In the deep forests of Kyonin, elves live among their own kind, far from the prying eyes of other races. Few of impure blood are allowed beyond the nation’s borders, and thus it’s a great honor for the half-elven Count Varian Jeggare and his hellspawn bodyguard Radovan to be allowed inside. Yet all is not well in the elven kingdom: demons stir in its depths, and an intricate web of politics seems destined to catch the two travelers in its snares. In the course of tracking down a missing druid, Varian and a team of eccentric elven adventurers will be forced to delve into dark secrets lost for generations—including the mystery of Varian’s own past.
From fan favorite Dave Gross, author of Prince of Wolves and Master of Devils, comes a fantastical new adventure set in the award-winning world of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.
Queen of Thorns is the third book featuring the adventures of Count Jegarre and his partner and bodyguard the hell-spawned Radovan. The first (Prince of Wolves) and second (Master of Devils) each could be considered quasi-parallel stories to help flesh-out the setting of a corresponding adventure path – Prince of Wolves takes place in Ustalav alongside Carrion Crown; while Master of Devils is loosely paired up with the Jade Regent campaign. Queen of Thorns, on the other hand, could be considered a stand-alone piece of fiction in the sense that author Dave Gross is not obviously tied to an ulterior motive, but gets to enjoy telling a story for the sake of the story.
In a way there is a parallel to his other books: not only do the titles form the same Title-of-Noun structure, but again Jegarre and Radovan explore a land alien to them. And, it must be said, alien to the reader: the story takes place in the homeland of the elves, Kyonin. Elves in the Pathfinder setting are quite different to the way they have become mainstream in popular culture (thanks to the Lord of the Rings movies) – where the Tolkienesque elf is akin to Nietsche’s Übermensch, the Pathfinder elves are a lot less human and a lot more fey. Unlike gnomes they do not share an actual fey lineage, but they do have a natural propensity to capricious chaotic-neutralness, much like humans naturally lean toward lawful-neutralness.
Dave Gross is, to me, a master at crafting foreign lands in a way that is both believable and understandable. In the same way that Ustalav and Quain in the previous books come to life with a wealth of cultural and historical details, so too does the land of the elves become a colourful and richly detailed setting as the words tumble through the novel. What makes this outstanding is the subtlety that Dave Gross employs in his work – at no point is the cultural dissemination obvious or like a lecture. But after a while, the reader naturally begins to think and see along the lines of the natives.
This is particularly true when it comes to understanding and appreciating the ways that are natural for the “true” elves: that is to say, ones that are born and raised in Kyonin. Elves from the outside, and particularly half-breed elves like Count Jegarre, are generally treated with considerable disdain – the best a non-Kyonin purebred elf can hope for is to be permitted to stay in an isolated town within Kyonin. On the one hand it can seem cruel and arbitrary, but there are many reasons that become evident – other than just raw discrimination: as a rule, foreign elves are entirely differently acclimatized and even to them the culture and ways of Kyonin elves can be daunting and strange. For example, whereas the nobility in Ustalav is marked by protocol and intrigue, the opening act of Queen of Thorns depicts a frolicking and playful mass orgy that even the queen partakes in disguised as a servant girl.
The story and particularly the people in it are strongly characterized, with opportunity for everybody to shine in their own way. The intensity and difference of Kyonin elves when compared to foreigners (including foreign elves) stands-out in the interaction of characters. The story starts with Jegarre’s desire to have his only parental keepsake, a stately red carriage, repaired. The original fate of the vehicle was told in the first book, Prince of Wolves, where the carriage suffered an unfortunate destruction. The nature of the vehicle is such that only its creator would be capable of restoring it – hence Jegarre’s efforts to track down this man in Kyonin. The difficulty in locating the creator is the impetus in the story for visiting many locations; which allows the story to make the nation of elves come to life in all its wild, untamed splendor and strangeness.
Pathfinder fiction has, by and large, been purposefully limited in terms of the scope – meaning that the caretakers of the setting do not want it to get too out-of-hand with events that require the world itself to change and adapt. The first customer for the setting is the Player, and he should be able to be the change in the world, rather than the Reader, who can read about the changes in the world. That said, Dave Gross uses various tricks to stretch the limits of what can and cannot be done – and in doing so expands the depth of the world in ways that aren’t necessarily obvious. But, in Queen of Thorns, I think he created the most obvious and the most prominent and meaningful impact to the Pathfinder setting, Golarion. I can only assume that Dave Gross beat and James Jacobs in a no-holds-barred game of knivesies and earned the right to stretch the setting a bit.
In closing, Queen of Thorns is the triumphant return of Jegarre and Radovan. The reader is in the fortunate position to enjoy remarkable revelations on both characters – and I suspect that the next book (that Dave Gross hinted will take place in the demon-infested Worldwound) will shed even more light on Radovan’s mysterious existence. Queen of Thorns is thoroughly enjoyable, consistent in style and narration to its predecessors and equally engrossing. I encourage prospective readers to start sooner, rather than later!
Dave Gross has proven more than apt in balancing good storytelling with recognizable game mechanics. Even better is his grasp of (Pathfinder game world) Golarion as a sort of character in itself, rather than just a place in which some adventures happen to occur. And I love that he plays the long game, allowing mysteries to unravel episodically, over the course of multiple titles. I recommend his work as most excellent.
Queen of Thorns is absolutely fantastic. I loved Prince of Wolves-it was a great tale in a land that I adored. In PoW and Master of Devils, Radvoan And Varian got splitted up, and thay had to deal alone in times of crisis. Queen of Thorns puts them together, and throws in more classical characters, like Oparal and Fimbulthicket. It describes the elven forest-nation of Kyonin better than any sourcebook. It references to the complex politics of the elves in a fashion of Second Darkness (especialy Memory of Darkness) AND with all that going on, manages to tell something new about the pasts of the main couple, fulfilling the information the reader has received before.
Radovan in hell-part was my favourite. Radovan is very cool and complex character, and after the way he's been mourning for his actions in MoD, it was cruel thing to trhow him in hell. But when the story unfolded, I undesrstanded the "plot" behind Radovan's heritage-and I was in awe. After two books, Dave Gross managed to make Radovan one of the most memorable character ever. And the way the devils acted gives me lots of inspiration as a GM how to play this word-twisting fiends. For this, I thank you.
I Deeply recommend reading this book, but only after reading the first two in order. When you see the unveiling plot, and you can call back to the events in former books-the joy is overwhelming. That, if anything, is a mark of a great writer.
The Varian and Radovan books just keep getting better and better! Add in the wonderful Golarion lore and once again Dave Gross has another win with Queen of Thorns. I look anxiously look forward to the next novel with this pair!