Paizo, $9.99, ISBN 978-160125-327-9
Whoa, is it 1981 again? The Worldwound Gambit is such a dated-feeling fantasy romp that I find myself waiting for Conan the Barbarian to jump out of the bushes to start slaying everything in his path while dragging a woman (willing, of course) by the hair in one hand. Author Robin D Laws has an interesting premise and a nice terrifying setting to play in, but the whole thing never really get off the ground.
Next door to the kingdom of Mendev is the Worldwound, the name given to the land that has been overrun by demons. These demons are kept in check by magical totems as well as the constant influx of paladins, adventurers, fortune hunters, and other types of people who come over to take on the demon armies. One of these is our hero Gad, a handsome swindler who brings together a motley crew of talented people for the heist of a lifetime. You see, there is a mysterious tower in the Worldwound that is somehow letting the demon armies become stronger and even break through the magical wards placed by the clerics of Mendev. Gad intends to break into the tower and steal a gem that is the source of the tower’s power. The tower isn’t just a tower though, it may actually be a living thing. But the most dangerous enemies may not be the demons, but their fellow humans…
The Worldwound is a genuinely terrifying place and those cage demons, urranag, are too cool as bloodthirsty monsters inspired by those Saw movies. Unfortunately, everything else about this book is either flat or underdeveloped. There are way too many main characters in this one, and pretty much all of them remain nothing more than one-dimensional stereotypes at the end of the day. Worse, Gad turns out to be as much as male Mary Sue as a certain Tanis Half-Elven. The whole plot ends up devolving into a catfight between the Evil Villain Ho and the Not-So-Evil Woman to legally own Gad’s pee-pee. I’d be miffed at Mr Laws’s portrayal of women as victims of their attraction to the other sex if the male characters had been written any better. And they aren’t. Those stereotypes actually suffer plenty of beating, wounds, and psychological nightmare while Gad is busy boinking the villain ho in the name of saving the world. If I were they, I’d think I’m not getting the better part of the bargain.
It also doesn’t help that Mr Laws writes using short, choppy sentences all the time, thus producing a story that has all the excitement of a shopping list. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought that he is a debut author with a negligent editor. Mr Laws is fond of injecting adjectives unnecessarily in everything. In a scene, he will typically describe the hair color, shape of the nose, and even the size of a woman’s breasts and more first before moving on to tell me what the characters are doing and thinking with all the enthusiasm of a wet noodle. Do I really need to know that Soon-to-be Dead Character #324 has a big nose? Of course not, but Mr Laws seem to labor under the impression that I do. I guess he was been playing dungeon master way too often – this book sometimes come off more like a campaign guide with dialogues rather than a story.
The Worldwound Gambit has some intriguing moments, but the execution leaves much to be desired.