Book Review: Pathfinder Tales: Liar’s Bargain by Tim Pratt
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Media Tie-In
Series: Pathfinder Tales
Publisher: Tor (June 7, 2016)
Length: 320 pages
Author Information: Website
With my Pathfinder group currently on summer break, I found myself desperately craving for a good quest narrative adventure. Enter Liar’s Bargain, which really hit the spot. Of course, I’d much rather be playing an RPG campaign, but if that’s not possible, reading a story that feels exactly like one is the next best thing.
This book is actually the follow-up to Tim Pratt’s Liar’s Island, and the third in a sequence featuring recurring characters Rodrick and his sentient ice sword Hrym, but like most of the novels in the Pathfinder Tales series it can be read as a standalone.
This time, Rodrick finds himself deep in crusader lands, the last place you’d want to be caught committing a crime. Lawbreakers in Lastwall are punished harshly, as our hapless hero discovers too late, after being sentenced to death for trying to steal a horse. Intrigued by his magical talking sword, however, Rodrick’s captors offer him another way to serve his sentence: join a covert government program with other seasoned outlaws to carry out missions too delicate (and dangerous) for ordinary soldiers. For one year, he would work under his boss Temple and do the bidding of the Lastwall crusaders. Should he survive after that period, he will go free. In the meantime though, Rodrick and his fellow criminals press ganged into service will be implanted with rubies infused with dark magic. If they attempt escape or try to wriggle out of their punishment in any way, Temple promises to activate the magic in the gems, and the explosion would tear their bodies apart.
For Rodrick, the choice was easy. He’d rather take his chances with a ragtag group of miscreants than face certain death at the hands of Lastwall’s executioners. And that is how he and Hrym find themselves teamed up with the outlaw Merihim and her silent companion Prinn, as well as a thief named Eldra and a mysterious alchemist who only goes by “The Specialist”. For the group’s first assignment, Temple sends them on mission to retrieve a very important person—simple enough, Rodrick thinks. But then, one of the others suddenly decide to go off script, and that’s when things start going horribly wrong.
This is only my second venture into the world of the Pathfinder Tales novels, and it couldn’t have been more different from my first, which was Liane Merciel’s Hellknight, a murder mystery mainly starring a duo made up of a hellspawn investigator and a battle-hardened paladin. In contrast, Liar’s Bargain features a traditional quest narrative plot structure and an ensemble cast, with each character bringing something valuable to the party. Merihim is the “brains” of the operation, much to Rodrick’s chagrin. Our poor protagonist fancies himself to be a good leader, but he and his sword were originally brought in simply to be the team’s muscle. The Specialist, despite his name, is the jack of all trades, playing the much essential support role. And of course, no adventuring group can be complete without its resident rogue, and that’s where Eldra comes in. All told, the cast had all the makings of your classic role-playing group, and the story was definitely more in the vein of what I had in mind when I first tried the series, unfolding like a multi-part campaign.
The plot is not very complex, but it’s every bit as fun as you’d expect it to be, with its fair share of surprising twists and turns. In several places, I even amused myself by picturing an imaginary DM setting the adventures up with a jaw-dropping scenario before announcing in an ominous tone, “Roll initiative”, simply because it was just so damn appropriate. As for the characters, Rodrick himself is somewhat of an arrogant puffed-up blowhard, but he plays the part with plenty of humor and snark. When your book’s protagonist has a best friend that’s a talking magical sword with the ability to ice anyone and anything, you can surely count on getting some excellent banter. I’ll admit to more than a few chuckles when I was reading this book, especially during the witty exchanges between Rodrick and Hyrm.
There were some issues, of course, like the Specialist and his apparent ability to come up with a solution to every problem, which felt much too convenient to me (though who knows, maybe he just rolled high on all his skill checks), or the fact that the story meanders too far off the main track with a couple “side quests” in the second half of the novel. But on the whole, I have to say I was quite pleased with Liar’s Bargain. It was entertaining the whole way through, which was exactly what I signed on for, and in fact, I liked it so much, I’m even contemplating going back to pick up the two previous Rodrick and Hrym novels.
Not a fan or player of Pathfinder or RPGs? No problem. Even readers who know nothing about the game can dive right in. If you’re looking for a fun, fast-paced fantasy read, you simply can’t go wrong with this story featuring the misadventures of a lovable gang of scoundrels and rogues.