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Minireview: The Witch Queen's Revenge (Pathfinder "Reign of Winter" 6/6)

The Witch Queen’s Revenge brings the “Reign of Winter” adventure path to a close, and it’s not a bad ending to a (surprisingly!) good adventure path; while it doesn’t rise to the heights of the previous Rasputin-themed one, it’s still a solid ending. Having rescued Baba Yaga, the PCs still need to actually free her. This requires delving into the intricate pocket dimensions hidden inside the Tardis… err, hut, where Baba Yaga has hidden some failsafes to guard against worst cases like this.

On the downside, it’s very linear and much too much of a combat-fest to my liking. On the other hand, the pocket dimensions are interesting, and the inhabitants can (and probably should) be tweaked to be less auto-attacking monsters and more role-playing challenges. And, of course, there’s the end question: given that the PCs succeed in freeing Baba Yaga, what then? While it may (or may not) end the current crisis, she is still a vastly powerful and evil-tending being. The PCs will need to tread carefully here.

Overall, I enjoyed “Reign of Winter” a lot more than I thought I would. It’s by far the most “gonzo” adventure path Paizo has published so far, but it holds together quite nicely and the individual episodes are mostly very good – the usual D&D problem of “too much combat” does crop up, of course, but that’s game conventions for you. The “PCs visit Earth in historic times and fight Rasputin and Russian infantry” thing should have fallen flat on its face, given the somewhat crazy premise, but somehow it pulls things off in style. This is one of the better adventure paths Paizo has produced, so far.

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Minireview: Tongues of Serpents, by Naomi Novik

Tongues of Serpents is the sixth book in Novik’s “Temeraire” series, and it’s very much a transition piece. The previous book, “Victory of Eagles”, wrapped up most of the earlier major storylines, and saw Lawrence & Temeraire get exiled to Australia – a better fate than getting executed as traitors, but an ignoble one nevertheless.

Once they arrive after an uneasy sea voyage, they find the prison colony of New South Wales in turmoil; the previous governor has been overthrown and the political situation is unstable, to say the least. To escape, Lawrence and Temeraire enlist on a surveying expedition, which quickly becomes a rescue mission once a dragon egg gets stolen. The bulk of the book deals with the search & rescue expedition, and the discoveries hidden in the depths of the Australian desert.

While there are lots of potentially great story elements here, it doesn’t really come together. The sense of urgency and great impending events is gone here, and I got the feeling that the author herself was slightly at a loss of where to take the story next, other than “lets fly around alter-history Australia a bit”. It is, quite frankly, a fairly dull book, and adds very little to the main plotline. There are nice bits here and there, but nice bits do not a good book make if the main bulk is meandering and repetitive.


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