I am a very strong believer that supporting a solid RPG setting with a solid novel or short story is always a good idea. Being a big fan of Paizo and Pathfinder, when I saw Winter Witch in the shelf of the bookstore where I was browsing, I instinctively put it in my shopping basket (yes, I have to use a shopping basket when I go to a book store… I’m that sort of guy).
It was a bit of a gamble, to be honest, and mostly driven by the name Pathfinder and the gorgeous cover. Call me gullible.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t judge the book by the cover. I didn’t judge it at all. I just wanted it because is a Pathfinder related product and I wanted to know what sort of quality is going into this novels.
I have never heard of the author, Ellaine Cunningham (which, to my shame, means I must have lived under some sort of stone for a while because, upon research, I found out she is a *very* prolific authoress), but, funnily enough, the editor, Dave Gross was familiar. Also I know that Robin D. Laws has published a novel for the Pathfinder Tales and his writing is always fantastic, so I guessed that Paizo was on the right track.
So what’s the book all about?
Declan Avari is an apprentice cartographer, struggling to make ends meet and please his mentor and teacher, who’s got a temper as foul as his personality. However there is more than meets the eye when is about Declan. He attended wizardry school and gave up magic when his brother suffered greatly while practising magic. However his talent for magic is something he can’t leave behind, try as he might. Apparently driven Ellasif, a barbarian Shield Maiden in search of her lost sister, Declan suddenly finds himself on a quest to rescue both his beloved kitchen maiden and his mentor and teacher, who have been kidnapped and taken to the inhospitable north and home of the winter witches.
Is the story any good?
Well, yes. The story is solid and, although a bit predictable, it has pace and is very coherent. The characters all have their reasons to be where they are and who they are. Honour, loyalty, love, betrayal; it’s all well implemented in the characters.
Cunningham’s knowledge of the Pathfinder universe is also unquestionable. The description of the spells, the locations and the inhabitants of the world. All of it really brings the setting to life and provides with good visual references to create a clear enough picture of the action in your mind. From Ellasif’s village and its inhabitants, to the busy streets and markets of Korvosa, the trolls, winter wolves, weapons, factions… Everything comes to life quite nicely.
So did I like it?
Yes, though it didn’t drive me crazy.
The book lacks a map of the regions the characters take in their adventure. It is difficult to gauge the lengths, and time, although is well referred, doesn’t make very clear how long it takes to travel from A to B. Having said that, I am a bit of a cartographer freak, so I always want a map.
The characters can feel a bit flat at times. Although they’re charming enough and although they don’t have the strongest of personalities, there is enough of them to feel a fair deal of emotional attachment to their circumstances. They might not be the most charismatic characters ever written, but they fit very nicely and they are quite likeable.
If you’re into the Pathfinder RPG, reading this book is worth it. It is easy to read, provides with more than enough inspiration to bring Golarion to life and it is entertaining. Thus I’ll give this book three stars.
Pathfinder Tales: Winter Witch is available from: