Friday, December 30, 2011

Review: Death's Heretic

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I take reviews seriously, and I'm not sure I can write a proper review after reading a book once, for pleasure.   A proper review would follow from re-reading, probing for the review, and that sounds like reading for my profession, not for fun.  So I'll call this a review, for lack of a better term.  (Maybe a mini- or informal review?)  First, the big picture.

I'm a subscriber to Pathfinder Tales -- the novels are the best game-related fiction I know (for that matter, the serial fiction stories also fit in this category). 

My favorites are Dave Gross' Prince of Wolves and Master of Devils.  I just love the characters and there's lots of interesting stuff going on with flavorful elements.  The solid middle of the pack are Howard Andrew Jones' Plague of Shadow and Robin Laws' The Worldwound Gambit (the reviews on the latter are surprising low.  It deserves more appreciation).   My least favorites are Elaine Cunningham's Winter Witch and the newest addition, James Sutter's Death's Heretic.  In this case, however, no shame accrues to being my least favorite, for I enjoyed both works, in spite of some defects.  For those curious, I've decided my issues with Winter Witch are too complicated to unravel in a review until after a reread.  However, I'll offer my more timely thoughts on Death's Heretic here.

My biggest criticism is that Sutter needs to work on characterization.  There are times that the behavior of the characters seemed unlikely or even incongruous, above all in the case of Neila, who seems to be in danger of losing her grief and desire for vengeance at various points.  The final decision of Salim is also a cause of wonder for me, though I imagine that would be cause for long conversation.

Where I believe Sutter pulls off his greatest success is his theme of religious belief/disbelief.  Throughout the novel, he successfully duped me into believing that his novel was going to be satisfied with a widespread (and, given my professional interests, rather facile) conception of belief in a divine reality.  He manages to pull of a thoughtful twist here, and I will say nothing more to give it away, but I  must salute him for it -- quite satisfying!

While I have indicated Sutter's debut novel is not my favorite in the series, clearly others disagree: Paul Allen Goat lists it among his Best Fantasy of 2011. While I cannot agree, I am happy for Sutter, and especially for the line, to benefit from the recognition.  (And, I note, Howard Andrew Jones' other novel also appears in that list.)  For more on Sutter and Death's Heretic, see the review (by Andrew ZIMMERMAN Jones, not to be confused with HAJ) and interviews (parts I, II, and III) at Black Gate.

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