James L. Sutter, Death’s Heretic

I have to confess I have a bias against game-linked fantasy books. Far too often, in my experience, the game mechanics and the game world take precedence over the story. Even when the author is a well-known fantasy writer, the results can be deadly.

Death’s Heretic is linked to the Pathfinder roleplaying game (which I haven’t played), but I had to put my prejudices aside. This isn’t just a novelization of a game arc. Of course, the book does show off some of the fun elements in the Pathfinder universe — or rather, multiverse, since much of the story takes plane on alternate planes. But there’s much more to it than that, because Salim, its protagonist, is a fascinating, effectively-drawn character.

As the tale progresses, we gradually learn what has turned Salim from a priest-hunter who despises all gods into a servant of the Goddess of Death (whom he still despises.) He is presented with enough restraint that we don’t burn out on or react negatively to his story, but also with enough deftness that he is sympathetic (though it would be very easy to have made a character with his traits and history into an antihero or even a villain.)

You get a fast-moving adventure, a fantasy feast with all the trimmings, but you also get a character study that will haunt you long after you’ve forgotten most of the events in the plot.

Salim. Here’s wishing him peace, knowing he is unlikely ever to be at peace, with himself or with his place in the world.

Death’s Heretic is available from Paizo Publishing. I got a copy of it at Book Expo America, and have no other connection with the author or the publisher.

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