Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Shadow Prowler by Alexey Pehov

Anyone else ever find they have books that they have no recollection of buying? I have this in hardcover, new, and don't remember when I bought it or for how much. I've never heard of Alexey Pehov (website here) before and as I was cleaning through my various stacks of unread books, came across this. The thing that moved it to the top of the pile?  "Reminiscent of Michael Moorcock's Elric series, drawn from the great heart of Russian folklore, Shadow Prowleer is the first work to be published in English by the bestselling new-generation fantasy author Alexey Pehov."

Elric? Alright then!

After reading it, no, not quite. There isn't a spellcaster whose doomed to slay his own people. There isn't a magical sword that drinks souls. There isn't travel to other planes and times. Those are some of the hallmarks of Elric at least to me. Oh, and short. Relatively short novels too. In terms of Russian folklore? I'm not learned enough in that field to say yea or nay but I didn't see a lot of the common tropes poking out like any visits from a certain Hut.

I don't know if it's a translation problem or something else but Shadow Prowler didn't make it up to the heights that other books I've read this year have. It's not bad by any means, and its more 'serious' than I consider 'popcorn' fiction like the various Magic the Gathering novels I read. But I'm not interested in it enough to buy the next book in the series when I'm still running through dozens of other books that need to go to make some room in the cramped apartment.

Part of it may be the naming conventions. The main hero is Shadow Harold. His mentor is For. One of the guides he speaks with it Bolt. The names are a little off to me which may be part of the translation or may just be common names in the native tongue.

The book has a nice nesting doll structure. The characters have to go to the Hall of Bones to retrieve the Ogre's Horn to fight the dark magic of 'The Nameless One' but along the way Harold winds up exploring a magically locked off part of the city, fighting assassins and goat men and using magic left and right. It has its up moments and is high fantasy with some questing thrown in for good measure along with a handful of interesting characters.

I'll be discussing some of the specifics below and how they might apply to a role playing game.

Racial Reimaginings: In this setting, orcs are the firstborn. They are the oldest race in the series. Elves have fangs and are not the creatures of beauty that other settings have them as. Gnomes and dwarves hate each other, and gnomes, while still shorter than dwarves, are the ones that have beards and cannons while dwarves have no beards but are still master craftsmen.

Background Dumps: Harold finds himself learning things through extrasensory methods three times in the book. The first is when he enters the forbidden zone of the city. The magic of that section overhwhelms him with the origin of the sector and how it came to be. The second is when he is mystically attuned to a magical key and learns how that key was forged. The third is when sleeping in a field and he learns how all of the bones came to be in that field. These methods of providing an information dump on the characters might be overwhelming but if the GM can provide the players with some pregenerated characters, the players can actually be the ones doing the fighting and determining how the story worked out. This may steal some time away from their regular characters but the investment may show them how it all went down in a way that the history books don't talk about.

Magic For Money: One of the things about the setting that reminded me of D&D, is that Harold is able to buy magic items and even use scrolls. The magic items are all locked up and take time to get to to prevent easy loss or theft and cost an arm and a leg but in a high fantasy setting, they are available for purchase. If your setting should logically support such commerce, there should be a good reason, perhaps a social or religious one, why it is not.

The Gods: One of the things I enjoyed about the setting, is that when a thief agrees to do something and is bound to it, not through magic, but tradition and the watching eye of the god of thieves, it's called a Commission. This provides a solid reason why anyone would trust a thief to do something that they might normally not want to do. By entering into these contracts, both parties can be sure that the other will hold to their end of the deal. The Forgotten Realms had something similar with mages and their unique sigils where Azuth would curse someone who copied the moniker of another mage. When looking at things that bind people to causes and duty, having the active hand of the gods be one of them, is an easy way to insure that word given, word kept.

Shadow Prowler is available at amazon in hardcover, for $19.24, mass market paperback for $7.19, and kindle for $6.83. The physical copies are prime eligible.

For those who've read other books by Alexey Pehov, is the series worth continuing into? Any recommendations in that vein?