Alright ladies and gentlemen, it’s book review time! Still working on some other updates, but I thought I’d smash this one out-of-the-way while the book is relatively fresh in my mind. It’ll be a quick one, and free of major spoilers, since I’m kind of pressed for time at the moment. Got a lot of stuff on the go at the moment. If I can, I’ll try to come back and write some more in-depth analysis of the book, but this ought to do to get my opinion of it across.
Anyway, let’s get down to it.
Chris A. Jackson
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
From the Paizo.com blurb:
Torius Vin is perfectly happy with his life as a pirate captain, sailing the Inner Sea with a bold crew of buccaneers and Celeste, his snake-bodied navigator and one true love. Yet all that changes when his sometime friend Vreva Jhafae—a high-powered courtesan and abolitionist spy in the slaver stronghold of Okeno— draws him into her shadowy network of secret agents. Caught between the slavers he hates and a navy that sees him as a criminal, can Torius continue to choose the path of piracy? Or will he sign on as a privateer, bringing freedom to others—at the price of his own?
From critically acclaimed author Chris A. Jackson comes a fantastical tale of love, espionage, and high-seas adventure, set in the award-winning world of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.
Pirate’s Promise is the sequel to Chris A. Jackson’s previous Pathfinder Tales novel, Pirate’s Honor, which is up there with James Sutter’s Death’s Heretic and The Redemption Engine (you can find my review of that here) as one of my favourite stories in the series so far. It continues the story of Torius Vin, the pirate captain of the Stargazer, his lover Celeste (a lunar naga) and his crew of pirates. It also throws more focus on Vreva Jhafae, a returning character from the previous story. The story picks up shortly after the events of Pirate’s Honor wrapped up, with Torius and Celeste planning on taking a holiday to visit an ancient site known as the Observatory, while Vreva returns to her home in Okeno and resuming her life there.
So, can this pirate live up to the promise that his first adventure held?
Well, I can happily say that Pirate’s Promise is a fun read up to the high standard I’ve come to expect from the Pathfinder Tales series. There’s character development aplenty for returning characters Torius, Celeste and Vreva, as well as the introduction of Zarina, an Inquisitor of Abadar, who I both hated to love and loved to hate. Fantasy novels often live or die on the strength of the characters alone, and there is no doubt that Jackson’s characters are strong enough to support the story. It’s also interesting as a rare example of interspecies love in fantasy, in that normally it’s the humanoid races (humans, elves, etc.) that will end up in relationships. The relationship dynamic between Celeste and Torius is as fascinating as it was in the first book, and despite the fact that we’re talking about a relationship between a pirate captain and a spellcasting giant snake with a woman’s head, it’s somehow very believable and sweet. Honestly, the relationships are one of the strongest points of this book. Vreva and Zarina’s complicated relationship had me invested within moments of their meeting, but I’ll say no more about that now as I don’t want to spoil the fun for anyone who hasn’t read it yet.
Of course even with strong characters to carry it, the book needs a story, and this one certainly holds up its end of the bargain. Clear, evocatively written action scenes brought all the excitement to life in my mind. The non-action scenes were just as well written, providing enough detail for me to get clear images of the characters and locales without getting bogged down in overly flowery language. The fact that I found myself gasping or muttering about the actions of the characters under my breath as I read through the book is a testament to the way the story was able to draw me in. I found myself cheering quietly when the heroes succeeded, staring at the page in shock when they suffered a defeat and, at a couple of points, nearly tearing up at the heartbreaking emotion in the scene (that last one isn’t something I normally expect from a novel based on a fantasy RPG like Pathfinder).
The only problem I have, and the reason that I gave 4 stars instead of 5, is that I felt the story suffered slightly from a lack of focus. The story is split into two major plot lines, one of which could probably be looked at as two separate subplots. You have the trip to the Observatory, and Vreva’s work as a spy in Okeno, which can be split further into Vreva’s dealings with Zarina and Torius’ role in her work. While the threads do tie back together nicely towards the end, and each of them was fascinating in their own way, it felt like each of them got sold a little short on time due to the need to keep all the separate parts moving forward. I almost wish the trip to the Observatory could have been its own tale, since it had two perfect antagonists ready to go. Likewise I would have enjoyed more development of Zarina and Vreva’s relationship, and more time to explore Torius’ role as part of the abolitionist movement. The need to wrap everything up and bring it all back together unfortunately resulted in the end feeling a bit rushed to me. From the close of the second act through til the end of the story, the pace slams into overdrive, and doesn’t let up until the denouement. Not really a big complaint, given that the crux of it is “I found this stuff so fascinating that I wanted to know more”, but I really do think the story could have benefited from either a little more length to allow more exploration of some aspects, or more focus on one major plot line, whether that was the Observatory or Vreva’s work.
So to sum it up… would I recommend Pirate’s Promise? Yes, I would, with no hesitation or doubt. Despite my minor quibbles, it’s fun enough, clever enough, and full of swashbuckling adventures, romance and betrayal to keep me enthralled. Plus I love pirate stories, so there’s that. I would say that I enjoyed Pirate’s Honor more, but it’s a close run thing, and this is definitely an excellent continuation of the story. I’m hopeful that Paizo will ask Chris to write a third book in the series, as it’s most definitely left open for one.
Written while listening to the new Marilyn Manson album, The Pale Emperor. My favourite songs on it so far would have to be Killing Strangers, The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles and Cupid Carries A Gun. The album has a really blues influenced feel to it, which I’m loving at the moment.
I’ll aim to have another post up within the next week. Not sure what it’ll be, possibly another review, or an update for The Unusual Suspects if I can get myself into the write mindset for writing it. I’ve got seven characters I need to do write-ups for, so it’d be good to get started on that if I can.
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