Master of Devils: Spoiler-free Review

In the interest of full disclosure, let me start with two facts: Dave Gross is a pal of mine, and he gave me a copy of Master of Devils (first copy in Canada!) for my birthday.  If you know me you can decide whether that would colour my review; if you don’t know me you’ll just have to accept my word that it wouldn’t.  I can be a bastard that way.

Since reading the serial fiction that Dave included with the Council of Thieves Adventure Path for the Pathfinder RPG, I was a huge fan of Radovan & Jeggare.  Dave’s first novel featuring the intrepid pair, Prince of Wolves, cemented that for me.  So I was excited to hear so soon after it came out that Dave was confirmed to write another “R&J” novel.  When I learned that it was to be set in Tian Xia, Golarion’s analogue for the Orient, I was practically giddy.  Many movie nights in Dave’s basement have demonstrated the depth of his knowledge and love of martial arts films.  If anyone was going to make the Tian Xia setting come alive, it was him.

In other words I had very high expectations going into Master of Devils; even a friendly relationship with Dave was not going to protect him if he didn’t deliver.

You (and Dave especially, I’m sure) will be happy to know our burgeoning friendship is perfectly safe.  With Master of Devils Dave has proven himself First Brother (yeah, you’ll have to read it to get the reference).

As I sit here prepping the spoiler-free version, I know I’m going to write a more in-depth, spoiler-ridden look at the novel.  I’ll have to, there is so much more I want to say.  But spoiler-free first, as promised.

So, first impressions.  I have long been a fan of Hong Kong cinema and wu xia films, and while I don’t consider myself any kind of expert I would have to say that Dave’s Tian Xia captured that feel for me perfectly.  Many familiar tropes and themes are present: martial arts masters (of course), justice and righteousness, beautiful maidens, magic and spirits (kami).  Even The Faithful Servant, a character present in many wuxia tales, was present; the chapters from that character’s point of view were some of the most delightful and funny in the book.

And at no point did the setting overshadow the story or our “heroes”, which can be a danger when dealing with such a strong, definite setting.  While Tian Xia was always there it was never the focus.  That focus was always firmly on the story and the characters, with Tian Xia as a vibrant backdrop.

I mentioned points of view earlier.  In a style familiar to readers of Prince of Wolves, each chapter in the book is told from the POV of Radovan or Jeggare (or a third character that I won’t ruin for you).  I really enjoy this technique, because in any given chapter I know something that character doesn’t, and it builds tension for me as they make decisions they might not have made if they knew what I know.  Dave is one of the best writers I know at this technique, and he uses it to great effect.

In tone, while the novel does have some light moments it is overall much darker than previous “R&J” offerings.  The stakes for our heroes, personal and otherwise, are so much higher in Master of Devils, and they go to some very dark places in trying to win those stakes.  Suffice to say, if you thought you knew Radovan and Jeggare before this novel, you might want to prepare yourself for how wrong you were.

Okay, before the urge to just spout spoilers like a fountain gets too much I’ll put a cap on this by saying: buy this book.  If you love a really good story, buy this book.  If you love wu xia and Hong Kong cinema, buy this book.  If you are a Pathfinder player/GM and you plan to run or play in Tian Xia, buy this book.  Heck, I’m going to go out and buy this book, and I got a copy for my birthday!

Some days it is good to be a geek.  The day I read this, that was a great day.

Master of Devils, everyone.  You’ll thank me.  But thank Dave Gross first.

Geek Nuggets for July 28

I don’t really have a nice, cohesive post for today.  So instead, I’m popping back in here throughout the day to add ideas, observations and amusing anecdotes as they occur to me.  Some might call that lazy blogging…and yeah, they’re probably right.  But feel free to throw your own geeky observations and snippets in the comments below.  Or ask me a question, yeah that’s perfect, then I don’t have to look for things to write about on my own!  Definitely that question thing.  Okay, here goes…

*9:29am – Watched the final two episodes of Fanboy Confessional (I talk about it in a previous post), on furries and LARPing respectively.

The Furry episode: I will admit that my view of furries was tainted by that biased CSI episode of yesteryear.  So I’m really happy to get a more honest look at that aspect of fandom.  Still no interest in it, but I am also no longer afraid of being forcibly yiffed at a con.

The LARPing episode:  I’m familiar with LARPing; I used to participate in vampire LARPs, and tried to get involved with the local Alliance LARP, but schedule and time conspired against me.  Loved the episode overall, and again, they did a great job of giving us equal parts newb and veteran experience, as well as behind-the-scenes peeks.  One thing with which I will take umbrage: At the very beginning of the episode the narrator says, “…role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons and Bloodbowl…”

What!? *adjusts retainer* *pushes up nerd glasses* \begin nerd rant\ Bloodbowl is not an RPG, sir!  It is a table-top miniatures game.  And while it has elements similar to an RPG, such as character advancement, no REAL role-player would ever consider it a role-playing game! \end nerd rant\ (Note: you need to imagine the retainer lisp for the full effect.)

But with the exception of that little bobble (Bloodbowl an RPG, please!) I have really enjoyed Fanboy Confessional.  I hope they get green-lit for more episodes, because there is a lot more fandom for them to cover!

*11:32am – Can I just say how much I am enjoying Master of Devils, by Dave Gross?  Good, ‘cuz I’m gonna because I am!  Having officially received the first copy in Canada (the author said it so it is true. Science!) for my birthday, I began reading it the next day after I recovered from said birthday.  I am ten chapters in and loving it!  I will post a longer review when I finish, but if you have the chance go buy a copy right now!

It is also a much different reading experience for me when I know the author personally.  Sometimes that can be a bad thing.  But in this case, having known Dave for even the short period that we’ve been hanging out, I find it has enhanced my enjoyment of the book a great deal.  I’ll talk more about that in the extended review as well.

*12:36pm – A funny thing just happened on my walk to Starbucks.  And I mean funny in a “wow people are ignorant” kind of way…

As I’m making my way to my local coffeetorium, I happen to pass an otherwise attractive young woman on the sidewalk, who was just lighting up a cigarette.  I must have allowed some form of disapproval to show on my face (though I’m fairly certain I didn’t), because she felt compelled to defend herself with a witty, “What are you looking at, fatstuff?”.

Normally I would walk on by, because I’m not twelve, I don’t have anything to prove and there was nothing to win by engaging.  But something in me decided today was a Training Day for the ignoratti, because engage I did.  I stopped, smiled, and in a friendly conversational tone replied, “Right now I’m looking at someone who is probably 20 years younger than me who will be dead 20 years sooner than me from lung disease.  And FYI, I used to weigh close to 600 lbs, now I weigh a little over 300lbs.  And I am working to lose the last 100, sometimes failing but succeeding more often every day.  So when you go home tonight and are wheezing because you walked up a flight of stairs to your cigarette-stained apartment, maybe you should ask yourself what you are doing to lose your ignorance.”  And then I turned and walked into Starbucks.

And that girl ended up being the barrista that made my drink.  But my soul felt clean as I drank what I’m fairly certain was a skinny latte with “extra foam”…

*2:21pm – I’ve been catching up on the most recent seasons of Burn Notice, and I have to say I am still loving the show.  It is pretty formulaic, but the writing is clever and the characters are enjoyable, especially the weekly guest stars.  The one stand-out for me is Bruce Campbell’s character Sam Axe.  It has been a treat to watch him play the same character for 4-1/2 seasons, watch him develop and grow the part.  And I’ll admit it, I have a bit of a man-crush on Bruce Campbell.  Heck, Sam Axe is part of the reason I’m leaning towards acquiring some Hawaiian shirts…

*5:34pm – I may be in the minority, but I think it was a mistake to end Stargate Atlantis in favour of Stargate Universe.  I only watched a handful of episodes, but my impression of SGU was that someone really missed Lost and Battlestar Galactica, so they combined it with the SG universe to create a Frankenshow.  In the process, they cut off what was a really great series with excellent characters and stories.  Which was stupid; there was no reason it had to be one show or another.  Given that SGU only made it two seasons, hemorrhaging viewers the entire time, I think SGA could have been left in place.  After all, it worked between SG1 and SGA, right?  That’s my Stargate rant…

*6:28pm – Okay, I think this is the last nugget today.  Are you ready for another funny/scary movie set in England?  Me too! I therefore present to you, Attack the Block.  I can’t wait!

This was fun, I’ll have to try it again some time.  Back to regular blogging tomorrow.