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Pathfinder Tales: Winter Witch Paperback – December 7, 2010
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Winter Witch was the second novel published in Paizo's Pathfinder Tales line. Written by veteran fantasy novelist Elaine Cunningham, the book is primarily set in Korvosa, Irrisen, and the Land of Linnorm Kings. It's a book with both urban and wilderness elements and features both arcane and martial protagonists. An interior map and surprisingly extensive glossary are quite helpful for newcomers.
Winter Witch isn't afraid to hold back on some of the mysteries it sets up until the end, and contains at least one excellent twist. It's well-grounded in Golarion-lore and its main characters and plot are interesting enough to give it a solid recommendation. The book would serve as excellent background to anyone running adventures in any of the areas where the book is set. Winter Witch may not be earth-shattering, but fans of the campaign setting will definitely enjoy it; I know I did.
Note: Amazon customers should note that, despite what the website says, this book is not part of the Jeggare series.
The two leads in Winter Witch are a mapmaker (and reluctant wizard) from Korvosa named Declan Avari and a warrior shield-maiden from the Land of Linnorm Kings named Ellasif. Ellasif's sister is a witch who has ended up in Whitethrone, capital of Irrisen, after a sequence of events that are heart-rending. Ellasif makes a deal that if she can bring a powerful wizard to trade for her sister, the winter witches will let the girl go. Thus, Ellasif tricks and lures Declan to travel all the way across Varisia with her on an epic quest, the real purpose of which he is none the wiser.
One of the parts about Declan I really enjoyed was his unconscious magic ability to manifest into reality things from his sketchbook. It's handled quite well in the book, and whether or not it has a Pathfinder RPG analogue, it certainly makes him distinctive and memorable compared to standard wizards. The differing cultures between Korvosa, Irrisen, and the Land of the Linnorm Kings iare illustrated quite well in the novel and one can see how nurture and nature interact.
For a moment it looked like the ending would take place without violence, a surprising but not unwelcome way to resolve the storyline. Instead, the book has a more conventional (if tragic) ending to Ellasif's quest. Other readers are probably more clever than I, but I was completely blind-sided by a twist involving a supporting character's real identity. I'm still not 100% sure why Declan was seen as such an attractive prospect for a winter witch in Whitethrone, but the detail is small enough that it didn't lessen my enjoyment of the book. Overall, a strong second entry in the novel line.
Winter Witch's strengths are in the characters and their relationships. The story is not as strong and has a few holes that had us stop and question things too often. Overall it was a fun light read for a road trip.