For the past century, a series of wardstones has imprisoned demons near an area named the worldwond, which is a gateway to places better left unvisited. Now those once-imprisoned demons are escaping and wreaking havoc wherever they roam. Count Varian Jeggare and his hellspawn bodyguard (ironic) Radovan are in search of a blasphemous text that opened the gates to the abyss in the first place. The problem is that to find it, they must search through the ruins of several cities in a fallen nation to try to find this text. As fate would have it, this dynamic duo isn’t the only team in the game, and before the novel is over, they join forces with pious crusaders, local barbarian warriors, and even what are known as god callers. Time is of the essence. To make matters worse, there is a vampire who is intent on making himself the god of blood. So the question is will finding this blasphemous text save the world or speed it toward demonic doom?
King of Chaos is an outstanding addition to the Pathfinder Tales series. Actually this story follows the Wrath of the Righteous Adventure Path. This is the first of the Pathfinder Tales books that I have read, and if the rest of the Tales are as well done as this one, then I know where my hard-earned book money is going. When reading and reviewing books based on roleplaying games, I always approach with caution. Being a person who loves RPGs, I have to try to avoid over-inflated expectations based on my experiences with the game system that the book is based on. I must be careful to not project any problems I have with a game system on the books that are written about it as well. Fortunately, I had to head into this book trying to manage expectations rather than trying to like a book about a game I hate.
Dave Gross has managed a tough balancing act with this book. First, he stayed true to the Pathfinder Universe and how it works. Spells and class abilities work the way one would expect them to work in the tabletop version of the game. In fact, Pathfinder players will get a bonus reading this book since they can look at each character’s abilities and try to figure out what level they are. If you have played any fantasy tabletop roleplaying game, then you’ll find many familiar elements. As a fantasy novel, King of Chaos works just fine even if you are not familiar with Pathfinder. Sure, King of Chaos is filled with exactly the things you would expect, but isn’t that why you read fantasy novels? What would a space opera be without space? What would a sword and sorcery novel be without swords and sorcery? I think you get the point.
The writing in this novel was great; Mr. Gross knows how to write a fantasy novel and didn’t try to make it into a literary classic. Instead he used an economy of words that said what they needed to say in the best way possible. Could Dave Gross write the next great American novel? For sure, but rather than trying to use this setting as a platform for that, he chose to write an action-packed book that is as fun to read as it is readable. This novel is written in what I like to call a shifting 1st-person perspective. Each chapter is written from the viewpoint of a different character. Mr. Gross sticks to the “big three” characters most of the time, but every now and then he lets us see the world from one of the other characters’ viewpoints, and it really works well. There was no point where I didn’t know whose perspective I was viewing the action from, and the use of 1st person really allowed me to get into the characters’ heads.
King of Chaos should be a guidebook for other authors who are commissioned to write books based on popular RPGs. The world worked the way I believed it should work, and the characters were interesting and exciting. This book has motivated me to read the rest of the books in the series and has turned me into an even larger fan of Mr. Dave Gross.