Gold Throne in Shadow by M.C. Planck. ★★★
Trigger warning: rape
Gold Throne in Shadow is the sequel to Sword of the Bright Lady and part two of the ongoing series. This is really a series you should read in order, and it’s main catch is that a man from our world is transported into a fantasy world that is eerily similar to a certain tabletop role playing game… If that sounds up your alley, you should try checking out Sword of the Bright Lady. The rest of my review may contain spoilers for the first book.
After his torture and death, Christopher has been revived and plans to continue industrializing this world and up-heaving the social order. He resumes command of his army regiment and is sent south by the king, to a city ruled by a mysterious wizard and located on the edge of a wilderness overrun with dark creatures.
In my review of the first book, I discussed some of the problems I had with it: dubious treatment of gender, shallow secondary characters, and some difficulties with the adaption of RPG mechanics into a novel. Pretty much all of the issues I had remained present.
While the “what would it be like to be transported into a Dungeons and Dragons campaign?” question has a ton of nerd appeal, I think certain areas go unexplored. By the nature of the DnD set up, a lot of potential complexity is flattened. Characters belong to one of nine alignment types that function as a moral compass of sorts. But this is more of a shorthand to help the players make decisions and form a character than something that you usually see with complex characters in most non-gaming fictional works. In the game, you need creatures who are unambiguously “evil” so that your adventurers can kill then and gain skill points without ever having to ponder moral implications. This is something that the series is playing straight, although I have seen the “races of evil” trope subverted in other fantasy series such as Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. So the use of a world based on a gaming set up is both one of the greatest strengths and greatest drawbacks to the series.
After the events of the last book, I honestly expected Christopher to have a lot more mental scarring. Wouldn’t being tortured to the point where he committed suicide have left some sort of trauma? Instead he seems basically unaffected. Even though physical injuries can be easily erased with the use of healing spells, I would expect to see mental injuries even when the physical ones have been washed away with magic.
While it doesn’t quite have thriller level pacing, Gold Throne in Shadow is a book that feels fairly quick to read. I don’t recall ever feeling like it was dragging, although I do think the structure was a bit strange. The battle sequence felt like the climax of the novel, but there was still a good bit of the book left afterwards.
At this point I am planning to read the third book. While I am conflicted over the execution of the series, I find the core idea too compelling to ignore.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy from Pyr in exchange for an honest review.