Tor, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-8433-1
Starspawn continues Jendara’s story. We first meet her in Skinwalkers, where she’s a former pirate who wished to settle down in a nice place and give her kid a more stable life, but alas, things weren’t meant to be. Now, she is a member of her new husband’s crew, but as a secondary character points out in a much nicer way, Jendara can’t even sneeze without attracting at least seven calamities to befall their way.
This time around a tsunami sweeps her village, but on the not-so-down side, the calamity unearths an island that comes with abandoned buildings gilded with gold. Well, here’s a means to purchase nice things and rebuild their homes! The whole crew decide to head over to see what they can get, only to get caught in what seems like a war between various factions of fish men, abetted by mysterious folks from a dark dimension who wish to awaken a dark god from the depths. Oh yes, the back cover mentions HP Lovecraft, so no prizes in guessing what that thing down below is.
Here’s the thing – I clearly remember in the campaign splatbook Gods of the Inner Sea that, in this fantasy setting, Cthulhu sleeps in a distant world, probably Earth. So how on earth did it get to be on Golarion? Are we retconning things again? I’d like to imagine that these folks summon Big C from his prison in Earth, but no, various characters explicitly state that they are awakening him – he is slumbering in Golarion. I think the people behind the whole thing are losing track of their own lore.
Just like in Skinwalkers, the author uses very intrusive modern day style of conversations here, so much so that I can never forget that these people are clearly American teenagers pretending to be Viking-like people. But worse, right off the bat the author uses the word “tsunami” to describe the disaster that hit Jendara’s village. Tsunami is a distinctly Japanese word. How did it come to be used in a Viking-like setting in a faraway fantasy world… along with “Jolly Roger”, a phrase that is clearly of Earth origins? Maybe I’m just of an older school of readers, but I prefer my fantasy settings to be… well, fantasy-ish. The modern day elements in this story are too jarring for me, drawing me out of the story.
As for the story, it’s all action. Just like with the previous book, this one starts out solid, but the non-stop action stuff gets monotonous after a while. Jendara is bigoted against the fish people – with good reason, of course – but instead of letting a seemingly nice fish fellow break down her prejudices, the author opts to instead reinforces Jendara’s bigotry. Now, I have nothing against this, but I feel that the author has squandered an opportunity to give the story some twist or depth that it really needs. As it is, it is just a long, linear, and interminable sequence of fights, chases, and near-deaths. Her brat can be useful, I’d give it, er, him that, but he is also at the same time a nuisance, forcing everyone to go rescue him at the penultimate moment. – once again reinforcing the predictable nature of the story. And that brat can also be creepy in how he often writes eye-rolling observations meant to be “Oh, that kid is so smart!” in nature… when they are all running for their lives or something like that. Why not take that stupid chalk board and beat the monsters in the head with it instead?
At the end of the day, Starspawn is all action, action, action. None of the subtle build-up or creepy atmosphere of those stories that supposedly inspired this one. Without any depths or nuances, it feels too much like unimaginative, uninspired Cthulhu fanfiction clumsily pasted onto the Golarion setting. What’s next? Aliens fanfiction transposed to Numeria?