Everyone understands the concept of good versus evil; it’s a tale as old as time itself. But how about lawful good, neutral good, and lawful evil versus chaotic evil? That puts a twist on things, right? Especially when you take into account the fact that the chaotic evil is long dead. Pathfinder Tales: Hellknight is a story of love, redemption, and the undead.
Don’t worry, no necrophilia here; just a lot of death and destruction. You know, exactly what you expect from a fantasy novel based on a roleplaying game. Want to know more? Keep on reading!
The obvious protagonist of the novel is Jheraal, a devilspawn Hellknight from the Order of the Scourge. Clad in dark, scarred plate armor that emphasizes, rather than hides, her hellborne traits, she is the epitome of her kind. Small horns protrude from her forehead, while scales cover her body just as skin would on a full-blooded human. As an investigator of her order, she is able to make demands of officials and gentry alike. When Orthando, a nobleman and scholar, is struck down in his own home, it falls upon her to find the culprit. Unbeknownst to her, however, she is pulling at a thread more than half a century old. For it seems that it wasn’t murder that was the main obstacle, it was theft. But what was taken seems to be the most difficult answer to obtain.
Arriving shortly after the murder, Ederras returns home to Westcrown to help find the killer. As a Paladin of the goddess Iomedae, and brother of the victim, he is determined to seek justice for his sibling. He is also aware that he is now the sole remaining heir to House Celverian and will have to leave his wartime pursuits to care for his family and their estates. A noble and honorable man, he still falls short in his own eyes of being the man he feels others expect him to be.
Not long thereafter, a wrong turn leads him to encounter an old flame. Which in this case is almost literal as Velenne of House Thrune is not only a member of the ruling family but also a diabolist, a worshiper of Asmodeus. Earlier in her life she was the short-term lover of Ederras during his more disorderly days. However, their affair having ended badly, this chance meeting was both painful and precipitous. But crossing paths with one another is more than fate, as they quickly deduce.
The quest to find the assassin is a long and treacherous one, leading them into the proverbial lion’s den. Their enemies are strong and willful, pushing an agenda more than sixty years in the making. But as the truth comes out, will our heroes be able to handle the results and the fallout from their investigation? Many of their supposed allies would prefer to let bygones be bygone. The ending will certainly make you cringe and the plot will keep you second guessing everyone and everything. But anytime your opponent is one of the undead, that tends to happen.
I just couldn’t get into this book. It literally took me two weeks to motivate myself to dive into the story. Not that I’m saying it’s bad, it was just extremely long-winded at times. If you know me at all, you know that a book lasts a day, two at the most. But this one was a burden that I almost put down. At least until I got almost halfway through, then it seemed to start me on a rollercoaster of emotions, exciting and thrilling in a no holds barred sort of way. Looking back, it feels like there was some heavy editing to elongate the text, to stretch the novel into a larger version of itself. It felt padded. I’ve never read anything from author Liane Merciel before and if you’d asked me during the first half of the story I would have said I would never again read her work. But having finished the tale and enjoyed the remaining plot and story, I would gladly do it over again. Though I hope it’s not as slow to start.
The more of these Pathfinder books that I read, the more I like the world. I’m not as well-versed as I would like and it seems to be far more developed than I would have thought. I would definitely say that any tabletop gaming fan will probably enjoy this. It starts off feeling almost like a Dragonlance adventure; the Ederras/Velenne relationship was very Sturm/Kitiara-like, for those in the know. But it was far better developed over the course of the book and in the end I completely take back every negative thing I said or thought while reading those first chapters. So there, it’s sort of a review with a dash of apology to the writer. The first line of the book really sums it all up, in retrospect: “The devilheart chain was a cruel thing.” What it is and what it does, you’ll have to read for yourself.