Master of Devils
Paizo Publishing (400 pp, $9.99, August 2011)
Reviewed by Bill Ward
Pathfinder’s new line of novels are making a good impression among fantasy readers, accessible as they are to fans of Paizo’s game world and the uninitiated alike. If you are not familiar with Pathfinder it is essentially Dungeons & Dragons 3.5, but with its own world that differs from existing D&D settings in various ways both large and small. The world of Golarion itself actually predates Pathfinder as a game system, and the wealth of detail and world-building that have gone into making it a fully-fleshed environment is impressive. And, while there are scads of Pathfinder supplements available at the time of this writing, the fiction end of things for Golarion is just getting started — Master of Devils representing the fifth novel set in the Pathfinder world.
Dave Gross has quickly distinguished himself as the go-to guy for Pathfinder fiction (be sure to check out Black Gate’s interview with him), having written two novels and co-written another, as well as having penned numerous Pathfinder Tales short stories available free at Paizo’s website, he has been fairly prolific. Gross’s signature characters are the adventuring duo Count Varian Jeggare and his bodyguard Radovan, a classically counter-balanced odd couple whose tales are told in alternating first person segments, allowing for the voice of the characters to emerge in interesting ways.
Master of Devils sees the pair in Tian Xia, Golarion’s equivalent of a politically-fragmented Ancient China, a realm as mysterious to the inhabitants of the continent of Avistan, from which Jeggare and Radovan hail, as it is to fans of the Pathfinder game, which has produced very little material on Tian Xia. Gross shows what he can do with this blank slate and admirably fills the gaps in the Pathfinder record with all manner of appealing details that bring the realm of the far east to life.
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Last week in part one of our interview Black Gate sat down with Forgotten Realms and Pathfinder author Dave Gross to talk about writing, gaming, and his latest Pathfinder novel, Master of Devils. This week Dave tells us more about his early influences and his transition from gamer to game fiction writer.
Chicken or egg time: what came first for you — gaming or storytelling?
Definitely storytelling. I was learning to read around the time I was learning to walk.
My first geekdom was ghost and horror stories, collections of which I’d order every time the Scholastic Books flyer came around our grade school. I can’t remember when I was first writing stories, but I’m sure it was in homeroom with a half pint of milk nearby. Later I burned through all the SF at our city library, and one day my cousin Francis handed me a copy of The Hobbit, and fantasy became my favorite. After burning through the Tolkien trilogy I devoured everything I could find by R.E. Howard and his clan. It was around that time that a classmate and his elder brother introduced me to D&D. They taught me the game from the original saddle-stitched books. Once the boxed game came out, I began DMing. Which, of course, is its own sort of storytelling.
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Author Dave Gross is perhaps best known for his Forgotten Realms novels such as Black Wolf and Lord of Stormweather. He has also worked as an editor of several gaming publications, including the one-and-only Dragon Magazine, and has most recently become one of the core authors for Paizo’s new Pathfinder Tales line of fiction. I recently had a chance to talk to Dave about his writing, and about his newest Pathfinder novel, Master of Devils.
A Conversation with Dave Gross
Before things get too tangential, Dave, I’d like to ask you about your latest Radovan and Jeggare novel for Pathfinder, Master of Devils. For readers perhaps unfamiliar with Pathfinder, how would you describe the world of Golarion, and the story of Master of Devils in particular?
Golarion is a big, varied world. While many of its countries are intentional reflections of real-world places (Ustalav draws on Eastern Europe, while Osirion is a fantasy version of Egypt), others are complete fantasy inventions with little or no connection to historical sources (The Worldwound, Numeria, or Nex). That combination of the familiar and strange is one of the things that draws me to the setting. It lets you pull details out of real-world cultures and history while allowing plenty of freedom for invention and extrapolation from other fantasy tropes.
The protagonists I introduced in Prince of Wolves come from an area of Golarion’s Inner Sea region that is roughly analogous to Earth’s Southern Europe. Master of Devils takes place in Tian Xia, Golarion’s equivalent of East Asia. Since the journey takes Radovan and the Count completely out of their element, they must learn how to survive in this unfamiliar land at the same time as the readers discover it. Count Jeggare is a scholarly sort who’s read and heard much about the place, but he’s never actually experienced it. Radovan is a complete fish out of water, having left the country of his birth for the first time only a few months earlier. The third progatonist … well, let’s just say the third POV character has a completely different perspective than the others. My hope is that readers who might not otherwise snap up an Asian-based sword & sorcery novel will find Master of Devils an easy and fun journey into the distant lands of Tian Xia.
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