December 11th, 2011


Always Winter, Never Christmas. (118)

Winter Witch by Elaine Cunningham & Dave Gross.

Baba Yaga's get:
Gloriana & Clwdwg,
hidden Parsifal.

I suppose Elaine Cunningham is a bigger name, but I picked this up because I always have a good time reading Dave Gross' books. When I say "picked up," I mean "took off the shelf & read," because I originally picked-it-up-as-in-obtained-it when Dave was in town & ran a Pathfinder one-shot. Just putting my biases out in front, but I should be clear-- I'm not so much biased towards these books because I like Dave as I am biased to like Dave because of these books. It was reading this one that I realized what Gross' work most reminds me of, what the biggest influence on it seems to be, at least to me-- Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar books. Ellafif's upbringing in the austere & icy north made me think of Fafhrd's origin story, which then made me consider Count Varian Jeggare & Radovan as a sort of Gray Mouser & Fafhrd duo-- less scoundrels, but a similar vein of weird adventure. Something I find myself remarking upon fairly frequently is convergent evolution. Pathfinder has a tendency to pepper science-fantasy & pulpy space-opera in the background of their setting, which line up a lot of the times to some similar appendages in my campaign, Oubliette. This doesn't have that angle, but I found myself thinking of Kobold Quarterly's Zobek while the story was in the city of Korvosa, & as the narrative moved up to the lands of the Linnorm Kings & Irrisen, my mind drifted to Voyce's Northlands. It speaks well to everyone's understanding of archetypes; the harsh north with heavy Norse elements, the cosmopolitan city with imps & pseudodragons fighting on rooftops, & Gypsy-like caravans threading between. It is the use of tropes, rather than the abuse of them, providing a latching on point for the reader's imagination.

I think the most compelling thing to me about this novel-- probably because I'm a worldbuilder at heart-- is the peppering of details. For instance, the somatic elements, the gestures & physicality of culture. The crossing of the chest for the symbolic wings of the goddess Desna, for instance, really stands out; it is used as a similar gesture to the Christian cross over the heart, but that simple action just lends a lot of believable colour. I have to consider it as one of Dave Gross' contributions, comparing it to Radovan's "throwing the tines," a lewd gesture similar to the flipped middle finger. There are bigger ideas that really draw me in as well-- the cold north's cities as, paradoxically, lush & steamy oases, like great greenhouses with ice roofs, or the book's reliance on cannibalism as an element of horror, combining (demi)human taboos with trolls & winter wolves to hold up an inhuman mirror to the rest of the world. Not for nothing, but I've had a thing for Irrisen ever since I read The Inner Sea Primer. It is those bits & pieces that make the whole world palatable; they are the salt & pepper that bring out the best flavors of the meat. Yes, tell me about the bearskin rugs on the floor! I want to know about the decorations sewn into the hem of her tunic, absolutely! Oh, they leave goat's milk & cinnamon rolls at the corners of their camp so mischievous gnomes don't harass them? These simple little flourishes are better than one fat anchor; they are a myriad of tether points, stitching the characters, game setting, narrative conventions & plot together into a whole.