Of all the books I’ve reviewed for Black Gate, definitely two of my favorites have been the Pathfinder Tales novels by James L. Sutter, Death’s Heretic and The Redemption Engine. I’m not alone, of course. There’s no shortage of Pathfinder Tales fans (or authors) hanging out around the Black Gate headquarters, and James Sutter is a friend of the website.
In fact, the enthusiasm is so great that I have a large backlog of Pathfinder Tales books that I haven’t gotten to read yet. These days, a decent chunk of my reading comes from listening to audiobooks while performing other tasks. I use Audible.com, but the Pathfinder Tales novels hadn’t offered audiobooks unfortunately. That changed with their announcement last October about a partnership with Audible Audiobooks to produce the audiobooks, not only for their newly-released titles but for their backlog of audiobooks as well.
To celebrate the Pathfinder Tales audiobooks, Audible.com is offering the Death’s Heretic audiobook for free through February 16. Once you purchase the book, it’ll remain in your digital library to access at any time, which you can do on apps available through iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, and online web formats. So, really, there’s little excuse for not signing up to get the book.
And if that’s not enough to keep you busy…
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Fantasy worlds usually contain good and evil … and frequently personifications of good and evil. Angels & demons. Saints & devils. Knights & undead. Good gods and evil ones. Sometimes these distinctions are very clear-cut and that’s okay. There’s something to be said for a world where the heroes are clearly heroic and villains are clearly evil. But the real world isn’t generally like that and, even within our fantasy, it’s often the case that things tend to be much more interesting when the lines are blurred a bit.
Which brings me to the most recent installment in Paizo publishing’s Pathfinder Tales series of books: The Redemption Engine by James L. Sutter. This book places the metaphysical questions of good versus evil squarely in the center of the plotline, as the atheist priest Salim Ghadafar investigates a case of missing souls that had been destined for Hell. But as the case unfolds, drawing Salim across dimensions ruled by the forces of Good, Evil, and Neutrality, it becomes clear that some of the outsiders native to these realms are throwing the rulebook out the window, trying to gain souls to their armies through new, more innovative means.
As revealed in Ghadafar’s previous novel appearance Death’s Heretic (and the web fiction Faithful Servants), Salim serves as an investigator and enforcer for Pharasma, the goddess of birth, death, and prophecy, but he doesn’t worship her. Coming from the atheist nation of Rahadoum, Salim spent years as a leader in the Pure Legion, persecuting the faithful, before he finally got an offer he couldn’t pass up and swore himself to her service in exchange for the life of the woman he loved. Now he serves the goddess Pharasma … but he doesn’t have to like her.
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If there’s one potential flaw in reading stories set in roleplaying game settings, it’s that the emphasis is more on the mechanics of the system and magical setting than on the development of the characters. The best stories, of course, are able to avoid this and create complex, dynamic characters that resonate among some of the most memorable in all of fantasy. Raistlin Majere, Elminster, and Drizzt Do’Urden all come to mind as iconic characters born in roleplaying tie-in novels.
Into this esteemed category steps Salim Ghadafar, the protagonist of James L. Sutter’s Death’s Heretic (Amazon, B&N), an upcoming addition to the Pathfinder Tales fantasy novel series from Paizo Publishing. Salim serves the goddess Pharasma, the Lady of Graves, goddess of birth, death, and prophecy, but he does so only grudgingly. This unusual tension, together with a compelling plotline, draws the reader deeply into the world of the story.
Salim is called upon by Pharasma to investigate a man who died shortly after obtaining one of the greatest treasures available to mortals: the sun orchid elixir, which grants near immortality. The details of his death are of secondary concern, though, compared to the events that followed. Pharasma is far more concerned with why her priests are unable to resurrect him. His soul has gone missing … seemingly stolen from the goddess’s very realm of the dead, the Boneyard itself. Salim’s investigation takes him – and the victim’s orphaned daughter, who is bankrolling the investigation – from local rivals for the elixir, including a crimelord and a gorgeous half-elven brothel madame, to the outer planes and Pharasma’s Boneyard. The investigation brings him face to face with creatures who predate the creation of the world itself, with the power to thwart the natural laws of life and death.
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