Troy Denning is the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Tatooine Ghost and Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: Star by Star, as well as Waterdeep, Pages of Pain, Beyond the High Road, The Summoning, and many other novels. His most recent Star Wars novel is Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Vortex. A former game designer and editor, he lives in western Wisconsin with his wife, Andria.
As of the date of this review, there are 4 published novels for the Planescape setting. Of the four, this is by far and away the best. However, it leaves much to be desired. The Planescape setting is brilliant, with endless possibilities for storys and settings. There is potential for great novels that could dwarf the more popular Forgotten Realms novels - but so far none have materialized. Instead, we have novels that either poorly explore the Setting with implausible storylines (such as the Blood War Trilogy) or novels that are too focused on one aspect of the setting, such as Pages of Pain. The novel has, in my opinion, three faults: One, the majority of the novel stays in one area, with the characters essentially doing the same thing, with the same goals. This makes the book quite tedious. Two, the characters are extremely one-dimensional. Each character essentially thinks the same things and has the same motivations throughout the novel - they do not grow. Three, the most mysterious figure in the Planescape setting, the Lady of Pain, is presented as a somewhat normal being in the story. Part of what makes the Planescape setting (particularly Sigil) so alluring is the fact that no one *really* knows the Lady of Pain. No one talks to her, knows where she lives, knows her motivations, or knows her past. This novel presents her "talking" to the reader in the first person, talking about her feelings and glimmers of a past for her. I thought this a poor choice by the author. In the end, a not too satisfying representation of an excellent setting.
Like Shakespeare, Mr. Denning's strength is equally "howhe says it" as "what he says". His descriptions aredone in ways that make you see, hear, taste, smell and feel what he wants to tell you. His writing style does justice to a Greek/Roman hero and Greater Devil alike. Troy is a master of panipulating the level of tension; you have to keep reading because something suddenly dawns on you and you wonder if Troy was thinking about that too. And he was always thinking about that too. The author is obviously a very intelligent individual. Kharfud, the Tanar'ri, had the patient, intelligent, pure evil that I would expect. Normally, I cannot read more than 20-30 pages at a sitting, but I ended up finishing pages of pain in 2 days. I couldn't put it down. Self discovery is FUNDAMENTAL to the theme of the book. The best book I have read in a long time, fantasy or not.
TSR's "Planescape" setting is about philosophies and ideologies of living. At the center of all the universes floats the weird city of Sigil, presided over by the mysterious Lady of Pain. Troy Denning develops the idea that she and the city are the source of all the explanations that people have tried to give for the central fact of suffering. Yet the Lady herself does not know her own origin. The hero is a famous figure from Western mythology, who finally asks the question, "Is it better to know who you are, or to forget?" Planescape seems to derive from dark, philosophical "adult" comics books. Despite Denning's substantial achievement, the generally negative reviews confirm that even D&D players think that Love, rather than Pain, is the central mystery of the universe. "Pages of Pain" will appeal especially to people who like books about serious subjects that demand a lot from their thinking readers.
This has to be one of the best books I've read in recent memory. Even without a typical plot, the book continually drives the reader onward. I longed for satisfactory chapter endings where I could put the book down for awhile, but they were few and far between. Too often, I found myself unable to stop and forced onto the next chapter.
The reader goes through several levels of revelations, even as the characters themselves do. While some of the characters seem one-dimensional superficially, if that is the case, why does your heart tug so when the full trajedy of this book is visited upon them?
The treatment of the Lady of Pain herself is wonderful. She is the darkest side of the city of Sigil personified, and she forms the entire emotional tone of the novel. As the very embodiment of suffering and pain, we expect to find the evil delight that fills her, but has ever such a loathsome villain raised such empathy? Gollumn was surely deserving of pity, but not the Lady of Pain who revels in her cruelty, who believes it an actual necessity. Yet her longing, as is that of every character in this novel, is palpable and undeniably human.
This is primarily an emotional maze the characters find themselves lost in, and those seeking a hack n slash adventure should look elsewhere, but those who remember that it's role-playing and not roll-playing, should definitely check this out.
I think that if one simply removed the planescape logo and offered this as the Modern Theseus, it would have been more widely read. This is an amazing book. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a classic, but rather a modern myth for modern times. The story's narration was excellent, and the ending wasn't necessarily shocking and instead more akin to a tragedy in which you know what will happen but are enthralled anyway.