A Pathfinder Tales novel
Published by Paizo
384 pages, Mass Market Paperback
Review copy courtesy of the publisher
The Patfhinder RPG is relatively new, but one of the most acclaimed RPG campaign settings on the market today. Like its cousins at Wizards of the Coast and other RPG campaigns/companies, Paizo, the publishers behind Pathfinder, are broadening their market share through novels taking place in the rich setting – Golarion. Liane Merciel, the author of Nightglass, has written two fantasy novels which have received, for the most part, a good reception including a glowing review from SFFWorld.com’s own PeterWilliam (http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/713.html).
On to the novel at hand…Nightglass tells the story of a wizard coming of age; though in atypical fashion, the young wizard Isiem isn’t exactly a member of House Gryffindor at Hogwarts and the magic of the Midnight Lord might even make Slytherin whimper. At that core, Merciel explores preconceived notions of good and evil and tries to illuminate a character on the dark side of the divide. His initiation into the dark magic of the Midnight Lord of Nidal comprises the first half of the novel. During these ‘training’ sessions Isiem proves to be very adept at learning and there isn’t much of a concern of whether or not he’ll pass his trials, just the stress inherit in being young and experiencing peer pressure. The second half entails his journey out into the world as an emissary investigating the attacks of the strix – winged humanoids – on a mining village. Here also the ‘accepted’ notion of the nature of these creatures comes into scrutiny through Isiem’s experience. Where the emotional tension was stronger in the first half, the sense of frustrating and physical confinement were stronger in the second half of the novel.
In a lot of ways, Nightglass reminded me of a novel I read earlier in the year – Benjamin Tate’s Well of Sorrows. Isiem reminded me a bit of the protagonist of that novel, but more so, the feel of the magic and this section of the world of Golarion evoked a similar dark feel, if not in the specifics then in the way the world came through the characters.
I’d never read or role-played in the Pathfinder setting (though I do own the core rule book), but the good news is that wasn’t an impediment to reading and appreciating the novel on its own merits. Merciel adequately provided context for each of the creatures and elements of the world introduced in the narrative. I thought another strength Merciel displayed was in the setting descriptions and small moments of character development, particularly when Isiem acquired Honey the dog and the feelings of companionship evoked in their initial meetings. I also felt she explored the fantastical cultures in the novel very well, providing some depth to what could be otherwise considered trope settings and elements.
On the whole, Nightglass for me was a novel with engaging parts that didn’t quite add up to the sum as a whole. Unfortunately I didn’t feel connected to the novel despite some solid elements peppered throughout. I’m interested enough in both Merciel’s other writings and the Pathfinder setting to give both another try. Also, like Well of Sorrows, the shift in the second half of the novel doesn’t balance well with the first half and robbed Nightglass of having the chance to be a cohesive whole.
I expect fans of Pathfinder (the game and previous novels in this milieu) might find more enjoyment out of the novel than I did (despite my earlier statement), so it is with that reservation I can only hand off a mild recommendation for Nightglass.
© 2012 Rob H. Bedford