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Minireview: The Republic of Thieves, by Scott Lynch

The Republic of Thieves continues Lynch’s “Gentlemen Bastards” series, detailing the adventures of two “gentleman thieves”, Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen. Set in a detailed fantasy world which is apparently built on the ruins of a much older civilization, the series is a brilliant romp which oscillates between a heist story and bloody horror (sometimes with overlap). The first book, “The Lies of Locke Lamora” was set in the city of Camorr, and detailed Locke’s origin story and how he and his companions crossed path with the Bondsmagi, with fatal results. In “Red Seas Under Red Skies”, Locke and Jean try their hand at piracy, and now here, in the third book, the Bondsmagi force Locke and Jean to help rig an election in the city of Karthain. Turns out there are various factions within the Bondsmagi, and not quite everyone there wants to kill Locke. At least, not immediately.

Also entering full-frame into the story is Sabetha, Locke’s “lost love” from earlier times, now running a gang of her own. Some of the best portions of this book involve the one-upmanship between her and Locke, as their mutual game becomes less and less of a game and more something deadly serious.

It’s a great read, like the two previous books. It doesn’t fall into easy narrative solutions very often, and there are twists and turns aplenty. At times it’s the “Ocean’s Eleven” of the fantasy world, at other times it’s something a lot more brutal and nasty. It doesn’t pull too many punches, and that makes for a powerful story where nothing ever feels quite safe.

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Minireview: The Monastery of Tuath (Shadows of Esteren)

The Monastery of Tuath is a sourcebook for Shadows of Esteren, focusing on the religious Temple and “Church of the One” faction and specifically focusing on one example monastery. Patterned heavily after “The Name of the Rose”, this is fairly grim and ascetic place, hiding equally grim secrets. The first part of the book details daily life in the monastery and gives a nice overview of what sorts of routines are involved; while you could easily run an Esteren monastery with some cursory knowledge of medieval church and monastery organizations, it’s helpful to have a guide to the places where this differs from the real-world historical counterparts. Mostly this has to do with the fact that here, monsters and magic is real (to some limited extent), as is “technomagic” – to the dismay of the Temple.

The book also has a investigation-heavy scenario, very much inspired by “The Name of the Rose” without being a carbon copy. It’s nicely done, and has leads to much larger (and more sinister) plots which the GM can expand upon, if needed.

As before, the production values are high and the art is pretty. This is a quality addition to the game series, though one squarely aimed at GMs.

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Minireview: Shifting Sands (Pathfinder "Mummy's Mask" 3/6)

Shifting Sands finally moves the “Mummy’s Mask” into its main plotline, a bit belatedly in my opinion. Here, the PCs search for an ancient vanished library in order to do some research about what they are up against. This is a refreshing change of pace from the normal “kill stuff and take loot” approach taken in D&D -style modules. In order to find the library, there is an initial “wilderness hex crawl” section which is potentially quite nice, though the GM would need to keep tight control on the game flow in order not to frustrate the players. One small problem is that the encounters here have little to no connection with the main plot, so they should be kept to a small number. Then, later, in the library, the module has a research minigame to reflect how well they do. And, of course, there’s combat.

It’s not bad at all, and as noted finally zeroes in on the “main plot”, which has been quite elusive and mostly invisible to the players up to now. There is a fun NPC here, but since it’s a single central figure, care should be taken not to make the NPC a source of frustration – the PCs will need to handle social interactions carefully, here. Of course, the fact that the module has social interaction and not just endless combat is a plus point.

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Minireview: Cibola Burn, by James S.A. Corey

Cibola Burn is the fourth book in the “Expanse” series, and the first one to take place mainly on a planet outside our solar system. The gate system opened up by the alien “protovirus” has opened up a Pandora’s Box for humanity, and a mass exodus to the stars has begun – some with “official” blessing, most not so much. A large part of that has to do with the highly unstable political situation, where multiple parties claim to be the ones “in charge”. No single party actually is.

Some explorers and settlers had managed to use the gate system before the temporary military shutdown, and now some “official” expeditions are coming into conflict with pre-existing colonies on new, habitable planets. Foremost here is the planet Ilus, where a squatter colony’s claims is contested by a large, corporate expedition, and tensions are running high. Enter Holden and crew, and diplomats and negotiators. Yeah, right. Fat chance of that working out.

In a way it’s a bit of a Western, in its setup. Small, plucky settlers are being menaced by corporate power, threatening to steal their claim. Into this setup, a “neutral lawman” rides in. But of course, it’s not quite that simple; the colonists are no angels, and while the corporate head is a stereotypical Bad Guy, most of the people on that side are normal, decent folk. In any case, the “Western” bit morphs into something else, when it becomes clear the planet may be holding some ancient secrets of its own, and some of them may be waking up.

Like the previous books, it’s a fun ride and a great read. As typical here, the end portion is one long rollercoaster ride which wraps up nicely but leaves the big picture open for sequels. It answers some questions regarding the Miller/protomolecule storyline, but also opens up a few new ones. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, and maybe not quite as coherent as a story as the previous ones, but still very much worth the read for people who have liked the series so far.

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