I have a group that is interested in this AP, and I have Fat Dragon's cool Baba Yaga's Hut paper model, so I am getting ready to run this. A couple of the players have expressed the "Not 1st level again" sentiment. If we choose to start at a higher level, how difficult is it to jump in at the second module? I could pretend we started at the 1st module and give them a précis of what happened in it, but I would prefer that they discover the setting/plotline without a lot of exposition.
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You'd definitely have to do some adjustment. Book 2 starts pretty much where Book 1 left off - the party has killed a minor noble in Irrisen, and they're travelling to Winterthrone, the seat of power. Also, they miss out on The Black Rider's boon, and in so doing miss out on the answer to the riddle asked by a baddie in Book 3.
My recommendation - start them in Waldsby, and run Book 1 from there. I think they'd be level 3 or so by that point, so make them Irrisen natives from that town, and they're fed up with the powers that be, and go take on the jadwiga in his ice tower. Once he's dead, The Black Rider shows up and gives the party their mission, leading the PCs to head to Whitethrone and unshackle the Hut.
That is a very good recommendation, I'd suggest you go with Misroi's ideas. Skipping to Waldsby doesn't make a huge amount of difference to the story, but have a look at Nadya and the way she's introduced to the party. She ended up joining my group all the way to the end of the adventure, so making sure she's tied in might give you some good RP opportunities later.
It also helps that the first half of Book 1 is relatively weak. The encounters are tough, the environment is punishing, and 1st level parties don't have the resources to deal with all the stuff en route to the winter portal. If I ever run this AP again, I'll probably do this myself - there's cool stuff in the AP, but my game died shortly after they made it through the winter portal, so they never got to experience the awesomeness of later books.
Alternatively, I might run some adventures in Haldren, letting the party have some tie to the town before shipping them off. A level 2 party would probably still be challenged by all the stuff in that first half, but would have a slightly easier go of it. That means a few errant rolls against the party won't end up slaughtering them. I'm all for that!
To be honest it doesn't really do much for the story as a whole. Only other thing that came to me that's worth keeping in mind is the concept that the whole of Golarion is being hit by this, so it's not just an Irrisen thing. When they get to the Pale Tower you may have to do a bit of a reveal, or possibly have the Black Rider explain what's going on so that they realise it goes beyond their home.