The Redemption Engine
by James L Sutter, fantasy (2014)
Paizo, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-60125-618-8
Salim Ghadafar, last seen in Death's Heretic, is back in The Redemption Engine. He's still the atheist chaffing under his service to Pharasma, the Goddess of Death, due to a bargain he made with her a while back. I don't remember him being this bad-tempered and mean - well, he was bad-tempered and mean in the previous book, but not as much as he is here - but I guess doing lots of unpleasant, often life-threatening work can do that to a person.
In this one, he has a new assignment. Someone is - or maybe some folks are - stealing souls of people that are meant to be sent to Hell, and the devils of Hell are not thrilled about this. Normally, this may seem like a good thing, but Pharasma is all about maintaining a balance between the forces of Good and Evil. After all, if the scale tips too much to one side, chaos would only happen, no? Also, this matter makes Pharasma look negligent and, hence, bad. It's therefore Salim's responsibility to find out what is happening, who is doing this, and how it is being done. Oh, and to put a stop to whole thing. He would soon realize that the whole thing is more complicated than it seems, and he'd be making trips to Hell, Heaven, and back again. Isn't life grand?
The Redemption Engine is easily one of the thickest books in this line so far, and for a reason: the author isn't very good at self-editing. The situation here is similar to that of the previous book: Mr Sutter can't decide whether he's telling a story or giving the reader an extensive tour of the planes, and tries to do both. As a result, the story can get bogged down in a most contrived manner by lots and lots of details best left to splatbooks. After all, how believable that Salim would take time out from his mission to lecture the party members he picks up along the way on this and that to such a detailed degree? This also makes Salim look like a smug college lecturer, which doesn't sit well with the broody kick-ass persona the author intended all along for this character. There are also many filler encounters here, making this story feel like an overlong novelization of a meandering tabletop session at times. Too much filler, period - that is the problem with this story.
This is a shame because the story itself could have been interesting. The author attempts to deal with the issue of divine obedience versus freedom of thought. Salim is conflicted by his increasing ease at settling into his role as Pharasma's agent, when all along he's determined to resent the goddess because he believes that all religions at their core rob an individual of his or her freedom to live without being bogged down by divine dictates and such. Also, he would probably never be able to accept how gods and goddesses let their worshipers suffer because these deities are apparently more preoccupied with the big picture. The villains feel the same way too, creating ab awkward situation where Salim finds himself defending a faction with a dogma he resents against another faction whom he may, under other circumstances, find much in common with.
The later chapters of the story are actually pretty good, as people stop dawdling and start hammering at one another. Getting there can be boring, though, as huge chunks of the story - such as the pointlessly extended trek back to the Boneyard through some tower in a mysterious demiplane - seem to be included solely as advertisements for splatbooks past, present, and future.
As I've said earlier, some self-editing would have worked wonders for this story. Cut down the fat, remove the filler, and this one just may have been a winner.
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