Lord of Runes
By Dave Gross
Author’s website: http://paizo.com/pathfinder/tales
Brought to you by OBS reviewer Scott
Luckily, I have had the opportunity to play the Pathfinder role-playing game (RPG), and am intimately familiar with the background history of the world Paizo has released; unfortunately, the non-gamer will miss an awful lot of the action and nuances that make up Pathfinder Tales: Lord of Runes. A true fan of the game and franchise, of the most arguably is the current leader in the mass market RPG industry, will understand the significance of many of the overtly stationed events such as in the appropriately named “Pathfinder Chronicles,” Paizo’s charter club for members, in which the leaders (and movers and shakers) of the world, have a voice in the world’s development. Sadly, this book seems like someone’s game session set to prose, and really offers not much else.
In the dense forest of fantasy literature, the story, plot and theme have to be magically intertwined, with references to non-significant events given significance, so the average reader can jump right in, and be on the ball with the rest of the crowd. Although the plot and story were there, a lack of a clean thematic value tempered my judgement here. There is no Tolkien’s footnotes, explaining the history behind events; no Michael Moorcock’s Elric naturally writing about the almost believable absolute struggle over magic, totems and power; no Terry Brooks bringing a myriad of themes to the table and resolving them all. There is a mystery and the mystery is solved.
This is not to say there wasn’t a story to be told; Lord of Runes had all of the intrigue, mystery, and thrills that other fantasy novels thrive upon, and was, albeit written for a presumably teenage demographic, well executed. I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not this was not just a book but a formulaic work, relying on a certain word count and length. The pacing was erratic: in the finer parts of the novel, it flowed and when it didn’t it just made you curious as to why you picked it up in the first place. There is plenty of Pathfinder in-jokes and fun filled trivia that will delight any fan of the game; however for those who don’t, well I don’t suppose they would be picking this up in the first place.
The best part of the novel is in the characterization. Characters are (un)believable in their abilities, and strengths and weaknesses vary and grow, and are truly three-dimensional constructs. Saying that, however, role players spend vast amounts of time detailing their characters over the course of a campaign, so this was not really much of a surprise. If there is any recommendation I can assuredly put forth is: this is a fine piece of character writing. Dialogue isn’t stilted, and, like on a character sheet that describes your avatar, the trappings are there. Sharp and witty, they gracefully adorn what is otherwise a simple mystery novel.
For fans of the Pathfinder Game this would be a shoe-in-foot match. Even fans of the old (and newer) Dragonlance or Forgotten Realms series would be entertained, as the Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder roleplaying systems used to be so similar (almost identical at one point). The true fantasy novel fan, in the vein of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Moorcock’s Elric, to name two, will find Pathfinder Tales: Lord of Runes to be exactly what it is marketed as – a gaming tale and nothing more.