by Howard Andrew Jones, fantasy (2011)
Paizo, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-60125-291-3
Plague Of Shadows seems like another "travel to some place across the globe to seek some treasure" yarn, but it turns out to be something that seems suspiciously to be a fantasy version of the break-up of the Beatles.
You see, twenty years ago, we have a group of adventurers. We have a core cast of the standard fighter, Stelan; the elven ranger, Elyana Sadrastis; the spoony bard Vallyn; the wizard Arcil; and some meat shields that died along the way. The problem here is that Elyana must be so amazing because almost every guy in the party is in love with her. Elyana loves Stelan who, when he became a Baron, married a human woman with the right political connections out of necessity. Arcil loves Elyana, but she doesn't love him back as much. Since Arcil is a wizard who dabbles in dark magic, things took a turn for the really tragic on Stelan's wedding day to his human bride. The gang went separate ways, although Elyana remains near Stelan, perhaps because she loves misery, for he's not leaving his wife and she's not expecting him to.
"Wait a minute, didn't the back cover synopsis promise an action-packed story?" you're probably going. Well, yes, this is a road trip fantasy romp, but at the core of all that drama is how Elyana is the Yoko Ono factor that caused the break-up of that fabulous party two decades ago. The past catches up with her when Arcil casts a wasting curse on Stelan as a means to blackmail Stelan's family into surrendering a map showing the location of a great treasure to him. Elyana decides to head out along with a ragtag bunch of companions (which include Vallyn and Stelan's son Renar) to seek that treasure herself, hoping that the treasure will save Stelan's life. And so it begins.
I have to give the author credit for introducing some twists in the story and thus preventing the story from being another standard guys-on-a-mission story, but his efforts actually resulted in Arcil being far more interesting at the expense of the good guys. Elyanna, especially, comes off as a rather bland character next to Arcil and I can only imagine that all those guys love her because, in the wilderness, it's either her or an orc female. It's not that Elyanna is a bad character, as she is a strong heroine in her own right, but she has her moments of whiny emo tantrums and even lawful stupid moments. She pales in the shadow of Arcil, and she's the most well-developed character in the story! This story would have been far more interesting, I feel, if it had been Arcil and the half-orc Drelm running the story.
But the rather bland main characters aside, this story is a fantastic happening read. There are still moments when our heroes find themselves in filler combat encounters, but the pacing of the story is fabulous and the descriptions of the fight scenes are smooth, coherent, and thrilling to follow. I also enjoy how the author interspersed the flashback scenes throughout the story. These scenes give the story an emotional core that nicely complements the action and the pyrotechnics.
I do wonder, though. In the Pathfinder canon, it is stated pretty clearly that the god Dou-Bral assisted the gods in imprisoning the mad god Rovagug long before he became Zon-Kuthon, the Pinhead wannabe. Therefore, it is bewildering to read that Zon-Kuthon was... well, Zon-Kuthon when he helped imprisoned Rovagug. Which is which?
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