Review: City of the Fallen Sky

Author:  Tim Pratt
Publisher:  Paizo Publishing
Price:  Print – $9.99 / PDF $6.99
Pages:   384
Tankard Rating:  4.5/5

City of the Fallen Sky is a recent release in the Pathfinder Tales line written by Tim Pratt. Tim Pratt has had stories appearing in The Best American Short Stories and  The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror among others. He also has a Hugo award to his name and Rhysling Award for best speculative poetry. This is the first Pathfinder Tales novel by Tim Pratt.

The tale starts in the city of Almas, the capital city of Andoran, following an alchemist by the name of Alaeron. Alaeron maintains an alchemist lab in the city, formerly his father’s lab. We soon learn that Alaeron has an intense interest in relics and has had associations with the Technic League in Numeria where he made off with relics of the Silver Mount.

Soon Alaeron finds himself caught up in the affairs of lovely woman that has fallen afoul of a prominent crime lord in Almas. Left with little choice but to assist her in paying her debt to this crime lord, Alaeron, the woman named Jaya and the thief Skiver sent to make sure they stay on task. The trio is tasked with located the fallen floating city of Kho and retrieving some relics to bring back to the crime lord to settle debts.

The novel chronicles their journey across Golarion to reach the ruins in the southern reaches. Once there the reader learns more of the fallen city Kho and the trio’s challenge of retrieving a relic from the ruins all while being pursued by Alaeron’s past.

As noted the story focues on Alaeron, the alchemist. I found Alaeron an interesting character and also an opportunity to get a closer look at alchemists and alchemy in the world of Golarion. From the alchemists lab to how alchemy works within this particular fantasy world the reader soon learns how alchemy works in this fantasy world.

The other members of the trio are also interesting. Jaya, the woman that drew Alaeron into this debt to be paid off was glossed over a bit in my opinion. Some of this is pawned off with her story simply meant to be a bit mysterious. We do not learn as much about her as I might have liked.

Skiver, the brute rogue type, was an interesting character. Starting out as one you didn’t want to like the reader soon is drawn in to actually liking this character despite his rather ruthless ways. By the end of the novel I greatly enjoyed the character.

As I am a Pathfinder GM and player one of the reasons I enjoy Pathfinder Tales novels is the tour of Golarion the reader receives as they read the various novels. In this novel I learn more about Numeria, the cities of Almas, Absalom and then on to the lands of Osiron and on to the Mwangi Expanse. The description of the lands is of interest to both the non-Pathfinder gamer and to the GM to help give one an even better feel to the world of Golarion.

The pacing in the book is excellent, easily drawing the reader in to keep them turning pages. The balance between moving the story forward while providing enough detail to bring the world alive is excellent. There was enough action to keep the reader interested and on the edge of their seat without being too over the top.

I had two minor complaints about the tale. The first of which being that in some small portions of the book the descriptions of alchemists felt very “gamey”. You could feel the RPG mechanics oozing through in how an alchemists mutagens and potions worked. While true to the RPG it felt a bit jarring to the readery.

The other minor qualm was there were some portions of the book that felt very “Terminator”-like. This happened at several portions in the book and sort of broke my mind from the fantasy story at hand to visions of the Terminator movie.

Both of these were minor complaints and overall I found this book a very good read. I would certainly like to read more from Tim Pratt in the Pathfinder Tales line. This is yet another example of a very strong line of fiction being put out by Paizo Publishing. If you have not started reading novels from this line and you enjoy fantasy fiction, you are missing out.

4.5 out of 5 Tankards

Review: Death’s Heretic

Author:  James L Sutter
Publisher:  Paizo Publishing
Price:  Print – $9.99 / PDF $6.99
Pages:   400
Tankard Rating:  4/5

Death’s Heretic is the latest novel in the Pathfinder Tales line written by James Sutter. James Sutter is the Fiction Editor for Paizo Publishing and has many design credits to his name for Paizo Publishing and short fiction published in Black Gate, Apex Magazine, and other publications. This is the first Pathfinder Tales novel authored by James Sutter.

This tale finds us in the desert land of Thuvia following Salim Ghadafar who is on another mission for The Lady of Grave, Pharasma. Salim has been tasked with discovering who had a merchant’s spirit stolen from the boneyard to prevent his previously arranged resurrection from working. Salim finds himself paired with the daughter of the slain merchant to track down just who is responsible and why they would do such a thing.

With the investigation starting in Thuvia we learn more of the nation and the life there before we are soon whisked off on a brief tour of the Planes. Here we get an excellent description of just how unusual the planes are and some insight into how the dead souls pass from one world to another.  Meeting several planes dwellers who are all interesting characters in their own right we eventually find ourselves back in Thuvia hot on the trail of the culprit in this elaborate scheme.

Death’s Heretic is another great addition to the Pathfinder Tales line. I enjoy fiction set in various campaign worlds as they always offer another look at the world from a different perspective than typical gaming supplements. Death’s Heretic is no different, providing the reader interesting perspectives into the nation of Thuvia and certain planes themselves.

The main character, Salim, was an interesting and likable hero. With some mystery of his own at the beginning of the book we slowly learn more about him from his thoughts and people he meets. Eventually we learn more of his past as told by him further building depth to Salim.

Salim also has an unusual twist for one bound to a deity, especially for a fantasy world where deities have a prominent and obvious presence. I think the author only touched on the tip of some of these topics, but I would welcome seeing Salim again in the future and seeing more exploration of this topic.

Neila Anvanory, the woman who funds the investigation and assists Salim, is also an interesting character. Her Taldan heritage shows through at times, but proves quite useful during the story. Her switching between pompous employer and valuable ally is entertaining.

The pacing of the book was quite good. Keeping an investigative, but brisk pace to keep the reader engaged worked well. Dwelling in areas with enough detail to not feel rushed, but at the same time never pausing unduly letting the reader’s mind wander.

Overall I found Death’s Heretic a fun read. It read quickly with interesting characters and explored a part of Golarion I was not wholly familiar with which is always welcome. While I am not a huge fan of plane travel, it was done well in this book and even those sections were enjoyable to read.

Death’s Heretic is another strong offering in the Pathfinder Tales collection. You can purchase your physical or electronic copy today from Paizo Publishing.

4 out of 5 Tankards