I finally had the time on my journey to Big Bad Con to sit down and read a book. I took F. Wesley Schneider’s Pathfinder Tales: Bloodbound with me on the plane as it is a long journey with several layovers. This ensured plenty of time to immerse myself in the realm of Ustalav.
I am so glad that I did as I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I have mentioned repeatedly that I am a fan of vampires and other monsters and this book features vampires, dhampir, priestess of the goddess of death, and many other features of Gothic horror. I was in heaven.
Bloodbound follows the story of two heroines.
Larsa is a dhampir, half-vampire, special agent of the prince of Ustalav. Her job is to maintain the tenuous peace in the city of Caliphas. She is an enforcer of the treaty between the ancient vampires of the city and the human nobility. The vampires are allowed to live in an undercity and thrive but their spawn must not upset the citizenry. When this happens, Larsa ensures that these restless dead are returned to the grave.
Jadain is a young priestess of Pharasma, goddess of death. She is struggling with the dictates of her religion as well as what she sees as the will of her goddess. She is confronted by zealots of all stripes while she wends her way through the labyrinthine paths of power in her church.
Larsa is sent to investigate the mysterious happenings to a noblewoman whom had lived at the outskirts of the city and had been found incoherent on the road into town. Her investigations at the manor house uncover a slew of vampire spawn and the head of a servitor of her grandfather, whom rules the undercity. She also discovers a painting in the home that looks suspiciously just like her. Her grandfather and the nobles she represents would like to discover the cause of this atrocity. This leads Larsa to the asylum that houses the poor noble woman.
Jadain is heard counseling a penitent in the church and chided for her softness on the faithful by the high exorcist of the faith. To test her faith, he takes her to the asylum to remove an unquiet spirit that is plaguing a cell. Instead of assisting her in this task, Jadain is left to fend for herself against the undead and is not entirely up to the task. In a fit of pique, the high exorcist leaves her at the asylum to ponder her failure and await what fate has to offer.
Luckily fate has Larsa in store for Jadain.
Larsa arrives at the asylum to interview the lone survivor of the assault on the manor house and requests aid in her interview. The director of the asylum allows Jadain to assist Larsa in her interview and is there when the poor woman mistakes Larsa for her sister, Ailson Kindler. The mystery deepens as we learn that Ms. Kindler is a much-lauded member of the Pathfinder Society. She created a name for herself by finding and destroying the monsters that haunted Ustalav. The asylum had records in regards to her health and the head of the asylum had become privy to the knowledge that a fiend from Kindler’s past sought to do her harm. The good doctor requests that the Larsa investigate the connection between the patient and Ms. Kindler and deliver his warning in the process.
Some of the information necessary to the investigation is stored within the records of Jadain’s church so her place on this adventure is sealed. It is discovered through a discussion with Considine, a vampire sired by Larsa’s father, that the trouble being caused is from their shared progenitor. This adventure is now sealed and the hunt for the father that abandoned Larsa and fomented rebellion among the vampire is begun.
Schneider has done an excellent job of capturing a gothic tale of horror and combining it with the action and adventure one would expect from Pathfinder. There are points in the narrative where the dread builds slowly and quietly to reveal a horror that is not worth facing head on and there are moments where our heroine’s fight for survival is fast paced and filled with sword-swinging, spell-slinging action. Schneider has an excellent sense of timing for using each thing in this story.
There are a few things that put this book over the top for me.
I love that the two main characters in this book are women. It is not often that I have seen tie-in fiction for a game where the protagonists are female. Both are well-rounded characters that are struggling to find their place in Golarion. I love how we get to get glimpses of how the world works and the ways that these two unique women do not fit in. Watching them struggle with the desire to fit in and being comfortable as themselves was fun.
I also loved the addition of Considine, Larsa’s vampiric brother. He is a villain but he is allowed to be a character with wants, needs, and motivations which makes him relatable. On top of that, he is also allowed to be a gay vampire that actually cares for one of his thralls and we get to see the consequences of that loss.
Finally, I really enjoyed the glimpses that Schneider gives us into the religion of Pharasma and the country of Ustalav. I am a complete geek for world-building and this book plays into that. Larsa’s story both past and present provides an excellent look at how the ruling class of Ustalav works currently as well as what had happened to this country in the recent past. She also provides an excellent lens through which to view the capital city and it’s accord with the vampires that hide beneath it’s surface. Jadain provides the same service for Pharasma. Every fantasy world seems to have a god or goddess of death. These deities are not often discussed but tend to play a part in larger stories though. Jadain shows how the personal faith works in Golarion as well as how this gnostic could be interpreted and affect the religion as a whole.
Pathfinder Tales: Bloodbound is definitely four bear paws out of four. It gives gothic horror with action adventure without ever dropping a beat. It has two wonderful heroines that I hope to see more of and a villain that both is both a monster and more than that. A book well worth your time and money.