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Book Review: Master of Devils by Dave Gross

Genre: Sword and Sorcery, Eastern Folklore
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Paizo Publishing, LLC.
Publication Date: August 23, 2011
ISBN-10: 1601253575
ISBN-13: 978-1601253576
Author Website: Dave Gross

In the latest book tie-in to the Pathfinder roleplaying game, Dave Gross takes the reader to an analogue of medieval China with Count Varian Jeggare, his half-devil bodyguard Radovan and the loyal dog Arnisant. Separated by circumstance and sure of the others’ death, each hero embarks on a seperate journey to the same place that reveal the many facets of Tian Xia society while entertaining with Chinese martial art movie style.

Master of Devils begins with Radovan’s story. Under attack by brigands, Radovan defeats them by using his hellspawn power to morph into a half-human/half-devil. Even as he escapes the clutches of the brigands, he falls into the web of Burning Cloud Devil, a one-armed hero and magician who wants Radovan to use his morphed form and Burning Cloud Devil’s Quivering Palm technique to defeat the dragon that killed Burning Cloud Devil’s ladylove. Radovan, assured of his former master’s death, agrees and is led by Burning Cloud Devil throughout Tian Xia to face off against heroes of renown in order to practice the techniques Burning Cloud Devil teaches. Gross’s narrative of Radovan is akin to various martial arts movies or video games where the hero faces off against more and more powerful “bosses” in order to level up high enough to defeat the final monster.

Count Jeggare, meanwhile, is drawn into a monastery, where he quickly learns that age and a magic-user do not a hand-to-hand fighter make. Jeggare’s story is a mystery in which he attempts to discover the truth behind a royal secret at the Dragon Temple. Through his eyes the reader is introduced to the warrior culture of Tian Xia.

Arnisant’s tale is an anthropomorphic tale of spirits and goblins that takes its cues from the folktales of ancient Chinese culture. He seeks out his master Jeggare, having several adventures along the way and gaining several powerful friends.

Gross weaves the three stories together. Each chapter is told from the point of view of its primary protagonist. Then each story is interrupted by the others, so that readers must go through a tale of Arnisant to read more of Radovan, or a continuation of Jeggare’s story to read more of Arnisant. Each tale is different in tone and style, a potential annoyance to the reader, but Gross’ attempt to use different Eastern storytelling styles (though tinged with an unavoidable Western influence) should be appreciated.

Gross delivers a good sword and sorcery tale full of Eastern influence and style. Though I had a hard time connecting with the characters (who have appeared in previous novels, it seems) Gross makes a solid attempt to entertain. Sometimes, the structure of the novel annoyed me, as would the simplistic sentence phrasing and the “talk at” rather than “present to” narrative style. Pathfinder fans are likely to enjoy the novel, as well as readers who enjoy Eastern settings and influences. Ultimately, the novel reads like a textual version of a 70s or 80s voice-over Chinese martial arts movie, with all the good and bad that implies.

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