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Pathfinder Tales: Queen of Thorns

****( ) (based on 16 ratings)
Pathfinder Tales: Queen of Thorns
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by Dave Gross

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.

Download a free sample chapter by clicking here! (74 KB zip/PDF)

432-page mass market paperback

ISBN–13: 978-1-60125-463-4
ePub ISBN-13: 978-1-60125-464-1

Queen of Thorns is sanctioned for use in Pathfinder Society Organized Play. Its Chronicle Sheet and additional are a free download (193 KB zip/PDF).

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

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Product Reviews (16)
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****( ) (based on 16 ratings)

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An Excellent Story... if only the Characters would stop getting in the way.

****( )

After Master of Devils, which I thought was amazing and thoroughly entertaining and had me psyched for the next book in the series, it was all I could do to restrain myself from diving straight into Queen of Thorns right that second. That eagerness was fairly quickly tempered when I discovered this next book was set in Kyonin, home of the Elves. Not enough to blunt my interest in the story to be told, but it certainly put a hesitance on my rush to read.

I'm not a huge fan of Elves, you see. The vast majority of published settings, Golarion included, have never portrayed them in a way that gets me interested in them as a race or a culture. I'm fond of the concept of Forlorn Elves - one that comes up quite a few times in this book - but pretty much everything else about the race I tend to find lacking. "Oh well, at least we'll still have Varian, Radovan, and Arnisant, which should provide plenty of entertainment on their own, right?" Which it did.

The story here is amazing. Varian has come to Kyonin, after earning a special pass that allows a rare non-elf to visit the inner cities, to track down his never-met father and see to the repairs of his beloved Red Carriage, destroyed all the way back in Prince of Wolves. As expected, tracking down the wandering elf is no simple matter, and eventually a ragtag group of escorts, protectors, spies, and guides is gathered up to lead the count and his bodyguard/partner/friend through the forested wilderness. Along the way they encounter ancient magic, bizarre creations, demons galore, forgotten ruins, and - I'd call it a spoiler but it's right there on the cover - an ancient green dragon.

The plot itself is great. When it was rolling and things were happening, I was thrilled. The adventure, the action, the intrigue, the mystery, the magic - good grief, the magic! More magic gets flung around in the last couple of chapters of this book that the entirety of Prince of Wolves! It's all here, and it's all amazing.

If only the cast wouldn't keep derailing things.

(I'll try to avoid spoilers from here on but I might mistakenly share a couple, so be warned.)

Joining the errant count and his retinue in this book are three elves and a gnome, provided by the Queen of Kyonin and her court as escorts, guides, and minders/babysitters for the visiting outsiders on their quest.

The first of these escorts introduced is Kameili, an Inquisitor of Calistra and the winner of "least favorite character" for this book. Kameili has only two modes: flirtatious and violent. Every time she shows up, she's either flirting with Radovan (and on a few occasions with Varian) or trying to encourage Radovan to do something violent, usually to the paladin (who I'll discuss shortly), over some petty sleight. She's 100% in character for a Calistran, and a living example of why Calistra is one of my least favorite deities in the Golarion setting. She also provided a lust-target for Radovan, which I felt was tiresome enough back when it popped up in Prince of Wolves, and this is far more prominent and more heavily leaning on the plot, which makes it all the more irritating for me. Some people like a lot of that sort of thing in their stories; I am not one of them. I much prefer the way his rambling nature was expressed in Master of Devils: where his propositions were either usually shot down or handled quickly and quietly off-screen and the plot forwarded to the next morning or jumped back to Jeggare.

Second is Oparal, a Forlorn Elf Paladin of Iomedae. I really, really wanted to like Oparal. I really did. I love Paladins, they're one of my favorite classes. I like Iomedae, much much more than Calistra; she's not my personal first choice for a Paladin patron - that honor goes to Sarenrae - but she's definitely in the top five. And I love the concept of Forlorn Elves - in the rare occasions I play Elves, they're always Forlorn (even back before I had been introduced to Golarion and had the concept of "elves not raised among elven society" given a name). But Oparal is everything people hate about having a Paladin in the party. To quote a grumbling rant I posted about halfway through the book:

Quote:

And I want to like the paladin character. I really, really do. But she's every cliche complaint that people have about paladins in their party. She's unfriendly. She has no sense of humor. She snaps at everyone. She's harshly judgmental. She gets in a fight with one of the other party members and only reconciles because the Calistran Inquisitor tricks her into it using a spell. She has no subtlety, and is almost as badly lacking in humility. She smites first and asks questions later. And on more than one occasion she risks hurting allies in the process of getting her smite on. At least one of those times it's highly implied it was intentional, too.

I've played a prudish paladin character who wasn't interested in bedding up with other characters and was primarily focused on her duties and her oaths, not too different from this character. She still managed to have a good sense of humor, to jest with her compatriots, to politely deflect flirtation attempts and raunchy comments and innuendo, or in some cases even joke back, so long as she made it clear at some point she wasn't serious about any invitations or acceptances.

I do not feel she greatly improved in her flaws over the course of the book either. However, as she'll be rejoining the cast in King of Chaos, I'm still holding out hope for her showing some severe character development in the readings ahead.

The third guide is Caladrel, a Ranger. He's pretty awesome, and Gross does an excellent job of showing off a master ranger and huntsman working at his best in his home terrain. Of the elf characters in the book, he was my favorite.

But of the new cast members, he was second to my favorite character short of Varian and Radovan themselves - the Gnome Druid, Fimbulthicket. Oh man, this guy was AWESOME. A Gnome Druid who is all about the Golarion druidic religion, the Green Faith, and his connection to his fey nature. He also happens to be suffering from the Bleaching, the strange disease that plagues Golarion's Gnomes, and we get a firsthand experience of what it's like to watch a Gnome suffer from this malady. Every scene he was in was amazing, heartrending, or hilarious. I really, really hope we can get Dave Gross to write more about Gnomes in the future, and that anyone else writing Gnomes in Golarion take a few notes from Fimbulthicket.

So there you have it. If I were to rate this on the value of the plot alone, it'd be five stars easily. But the cast... maybe if Kemeili and Oparal had been slightly less front-focus characters, their antics might have left a less sour taste in my mouth. But as it is, almost any scene where one or both of them was at center stage, it felt distracting and disorienting, and only proceeded to delay the progress of the plot. Honestly I think the book as a whole would have been much better if Kemeili hadn't been included at all - I can't think of much that would be lost to the events that occurred in the story by removing her presence.

If sultry, vengeful elves and their like are your cup of tea, you'll love this book. If they're not, like they aren't mine, brace yourselves because there's a lot of them, but the plot underneath is still excellent despite them.


More fun with the Count

***( )( )

Another strong outing by Gross, who is happy to investigate the inner lives of his characters as much as new lands and challenges. The combo is appealing.

Varian and Radovan are off to the elven homeland of Kyonin. The original intent is to repair Varian's wrecked carriage, but the duo are quickly given new jobs by the Queen, along with some new companions. What they find in the forest is surprising, but what they find in Radovan is even more so.

Gross is developing into a latter-day Fritz Leiber, with Varian and Radovan his Fafhrd and Gray Mouser. Whilst he's not yet at those dizzying heights, the books, and characters, continue to grow in depth and the adventures are always enjoyable.

The setting is enjoyable, though I would have liked a little more of the Elven court - which is important in the story, but featured largely offscreen as the group plunges through the wilderness.

That said, the wilderness, as always, is very interesting, filled with monsters, spells and artefacts. The book comes to a very satisfying close and promises many adventures to come. Good stuff.


Sylvan secrets

****( )

Here's part of what I said when I reviewed "King of Chaos": About page 33 of the new Dave Gross Novel "King of Chaos" I realized it was part of a series. About page 44 I went ahead and ordered the other three books in the series, but since I was already hooked, I kept reading....

I like reading fantasy novels, sometimes including those set in a gaming universe. The problem with those is sometimes the authors are third tier , hired to crank out some hack books just to support the game side. Not so with Pathfinder Tales. James Sutter, the Editor, has taken great care to get some solid authors for his line of Pathfinder Tales fiction.

Now, sometimes the authors come out with a fantasy tale, which other than the setting, is not particularly `set" in that gaming universe. The characters don't have "classes', don't use a lot of easily recognizable spells, and magic items are few and far between, unless they are a macguffin. This works as it gets in readers who don't play that particular fantasy roleplaying game.

But as one of my friends was complaining, they don't read as if they are set in one of those High Fantasy High Magic universes. I mean sure- the locations are there, but where's the magic?

Well, this one does. There are scads of spells being tossed around here, not to mention magic items. Characters use scrolls, quaff healing potions, and fire spells which are clearly from the pages of the Player Handbook. Most of the characters (other than those with a mysterious secret background, of course!) are clearly identifiable as to their class, and those who track the spells, etc used can even get a fair guess as to level. Summoners summon their eidolons, wizards burn thru scrolls like it's my Friday nite game, Paladins lay on hands, etc.

This is cool, fun & refreshing. And the combats! Ah here, Dave Gross excels! Our heroes are fighting a literal legion of demons from the depths, not to mention a despicable Undead Lord, who is definitely not sexy or sparkly. "

So, after ordering the prior three books, of course I am now reading them and finding them just as enjoyable as I thought. I have just finished with the last (which is the next to last as I read the 4th book first- confused yet?): “Queen of Thorns” whereupon our brave team of Pathfinder Investigators delves (too) deeply into Sylvan secrets, including some interesting enigmas and mysteries of both Count Varian Jeggare and his hellspawn bodyguard Radovan.

I have talked about the great actions sequences and combat scenes Dave is known for. I forgot to mention the banter, which is filled with little digs, humor and double entendre. What’s also cool is that now that I have read this far, I really feel like I really know these two characters and am invested in and care for them. It’s hard to write fantasy where you get so involved with the characters. These guys are all too human…even if technically they’re only half-human.

Besides Varian and Radovan we also get more about their faithful hound and are introduced to a paladin , a uncanny gnome, a ranger, not to mention someone interesting from the Count’s mysterious past.

A real page turner, fun and with plenty of action.


lacking in depth and detail

***( )( )

So much potential, so few actual details. from the first scene all the way through, the book brushed against, and touched on things that could have made the elven kingdom come to life, it never quite got there. While the two main characters remained interesting, and the book fit well within their continuing story, it never really managed to let the reader see what was going on around them through their eyes in a way that made Kyonin seem any different from any other region. It's greatest shortcoming in my opinion, and that it forced one to pull out 'Elves of Golarion' to try and get more information. As a stand alone story it was fairly dry, lacking in drama and suspense, even in the heart of combat, but as part of a larger tale it fits.


Repeated plot structure and understatement bog this down

***( )( )

I hold Dave Gross's stories of Jeggare and Radovan in rather high esteem, and I most certainly enjoyed "Prince of Wolves", the first book in their series (I also read about their adventures in Westcrown, in the Council of Thieves adventure path, which I also enjoyed a great deal). Something about this concept of a sort of a fantasy Sherlock Holmes with a twist really sparks my interest, and the writing is always excellent.

However this time, I think the story is a bit of a miss in several aspects(WARNING - MASSIVE BOOK SPOILERS TO FOLLOW!!!)

1) Understatement. Some of the things Radovan and his boss encounter during this story are serious, high end D&D stuff - for example, an ancient green dragon, and one of the most powerful demons from the bestiary. While those monsters should fill me, the reader, with awe and fear, they really don't. Because, as it seems, the characters themselves aren't all that afraid.
More broadly speaking, there is a distinct lack of menace from the bad guys in this book. How many encounters with howling demonic hordes can I read, each time finding out the characters win the fight easily and emerge unscathed, before the demons start losing their menace? Near the end of the book, with the shocking discovery that several devils perch in Hell, monitoring Radovan and waiting for a chance to come forth to our world... the book kind of just shrugs this off. When Radovan speaks with the devils they sound more like a group of old ladies having a tea party and playing Bridge than like a group of beings of pure malice should. How can I be intimidated by a bunch of polite speaking fiends, when even Radovan isn't, not at the slightest?

I felt much more afraid for Radovan when he challenged that Lycantrope for a duel in "Prince of Wolves" than when he faced dozens of demons in this book. To me, that shows that this time around Dave Gross went SO over the top with the bad guys, that I wasn't really able to buy into the story. Certainly, the way some of the most terrifying monsters in the game were described was lackluster. I can get the Jeggare would describe everything in his dry, pragmatic, understated way... but Radovan's chapters are written like that, too, and the minor characters also act totally unintimidated.

2) Repeating story structure. The story in this book is remarkably similar in many aspects to "The Prince of Wolves", to the point where one wonders if we'll ever get a different story with these characters. It begins with the pair delving deep into a new land to find someone Jeggare holds dear, who's footsteps disappeared some time ago. By the end of the story, Radovan exposes an ability to transform into a powerful devil, which saves him during the last fight, a seemingly friendly noble is exposed as a traitor, and the story ends with both the main characters displaying a new level of affection to each other, and a witty one liner by one of them. Oh, and let's not forget to mention that once more Radovan is torn between lust for a sexy, adventurous woman with an ulterior motive, to his true affection to a more worthy woman. Kind of feels like a pattern.


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