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Shy Knives by Sam Sykes

Shy Knives by Sam Sykes
Book Name: Shy Knives
Author: Sam Sykes
Publisher(s): Tor Books
Formatt: Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: October 18, 2016 (US) November 13, 2016 (UK)

Paizo is killing it these days. A deal with Tor for their Pathfinder Tales series, a new sci-fi campaign setting—Starfinder—in the offing. One video game in the can and another (maybe) on the way. Podcasts. Dedicated cons. And now—Sam Sykes. Good job, Paizo. More and more people are taking notice.

Sam Sykes writing a Pathfinder Tales novel shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. Sykes has talked quite a bit about his love for classic TSR/WotC Dungeons & Dragons novels (particularly the Drizzt Forgotten Realms novels), and while he freely admits to not being a huge roleplayer, he’s also been very forthright about his love of sourcebooks, maps and all the trappings of tabletop RPGS.

I can relate.

When presented with an opportunity to write a novel in the Pathfinder setting, Sykes jumped at the chance. One can only be so grim, dark and (relatively) serious for so long. Shy Knives is a both an excellent Pathfinder tale and another witty, action-packed Sam Sykes novel. It is a marriage that works, and fans of both Sykes’ writing and Pathfinder reap the benefits.

Shaia Ratani—the titular Shy—is a thief and assassin for hire. She’s charismatic, sarcastic and sharp of wit and blade. With a past clouded in mystery and no real plan for the future, Shy is hired by the Lady Dalaris Sidara to investigate the death of her late betrothed. From there, a story that is equal parts murder mystery, redemption quest and supernatural horror begins to unfold.

In my experience, entries into the Pathfinder Tales series have been relatively light reading, and Shy Knives doesn’t buck that trend. That isn’t to say that it’s lacking in anyway. Both the plot and characterization are thoroughly entertaining, and there are multiple layers of intrigue unfolding over the course of its 320 pages. But this isn’t Game of Thrones or Malazan. Shy Knives is a lean, easily-digestible romp that never overstays its welcome—“pulp fantasy,” if you will. No different than a Dragonlance or Forgotten Realms novel.

Sykes liberally spices the novel with action, intrigue and over-the-top set pieces that, while certainly familiar, are presented with a unique twist and flair that make them as original as possible in a shared-world tie-in novel. There’s a love story…with a twist. There’s magic…but not the everyday RPG magic of spellbooks and enchanted treasure. Healthy doses of politics, horror, science, and class warfare are all present and accounted for. And there are centaurs. Lots of centaurs.

Written in the first person, Shy quickly endears herself to the reader with her wit and dry sense of humor. And yet Syke’s never writes Shy as anything other than three dimensional and self-aware. She’s no saint, and she knows it. The taint of loss and guilt that comes with past missteps informs Shy’s voice as much as her penchant for violence and general roguishness. And while we never get into Dalaris’ head, Shy’s perception of her employer offers a deep insight into what makes her tick. These are not characters simply moving from Pont A to Point B “because plot.” These are motivated, dynamic characters.

Pathfinder Tales novels are intended to be stand-alone stories. A reader can jump onboard with any of the 30 or so books currently on the shelf, Shy Knives included. It is completely self-contained, but Sykes deftly weaves in some of the history and lore of the Pathfinder universe. For those familiar with Pathfinder, the little references and Easter eggs add to the reading experience and give a sense of depth and scope to the story. Those hopping on the Pathfinder train for the first time won’t suffer for coming in blind, and will very likely want to learn more about the world of Golarion and its inhabitants. It’s a win-win and the editors at Paizo (and their partners at Tor) have to be thrilled with what Sykes has delivered.

As a long-time reader of tie-in fiction, I’m happy that an author like Sam Sykes has bucked convention and dipped his toe in the Pathfinder world. Shy Knives is an entertaining romp through the streets of Yanmass and the surrounding countryside and it is sure to draw some much-deserved attention to a series on the rise.

A sandbox is only as awesome as the kid playing in it. With Shy Knives, Sam Sykes has delivered another stellar standalone entry in Paizo’s Pathfinder Tales, one that continues to prove that established authors shouldn’t…err…shy away from tie-in fiction.


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