sitter only said he's working on it, nothing about Paizo picking it up; I wouldn't put it past him to just be writing reams about Salim on his own...

Paizo Employee Managing Editor

In the meantime, if folks want more Salim, there's always the free prequel story, "Faithful Servants"!


OK... I will read the final chapter tonight.

1st time in my life I read a book that fast (no... "read" is not the right word... "devour" - yep that's more like it). It is impossible to stop - what a great novel!!!

This is 5-star material.

Can't wait to read the free prequel story also once I am done!

Incredible work James!!!


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Here's a nice blog about it from Quest for Fun!

The Exchange

So I just wrote a review, and it's a 5 star one, and in case I wasn't clear enough on the review itself, let me clerify that I thoroughly enjoyed Death's Heretic and will insta-buy anything further written by Mr. Sutter.

Speaking of whom, Mr. Sutter, in case you are still reading these boards:

first of all, congrats! you did something special with this one, and you are worthy of all the high praise you got on these boards.
I do feel obligated to ask you about the representation of women in your book though. As you can read in my review I do not make a big deal about such matters in fiction, but since I see how active you are in this thread I came to think maybe you can clarify the matter for me.
Do you feel that my claim that women are seriously misrepresented and under represented in the book? We only get two (statistically improbable, given that they do compose 50% of every species). Of the two, one is a romantic interest of the main character, making it legitimate to present her in a sexual context. The second is standing in the middle of a gigantic palace full of other naked whores, and she herself is yet another whore. After that, we also get almost nude dryads, and completely nude, obviously sexualized nymphs.

In a world like Golarion, where through (good) decisions of the Paizo stuff women are not treated as bad as they are in our world, I find this kind of treatment to be unworthy and unkind, and completely uncalled for. Where are the women worriors and women priests and women nobles who made their own fortunes (not inherited from a wealthy father or achieved by sex)?

again, not a giant issue, but I do feel it calls for a justification.


Lord Snow wrote:

[...]Do you feel that my claim that women are seriously misrepresented and under represented in the book? We only get two (statistically improbable, given that they do compose 50% of every species). Of the two, one is a romantic interest of the main character, making it legitimate to present her in a sexual context. The second is standing in the middle of a gigantic palace full of other naked whores, and she herself is yet another whore. After that, we also get almost nude dryads, and completely nude, obviously sexualized nymphs.

In a world like Golarion, where through (good) decisions of the Paizo stuff women are not treated as bad as they are in our world, I find this kind of treatment to be unworthy and unkind, and completely uncalled for. Where are the women worriors and women priests and women nobles who made their own fortunes (not inherited from a wealthy father or achieved by sex)?

again, not a giant issue, but I do feel it calls for a justification.

Funny. A protagonist encounters a forest fey, and the reader complains about lack of clothes... dude, I guess that in your opinion it was a given the satyr was wearing pants? FYI, Greek depictions were quite pant-less.

As for the palace part... just have a look at any Egyptian art pertaining to ancient period.

Regards,
Ruemere

The Exchange

@Ruemere - I don't think there's any problem at all with Nymphs in the story, or with the palace of whores, or with the main female role being the romantic interest of the main male role, but:
these are the only women in the entire story. There is not a single other female character. Not even one. Sure, If I recall correctly:

slight spoilers:

Spoiler:

-of the three leaders of the temple of Pharasma, we have one woman. Guess who's the only one of them who never speaks in the book?

- There is mention of female cooks and stuff like that, but always in descriptions like: "Thw women were shouting", or "the cook gave him a scornful look", making them more background than actual characters

-There is one extra whore who gets to speak in the palace of The Harlot

But that's about it, I think.

So the end result is that every female in the book is presented with a sexual context, and there are WAY less females than males. Agian, the sexual ontext is fine individualy but it stacks up. Sure the Satyr is half naked as well, but 90% of the male characters in the story are not, which is far from true for the women.


The Name of the Rose.
Practically anything by sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Lovecraft (to lesser extent than the creator of Holmes, but still).

The point here is that the presence or representation of a type of characters bears little importance as to the quality of the story. Secondly, character nudity is not necessarily sexual in nature - it is quite likely an element of Osirion (see Egypt reference above) culture or, for Fey creatures, something natural. Bringing sex into this situation is inappropriate - Salim is conducting investigation, he does not seem to perceive a successful businesswoman in any other than business way. As for him wanting to have sex with a plant - well, he has no intention of doing anything like that. If anything, he seems to be quite socially awkward (one of the reasons I could not accept his age easily)... somewhere around the level of a stereotypical basement geek (with a bit more developed vocabulary).

That's why I find your opinion needlessly objectifying - you're apparently disregarding (a) a bereft daughter who actually manages to get a grip on her life after a loss of overprotective father, (b) VERY successful busineswoman (anyone capable of shelling cash for the elixir is VERY successful), (c) inhuman creatures living in a different world.

Dude. If you want to be so politically correct, why not add to your gripe list missing representation of non-Caucasian males from Tian Xan, Mwangi, children, handicapped etc? And on this cheerful note, peace and out.

Regards,
Ruemere

The Exchange

@Ruemere, if "peace and out" means you will not look at this board again then writing this post is pointless, but just in case I misunderstood you there:

If it's ok by you I'd like to burden you with reading my original post again or, rather, this part of it:

" As you can read in my review I do not make a big deal about such matters in fiction..."

I am acutely aware of the race/gender fails in other works of litreture. Hack, I am a Jew, but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy the works of H. P Lovecraft, even though I have to clench my jaw and read past few enraging parts. Death's Heretic is a great read and I have stressed that point several times before. I even gave it the 5 star rating meaning that I declared it to be as good as Pathfinder Fiction could reasonably be expected to get.

All of the above has nothing to do with the fact that the book is NOT fair to women. For example, I share many of my favorite books with my girlfriend, but I simply know that this will not be a pleasant read for her because of the treatment her gender is getting.

And about Velina (If I recall correctly that's the name of the merchant's daughter). She is an actual character, and I have no problem with her at all. She is presented in a sexual context - sexual tension is built between her and Salim from the first moment, Salim initiates touch with her at every opportunity, and no other character is described so many times as her, allowing the reader to imagine just how pretty she looks evrey time (seriuosly, check the book out - she is described once evrey couple of pages or so).

And that's ok. sexual tension happens between people, usualy even between males and females, and I have no problem with that. Still means that there is no women in the book that has nothing to do with sex, while most men have nothing to do with sex. that's not fair.

The Exchange

Let me put my thoughts into a simple, short statement:

"It seems that every character in this book is a male, unless there's a specific reason for it to be a female, and that reason is always related to sex."

That about sums up the way I feel the book is unfair to women.

Dark Archive

I can see that point.


"Peace and out" as in "This is not meant as an attack, this is the end of my opinion".
I am, I'm ashamed to say, quite confrontational, so I try to end my posts in more positive way.

Lord Snow wrote:
[...]I am acutely aware of the race/gender fails in other works of litreture. Hack, I am a Jew, but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy the works of H. P Lovecraft, even though I have to clench my jaw and read past few enraging parts. Death's Heretic is a great read and I have stressed that point several times before. I even gave it the 5 star rating meaning that I declared it to be as good as Pathfinder Fiction could reasonably be expected to get.

Never disputed that.

Quote:
All of the above has nothing to do with the fact that the book is NOT fair to women. For example, I share many of my favorite books with my girlfriend, but I simply know that this will not be a pleasant read for her because of the treatment her gender is getting.

This is what I would dispute. Mind you, I am not saying she would like it...only that she may prefer to form her opinion herself.

Quote:
And about Velina (If I recall correctly that's the name of the merchant's daughter). She is an actual character, and I have no problem with her at all. She is presented in a sexual context - sexual tension is built between her and Salim from the first moment, Salim initiates touch with her at every opportunity, and no other character is described so many times as her, allowing the reader to imagine just how pretty she looks evrey time (seriuosly, check the book out - she is described once evrey couple of pages or so).

I was wondering why you hadn't mentioned her.

Quote:
And that's ok. sexual tension happens between people, usualy even between males and females, and I have no problem with that. Still means that there is no women in the book that has nothing to do with sex, while most men have nothing to do with sex. that's not fair.

In that case steer away from Malazan series by Steve Ericsson. That book offends even my, very liberal, sense of social discrimination.

Regards,
Ruemere

Paizo Employee Managing Editor

2 people marked this as a favorite.

This is a worthwhile discussion, and one I've had with friends who've read the book, so I'd like to take the chance to talk about it. (WARNING: The following contains spoilers, but I'm not going to hide it behind a spoiler tag, as I feel it's an important part of the conversation.)

To begin with, I'll fess up and say that, when writing Death's Heretic, I didn't pay as much attention to gender balance as I would nowadays. I simply wrote the characters as they appeared in my imagination. Though there are a few more named women than you mention (for instance, Shyka is half female), you're right that the majority of the rather small cast is male or neuter (Calabast, Ceyanan, the protean, etc).

Which is not to say that I ignored gender issues, however. In fact, it's a pretty central theme to the novel. In my mind, the most important character arc for Salim over the course of the book isn't that he falls for Neila--it's that he starts out totally discounting her as some spoiled, inexperienced girl, and over the course of the book is forced (somewhat against the will) to acknowledge her as the smart and capable woman she is. There's a lot of focus on her because I'm trying to show how Salim's view of her is changing, and the fact that they hook up is intended to be a *result* of his new understanding. By the end, such as in his musings on page 356, he's forced to admit to himself that his protective, paternalistic feelings toward her are a problem with *him*, not her--that she's truly his equal, and thus ought to be treated like one:

Yet that wasn't fair, and even the anxious pre-battle stillness, Salim couldn't quite make himself believe it. The girl had proven herself as well as any legionnaire--more, if he wanted to be fair. She'd saved his life in the markets of Axis, and held herself together in the face of some of the strangest things a mortal could bear witness to. She was smart, she was fast, and she was stubborn--all things which he knew could be said about him, in his better moments. And if it made him uneasy to take her into combat, to see that delicate skin go before the sword, then that was his problem, his weakness.

It was a challenge to try and write that character arc when the novel's point of view is in Salim's head--I was afraid that folks might think *I* was discounting Neila as a character in the early chapters, rather than Salim--but my hope was that by the end, people would see that she was a badass all along, and more importantly that Salim had grown enough as a person to appreciate that. Whether I succeeded or not is, of course, up to the reader.

Similarly, while some of the other women--such as Lady Jbade the madam, or Salim's former wife--are indeed sexualized, I tried to show them all as strong, confident, and independent. I'm not interested in writing subservient women or damsels in distress, and in my mind sexuality doesn't necessarily lessen a character. But I could definitely stand to have added some more women whose sexuality wasn't a part of their character.

All of that said, it wasn't until after the book was published that one of my friends pointed out that women don't have a lot of on-stage time in the book, particularly as supporting/background characters. This is totally true, and a rookie mistake on my part. Were I writing the book today, I would go back and shift some supporting characters (such as the major domo, or the Jackal's bodyguard) to female.

I apologize if the gender imbalance disrupted your enjoyment of the novel. I realize that author intentions don't matter--a book is what it is, and needs to speak for itself--but for what it's worth, please know that such problems were the result of ignorance rather than malice!

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32, 2010 Top 8 , Star Voter 2013

@James Thank you for that insightful post.

"This is totally true, and a rookie mistake." Just curious, why? While you're a writer and I'm a failed hack, I write men better than women, so most of my fiction is male dominated. If the story is good which this is, the characters don't matter to me. *shrug*

Then again, I don't worry about how many lefties are in a novel either.

Paizo Employee Managing Editor

Lord Snow wrote:
Where are the women worriors and women priests and women nobles who made their own fortunes (not inherited from a wealthy father or achieved by sex)?

Just wanted to point out that these are some of these in the book--for instance, Lamasara is ruled by a strong woman who's mentioned in the book but never shows up in person. And as you pointed out, one of the three head priests of Pharasma in Lamasara is female...

Spoiler:

...and shows up in person in the novel as the only one of the Pharasmins present who can meet Salim's gaze and take charge of the church when Khoyar's treachery is revealed.

So while it's totally legit to say there's not enough screen time, it's worth noting that I didn't leave them out entirely.

Paizo Employee Managing Editor

Matthew Morris wrote:


"This is totally true, and a rookie mistake." Just curious, why? While you're a writer and I'm a failed hack, I write men better than women, so most of my fiction is male dominated. If the story is good which this is, the characters don't matter to me. *shrug*

Hey Matthew! Thanks for the comment. The reason I call it a rookie mistake to not look carefully and critically at gender (or race, or sexuality) in your piece is that, regardless of what you believe personally, some of your audience are going to be looking at your work in that context. Which doesn't mean that you can't write an all-male story, or an all-white story, or an all-hetero story, or one in which stereotypes are rampant, etc. and still have it be a good story. But if so, you should be prepared for some fallout. From experience, I've learned that some readers are going to be immediately knocked out of the story and possibly pissed off by such things. And whenever I've run into that with my own work, it's never been because I had intended that reaction, simply because I had no idea the book would be interpreted in that way. So the two biggest reasons to keep an eye out for ways that your work might have unfortunate social issues are:

1) Because it may be that you're accidentally perpetuating a stereotype or phenomenon in which you don't believe. (For instance, I'm by all accounts a fairly feminist guy in my beliefs and politics, yet I've had problems with accidentally leaving women out of my work simply by not paying attention to gender balance.)

2) Because every person who would otherwise have loved your work but was turned off by unnecessary gender/race/sexuality/etc. issues is a potential fan lost. And being labeled as part of the problem *really* sucks (especially if it's one you're actively working against).

So whether you're going the idealist or mercenary routes, it's always a good idea to think about issues like gender, race, and sexuality in your work!

Liberty's Edge

My copy of Death's Heretic is starting to look quite worn. It has been circulating around my gaming group for the last few months. All agree that it is fantastic.

Paizo Employee Managing Editor

Laschoni wrote:
My copy of Death's Heretic is starting to look quite worn. It has been circulating around my gaming group for the last few months. All agree that it is fantastic.

Thanks, Laschoni! It's always nice to hear when folks who like a book pass it on. :)


Side note: The novel, the latter part, felt very Planescapish to me. If possible, I would love this part of the story expanded upon. This would, along with a series of Radovan and Jeggare's adventures form a basis for a nice tour of Pathfinder-verse.

Regards,
Ruemere

PS. My gripe list with the novel is considerably shorter and contains only two points.

Spoiler:
1. Salim does not act his level. Of course, Jeggare and Radovan also suffer from this problem... but when reading the book, I find it to be more Savage Worlds than Pathfinder, and as absurd as it may sound to some, it breaks the feeling of immersion to me. I am not saying that Salim should flaunt his hitpoint score (like he didn't with that failed backstab case) but still... his powers of observation, and results of other skill checks should be more pronounced.

2. Salim, being an investigator, does not seem to be investigating much. Well, he goes questing eventually, but in the beginning he does not seem to exhibit a lot of initiative. I know that it may sound a bit convoluted, but I would prefer the type of the approach exhibited by Dashiell Hammet heroes. For example, the nameless operative in Red Harvest builds strong relationships with numerous NPCs... while Salim feels unable to make other people talk to him. Something does not click here - an investigator who is at a loss while interacting with others? Jarring.

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32, 2010 Top 8 , Star Voter 2013

Thank you for the reply James. I guess that is the difference between writing for the audience and for my entertainment.

Personally I've never kept a count on who is what in my writing. I've had strong men, strong women, weak men, weak women etc. It's like how I don't worry about how many characters are left handed. But like I said, I'm writing for (therapy) an audience of one, unless you want to count all the voices in my head.

Though I do shy away from romances, since I've no experience in successful relationships :-)


Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Modules Subscriber
James Sutter wrote:
LoreKeeper wrote:

So James... be honest, are you working on a follow up featuring Salim? You can tell us... ;)

Yup. :)

I was going to poke with a sharp stick. Then I remembered my cardinal rule of when-to-use-a-longspear: after after checking it's pointed in the right direction.

"Preorder expected early April 2014" is what it says here so I guess I'll just put this polearm back where I found it.

And wait.

Patiently.

For April.

Is it April yet?

What about now?

Now?


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I know I'm a few years late to the party, and I doubt anyone still cares or finds this relevant, but I just think the discussion here is really awesome. I also want to comment on some things I don't think really fit in the review section and don't know where else to put it. I have been thinking about this book a lot for the last week or so and I just want to put something out somewhere.

So to preface: I think the fact that this book and these characters have gotten under my skin says a lot about how much I want to like them. I love Golarion, I love reading about it, and I love Paizo. Just want to put that out there first. The second part is that I also get really passionate about reading and I enjoy examining stories on what might be some nitpicky levels and I know that's not for everyone.

Regardless, one thing I want to be clear is that anything I saw isn't coming from a point of meanness or ire, it's just what I walked away with and if that experience was not another person's then that's totally cool. I just think that Sutter started some characters that have a lot of potential, and he also fumbled in some ways that really fascinate me. As a writer he's still very talented and the responses I've seen him post on these boards make him sound like a really amazing person too! I just want to talk about the book, and it's coming from a place of excitement.

There is one thing I'd like to actually start with, based on Lord Snow's comments regarding the sexualization of the gals in the book and/or the lack of women in general. The general lack of female characters was actually kind expected and not a surprise, but I wasn't able to put my finger on exactly why it still bothered me until reading this thread while talking to a friend about the book: it's the sexualized aspect that Lord Snow mentions. More accurately, it's the fact that it... well frankly, only happens to women, and always with regards to their breasts and bodies. Again, that it happens (period) is fine, but the few times that it could possibly happen to a guy, it's left completely neutered: NOT by Salim (or his thoughts), but by the author.

Some examples in the spoiler::

The first time might be with the two eunuch guards in the Harlot's brothel. Like, yeah, Salim notices that they're both extremely attractive, but then he thinks they're eunuchs, and... why? What possible reason would they have for being eunuchs? A) in a world of magic powerful enough to bring back the dead, how would that really stop a man, and B) in THIS brothel in particular, where Salim stated explicitly that the courtesans guarding the entrance probably could have ended him had he tried to start something, why would they need eunuch guards to protect the ladies? To keep the ladies from potentially enjoying some male companionship in their own time?

The inconsistency of that aside, Salim notes they're attractive - but then Sutter, the author, makes the choice to have them neutered. They're neutered, sexless men. I mean, I don't think it's "confirmed", but supposedly Salim is an apt judge of people. It may seem nitpicky, and I might agree in a different situation, but I think it's very relevant here in the context of 'no male character in the book is sexually objectified while nearly every single female character is'.

The second example might be the Harlot commenting on Salim's appearance. To be honest, this genuinely surprised me, because I couldn't even recall if he'd shaved or even showered from the previous day of travel (and he explicitly stated that he was unkempt and filthy). But even this has its teeth pulled from it - the Harlot isn't THAT impressed with his looks, he doesn't think or appraise the comment in any way, not even in the context of her having also found Neila's elderly father also... attractive... I guess. At least, attractive enough to have slept with (and I don't recall the elderly father being described on a rating of attractiveness at all). But hey that's fine, I mean maybe the Harlot just really digs facial hair - it's just jolting to be told about Salim's appearance, in a way that contradicted what I'd assumed (that he was gristled and actually kind of old and ugly). But it's never, to my memory, addressed again in any way - despite the fact that if he looked good enough to entice a professional courtesan to offer a freebie without shaving or trying, he must have been blessed with a damn pretty face.

The third one is actually the satyr, who acts sexual, but again, is pretty neutered and for all his lustiness, actually kind of sexless? I mean this is a satyr, and there are a lot of ways to depict them, a lot of ways to imagine them, and the author - not Salim - chose to say "furred crotch" instead of anything else, despite a probably pretty reasonable ability to see literally anything at all (and I mean, Salim had just been grappling with this naked guy. he has a ton of thoughts about the breasts he sees, but zero thoughts about this). Which again, is fine that Salim does not notice that - I'm more trying to stress that this is a choice on the part of the writer, not the character. Probably the best active example of this is when the satyr's nymph ladyfriend protests the deal with the humans, and he gropes her while she does nothing. Literally nothing at all - despite her being one of those same lusty fey and in theory feeling a similar warmth to the satyr. She obviously is very desirable, while the satyr is not. The lust is not depicted as being returned, therefore the satyr must not be worthy of lust.

The ongoing thread of this, to me, is part of what fuels the gender issue that was commented on. Women don't have their own goals, in this book - they just sort of do things that men want them to do. They don't really act on their own, don't express their own interests, have their own desires. More importantly, if they DO attempt something, a man corrects them, saves them, or shuts them up. It was actually really surprising to read the comments about gender, especially from Sutter, because this book didn't... really seem like there was much thought to that at all.

I don't mean that in a mean way, or as a means of castigating anyone! I realize this is like 4 years old (or more) and a lot can change in that time and maybe nothing I say is relevant or maybe it's all old news. I just really want to like this book and find this stuff fascinating to talk about.

More specifically, I was genuinely surprised to see the stance that Neila was someone "Salim was forced to respect" because I did not feel that was the case at any point in the entire story. Her introduction was an appraisal of her physical looks, she made it clear she was an inexperienced, low-level... rogue or something (I was never even sure if I should rule out NPC classes or not) that would be a pain-in-the-ass tag-a-long, without even any magical gear to keep her safe. Salim lectures her pretty consistently, sometimes when it's needed, sometimes when it's not, but I honestly cannot recall her returning the favor and lecturing him back, despite many opportunities in his very flawed reasoning;

she could have owned pretty easily:

by just pointing out that he would have lost his wife either way - and that pharasma just gave him the chance to see his wife live a long and happy life, with kids, and if he truly loved her that should have been enough. otherwise she'd just be dead, which was NOT the fault of pharasma in any way, and he'd just be drunk and miserable and blaming himself for not being there to stop it.

but she doesn't correct Salim, that I can recall. She never corrects him, never changes his thinking. I'm especially surprised to read the stance that he learns there's something wrong with him, because at the end of the book he explicitly states that she is the one who lacks understanding, which just confused the hell out of me because... well, for some of the things I state in the spoilers! In the end, however, I just never thought Neila was a character that was meant to be respected. None of her accomplishments are even her own - they all happen in the context of Salim, whether it's him solving the mystery, doing the talking, saving her life (multiple times), laying on the charm, making the deals, or even figuring out who to go to in times of need. Neila doesn't even have her own interest in anything beyond trying to save her father, and he's the one that started everything. If he hadn't died at the start of this novel, I don't think Salim would have ever had reason to find Neila interesting!

In terms of romance, that ends up being pretty weak, because the reverse is true as well. Why does she like Salim? I mean, there were some sort of like, creepy-desperate vibes where she seemed to be clinging to a sexual relationship with a fatherly, paternalistic figure that came in and was giving her purpose and stability in her life - which might have been HUGELY unfair of me to see it as such, but I'm just not at all clear on where Salim is/what he looks like. In the end, I decided to go with the most generous version I could think of and I used what he revealed about his backstory at the end of the book to infer that he appears quite young, is stuck in a moratorium that happened at said young age so FEELS young and immature as well, and therefore maybe Neila saw him as an equal (which would be great and awesome and really cute, but is not something communicated by the text at all, at least from what I read). I seriously thought he was a grizzled 50 year old, hard-bitten, alcoholic detective the way the book opened!

The book is so centered on Salim, however, that none of the other characters actually seem to express their own motivations unless they're moving the plot along, and that's part of the reason why it's so hard to grasp why these characters like, think, or care about each other. In fairness, part of this is what fuels the aforementioned "women don't have control over their own actions" aspect of the writing earlier - very, very few of the characters have control over their own actions. Yasuf, the Sarenrae paladin, for example, could in theory get in a LOT of trouble for letting a powerful pharasman execute another powerful pharasman under his watch, but despite his code and his faith's obligation to truth, he sort of settles back and shrugs. A certain steward is in the employ of a particular church... but why? And how? And extremely fortuitous and coincidental! None of them have motivations of their own, however - they're mostly there to advance the plot. Even the one time that Neila is useful happens because the plot demanded her rogue skills be useful, rather than an opportunity arising where her rogue skills might help.

In the end, when there's relatively little to latch onto with the relationships and the characters, the inconsistencies in the book REALLY stand out, and what might normally be small or niggling details are hard to get over.

I feel like because the characters don't have... character motivations of their own, they were given bullet-point lists of things to hit. Which is fine, but instead of reconciling those disperate pieces, they were just set down on the page and pushed through the plot instead of growing organically, and in the end what the author sees can be different than what's on the page (or at least, what might be interpreted by an audience member).

example bits:

Neila: Neila is ostensibly an extremely well-informed, well-read young aristocrat who is willing to pick up the language, pick up her father's business, go adventuring, you name it, in the face of her father's death. She readily assumes this quest to save a loved one, this person that she misses and cares for greatly. Again, on paper? makes sense! in practice, however, despite her and her father incorporating locals into their staff, using local styles, absorbing the culture, adjusting, doing all this incredible stuff in the space of three years, she utterly loathes the fey. To the point where neither her nor her father tried to bargain with them, or even reason or speak to them I guess? The satyr states that the fey were never consulted about the land sale, so there's this big black mark against her character that I don't know it it's ever really acknowledged by Sutter as being there. It gets really incomprehensible when she expresses concern for the pharasmans that were willing to execute the two of them based on the High Priest's word alone; there is more concern for the humans who want to kill her than she demonstrated for those same fey that Salim straight-up refuses to fight. When they escape, she turns apoplectic when Salim gives them her house in exchange for their support - as though this were a house she'd lived in her whole life? I mean she'd actually only lived there for 3 years, 2 realistically given the amount of construction that would have needed to happen.

And again, despite being all these great things on paper, we don't see any hint - at all - of what her life was like before Salim. In truth, so far as I can tell, she didn't do anything other than sit around at her father's estate; we don't see her having friends, connections, internal motivations or desires, and we don't get to know what her life was like before her father's death because it's not directly relevant to the plot, so it never shows up except for one point where she needs to pick a lock, so suddenly reveals that she has lock-picking skills.

Salim: This guy could be really fascinating, really awesome, and I mean that in a genuine and not-at-all criticizing way! What I eventually decided on - him as being the emotionally wounded late-20s guy stuck in moratorium - seems like a character with a LOT of potential for some really cool growth. There were a couple moments in the book where the Salim presented on paper almost seemed like a guy that would actually be fun to get to know - his compassion for the fey, for the poor, his love of cosmopolitan cities, his intense observational skills, his diplomancy - even the adorkable way he seemed to grin to himself upon seeing Neila's reaction to Axis - drive some sharp cracks through the rigid "hard-bitten and bitter detective" mold he's cast in at the start of the book. It adds a lot of real depth that gets the mind thinking and makes him stand out as a character!

Like Neila, however, I don't know how accurate any of that stuff is, because I'm tying together individual pieces of what might be my own imagination. Certainly some things, like his compassion for the fey, are real and explicit; others, however, are glossed over without even Salim giving them second thought, even though these seem like things that should be psyche-rattling events. I mean he sleeps with Neila while waiting to be executed - the first woman he's been intimate with since his wife, and for all I freakin' know potentially the ONLY woman he's ever been intimate with period. And he just sort of... walks away from her without a second thought? There's no cut up emotions, no pondering why this woman and not his angelic contact, not the Harlot, not any other celestial/demonic/outsider creature he's come in contact with has made him break his marriage vows for the first time ever. This stuff is glossed over and lost, despite its incredible importance.

To me, a lot of this is again fueled by that "characters are motivated by the plot, rather than the plot being impacted by their motivations" piece that I mentioned earlier, but I feel like it's also heavily influenced by that lack of reconciling the two extremes Sutter works into his characters (due to the bullet-point listings). Yeah, maybe Neila and Salim are both extremely flawed people. Maybe Neila is a very ethnocentric, speciest jerk who loathes magic/the woodlands/whatever and struggles to understand accepting nonhumans. That could have been a fine point of character growth for her! Or maybe Salim is someone who just puts things out of his head, and numbs himself and refuses to think about anything, and actually he's lying about whether he's broken his marriage vows before - or maybe he's so fragile in that area that he can't even admit to himself that he has! Great! That could be some rich character development that leaves them standing head and shoulders above the other fighter/rogue couples that exist! But the extra effort to tie those normally conflicting views needs to be made, and it needs to be made explicit to the reader (in my opinion, of course). Otherwise the characters just end up in this weird place where it's like "oh okay I guess Salim is totally okay with these inevitable constructs hunting down and slaughtering any mortal who dares to challenge the tyranny of Death by extending their lives (like, pretty much the penultimate denial of free will and freedom) - but oh no, a god responds to a prayer! That deity is the true evil and folly of the world!"

Like, the thought that mortals should never have the right to challenge death due to the whims of powerful outsiders seems like that should incense his rage like nothing else - how does he reconcile that himself? I am genuinely curious! Salim is a character driven by his strong beliefs - how can he leave such enormous gaps open? Part may be naivete, sure; like at the start, he's angry that the pharasmans have an opulent temple, and that the money for that could have been given to the poor, a very, VERY naive thought (and one not appropriate to the faith? so far as I know, pharasmans are neutral and charitable giving is not at all a part of their MO). So if it IS naivete, though, why is he this super-skilled diplomancer inquisitor detective that's able to move through the world - and society - with "skill"? How can he be super naive on this thing, but not on another? I don't think it's impossible - not at all - I just think it needs to be explained. Then there is the other part of the question, which is why he feels what he does, which remains unanswered. He explains axiomites, Axis, the River of Souls, interfaith politics, his own faith's politics - but at no point does he explain his own beliefs or himself.

Again, there is some FANTASTIC world-building in this book. And, also, there's some muscles that seem to need flexing and working - and I say that simply as an avid reader who is totally willing to see more of these characters and thinks that there is some amazing potential there, regardless of whatever path they actually take. To sum it up, I really basically feel that if there was room for the plot to be guided by character motivations (rather than the other way around), if the characters had some reconciliation between their thoughts, beliefs, and actions, and if there was just a LITTLE BIT MORE attention to relationships and the why people liked each other, I think this would be a stand-out series that I'd recommend to anyone in a heartbeat.

I know these are nitpicky and I probably sound really pedantic, but this is a rich book full of almostgreat characters and I just really enjoy dissecting it. Thanks for writing such a great book, Mr. Sutter, even for whatever flaws it might (or might not have, I mean I'm just one person who's totally failable). It's one of the few books that I've actually gotten passionate enough about to write 6 pages of discussion about!

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