Firstborn gets the sword.
Bishops kill the Second's hem.
The Third is a witch.
Pierce put this in my hands at Book Expo America & said "I rate books from 1 to 100. No book gets more than an 85, because I don't think there is such a thing as a perfect book. I give this book an 85." Okay, that is a pretty convincing sell! I cracked it open at home to see...that the book is dedicated to him! I teased him-- "how many points is the book being dedicated to you worth?" Well, I'll tell you what, I don't think it biased him all too much, because this really is a ripping yarn. Set in the Pathfinder world, this novel is, in full disclosure, what you might call a "gaming novel." That is to say, it involves certain concepts that players of roleplaying games will intrinsically be familiar with. Or course, games like Dungeons & Dragons might be the biggest influence on the fantasy genre in the last three decades, so readers of imaginary texts shouldn't let that alienate them. Pathfinder is the unofficial "3.75" edition of Dungeons & Dragons, but because they are off a-kilter from the main strain, there is much more room for...lets say the weird? The complex? The givens can be spun & recombined, allowing fresh takes on old tropes.
Gross seizes this potential to write a nice little tale of The Macabre. Set in a nation that evokes the classics of Gothic horror, a sort of Ravenloft country, Prince of Wolves allows your preconceptions to guide the story. With that weight on one side of the scale, he also allows those same assumptions to pay off in surprise by subtly subverting them. The narrative juggles back & forth between two characters, the aristocrat & the bodyguard. Seperated right off, each brings a different facet-view of the story's prism. Count Varian Jeggare is a noble of Cheliax...the devil-haunted nation. If you'll forgive a tangent-- Cheliax is another example of the fun sort of distaff worldbuilding that Pathfinder engages in. It is a country dominated by the state worship of Asmodeus, who they call the Lord of Law (& others call the Lord of Lies). Gross doesn't apologize for this; he just takes it as a given, just as Varian's half-elven race doesn't bare ponderous explanation. One of the strengths of genre is that readers have a collective set of heuristics to bring to the table; they "get" it. Varian's bodyguard is Radovan, the hellspawn-- if Wizards of the Coast didn't have the term trademarked you'd probably call him a tiefling. He's diabolical in mien; there you have it. See, that wasn't that hard to explain.
Something that struck me was a number of over-lapping interests between myself & Dave Gross. German-style duelist schools who cut each other's faces as a mark of honor? Well, heck, when I read about those guys in By the Sword I knew I had to use them, & hence "The Scars" appeared in my last campaign. There are other bits I guessed at-- the nature of the ultimate villain was clear as crystal to me, but I realize others might not jump to the same conclusions. It is just the stuff I'm "into." There is a bit of "you got werewolf in my gypsy...you got gypsy in my werewolf...you got chocolate in my peanut butter" going on, & the resulting genealogical pay off paints a compelling picture. Which is half the fun; Gross knows when to lay on the exposition, the Sherlock Holmes deductions, but he also knows what to be a light touch; he has the skill of letting the reader feel smug for having "figured it out." He also has a flair for the descriptive; flocks of sheep hung from trees, scarecrows with phallic protuberances, that kind of thing. Intrigue! Excitement! I liked it a lot. I am glad to see that Paizo isn't content to let their Planet Stories line of pulp reprints stand alone-- they are out there putting new pulp adventure on the shelves, too.