Kagur is a warrior of the Blacklions, fierce and fearless hunters in the savage Realm of the Mammoth Lords. When her clan is slaughtered by a frost giant she considered her adopted brother, honor demands that she, the last surviving Blacklion, track down her old ally and take the tribe’s revenge. This is no normal betrayal, however, for the murderous giant has followed the whispers of a dark god down into the depths of the earth, into a primeval cavern forgotten by time. There, he will unleash forces capable of wiping all humans from the region—unless Kagur can stop him first.
From acclaimed author Richard Lee Byers comes a tale of bloody revenge and subterranean wonder, set in the award-winning world of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.
A rare coupling, Called to Darkness manages to pull off the unusual combination of pulp elements and some Lovecraftian goodies to spice up a tale of revenge and magic that also lends itself to the Conan type vein. The main character, while being driven by revenge, shows just enough development and personality to get you to like her while still showing the cold detachment and self-reliance that makes you remember that she is still from a brutal culture. The travel through the darklands was as much fun as the events that transpired as they reached their destination, and even the secondary characters and villain were enjoyable. Overall an excellent addition to the Tales line.
I've read all the Pathfinder Tales novels up to and including Called to Darkness, and I'm sorry to say that this was the only one I seriously considered giving up on less than half-way through.
Both the protagonist Kagur and the plot seemed to lack depth. The frost giant's violent act in the first chapter (which is mentioned on the back cover, so it's not a spoiler) sets the scene for the revenge theme that comes to dominate the entire book. The root cause of his actions was never uncovered (there's a clear surface answer but this was not satisfactory for me).
Ultimately, perhaps the biggest problem is that I couldn't identify with Kagur - while she's both strong and honorable, she's not interesting, and it took some willpower to finish a nearly 400 page novel focused on her. The book did pick up toward the climax at the end, and for that, I reluctantly give it three stars.
A friend lent me this book because Kagur reminded him of one of my Pathfinder characters, a female Kellid druid/barbarian. I really enjoyed the book and the uncanny similarities between my PC and the main character of the novel. I thought Kagur was kind of one dimensional with her lust for revenge but it was a compelling and enjoyable read overall. We need more strong female heroes who don't always wear chain mail bikinis.
There were some things I thoroughly liked about this book, but I cannot count it among my favorite Pathfinder Tales (Death's Heretic, Night Glass, anything by Dave Gross).
Only minor spoilers below:
The vengeance plot/theme was just a little too dominant for me, as though a single note was being played from the very first chapter to the last. It didn't leave room for character development or growth for much of the novel. My interest waned as the quest plodded along for the first half of the book - being exposed to the Darklands for the first time as a Tales reader couldn't make up for the fact that the plot was simply to track the antagonist from point A to point B.
My interest was once again piqued later in the novel when the protagonists started interacting with the human and orc tribal characters. It was here that I finally began to like Kagur, as she came into her own as a leader and softened just the slightest bit. I wish the journey to Orv could have been fast-forwarded, and we could have spent more time with the tribes.
Reading the other two reviews online at the time I write this, maybe I just wasn't the target audience for this one, not being a huge fan of Burroughs.
To leave on a high note... Things I liked:
- that you could not only identify one of the main characters as an oracle, but you knew exactly what curse he had. Continuing to highlight uniquely "pathfinder" classes (like the alchemist in City of the Fallen Sky) helps distinguish the Tales line from other fantasy stories.
- battles with strange creatures (like the gibbering mouther) that don't actually refer to the monster's name, especially when the fish-out-of-water characters wouldn't know what it was.
- strong female protagonist
- Mammoth Lords getting some love in the Tales line
Author Richard Lee Byers credits his love of Edgar Rice Burroughs fiction with inspiration for this great tale of atrocity and the path to retribution. ERB would approve. While much of Burroughs' work has been imitated (and often), this is a clean, fresh look at the style, setting (a la Pathfinder) and character development that are hallmarks of the classics.
A strong, capable female protagonist is a plus, even as her self-doubt nearly cripples her at times. Aided by the nearly-blind shaman from another Realm of the Mammoth Lords Tribe, she has a journey of place and spirit that will see her triumphant or dead. Alien landscapes allow you to discover the horrifying creatures of the Darklands along with her.
What more could you possibly want in a good read? HIGHLY recommended.