One of the stretch goals for the 7th Sea 2nd Edition Kickstarter was the promise of a number of novels written by John Wick. By the end of the Kickstarter, we were promised Daughter of Fate, Born Under The Black Flag, and The Gossamer Empire.
While I was a bit annoyed that certain goals had nothing to do with the game itself (novels, creating a board game for a later Kickstarter, making a cinematic trailer, etc), I do have to admit that I was curious how this was going to be handled.
See, in the first edition of 7th Sea, all of the information we had came from bits of fiction hidden within the rulebooks and splatbooks. At the beginning of each chapter, you were almost always presented with a bit of text, often 2-5 pages, of an ongoing story over the course of that book. It gave some prime examples of how the stories we play in the game could play out, as well as just being solid works of fiction.
So far, in the second edition, we received one short story in the core rulebook, and the rest of what we have gotten to date are play examples, so having a few novels might help expand the interest and give examples of what can be done in the game.
While I am wary of what will happen (books based on games can be a bit. . .odd), I do have to admit I am curious how it will pan out.
As I backed the Kickstarter at the Pirate level, I will be getting PDFs of every item on the list, including the three novels. Backers got their hands on the novel earlier this month, and I was given the green light to write a review, even though it is an early copy (meaning there are errors; I don’t want to admit how many tickets I submitted and how many errors per ticket).
Curious as to how the first book turned out and what I, as a librarian, gamer, and freelance editor thought of it? Wait no longer and get to reading!
Writer’s Note: This review is of an early review copy of the novel. There may be changes to the final product that will make some of these concerns moot.
From the blurb given to us on the Kickstarter page:
Elena was only 16 years old when she was kidnapped from her home on Vodacce. A novice fate witch, her adventures soon led her to become a pirate on the high seas, a courtesan in Montaigne, a spy for Queen Elaine, and one of the most deadly swordswomen in all of Théah. This is her story, told across many years, many lands, and many lovers.
==What You Get==
So far, the novel weighs in at a rather impressive 331 page PDF (blank pages for title and chapters, of course).
In it, we do follow Elena on her misadventures throughout Théah, from her beginnings as a Sorte Strega (Fate Witch) to her roles on various ships and in sporadic governments. She doesn’t have the string of lovers that the original blurb advertises, nor is much attention placed on her being a courtesan, spy, or even being “one of the most deadly swordswomen in all of Thèah” (competent, but not that deadly).
The book moves at a fast pace, and it does elaborate on quite a bit of the setting, including how certain societies work, some political machinations, and general views held within the world. We also see some samples of how it is related to our world, specifically in the languages used (I’ve seen Latin, French, Spanish, German, and Danish/Norwegian).
As expected, the book also doesn’t skimp out on adventure. We see an adventure that spans across multiple nations (stops in Vodacce, Montaigne, Avalon, Vesten, and a technical stop in Castille with La Buca), as well as some unknown mystical elements of the setting (including the titular 7th Sea).
It’s a 7th Sea novel, so that alone is worth a few points in my book. It’s nice to see how someone would take the setting and put together a cohesive story about it in one single volume instead of spread across chapters of a number of rulebooks.
One thing the book does well is set the sort of tone you would expect in a 7th Sea game. We get swashbuckling heroics as we would expect from the setting, but also a large number of courtly intrigue style moments and some exploration into the unknown. The novel also helps set the actual setting itself: we see how certain politics work (namely, in Vodacce), we are introduced to members of secret societies, and are introduced to the various elements of the setting that make it different from a generic Renaissance Europe (supernatural elements, namely).
As a standalone piece of fiction, it is a beginning to introduce a world to a group of new readers. It is relatively welcoming to those who are new to the franchise, and the language used it relatively simple and easy to digest. I got through the book in a little more than two hours of late night/post work reading, with making edits and corrections, so it surely classifies as an “easy read.”
Like I mentioned when reading Aftermath, I’m not a fan of unnecessarily short sentences. Granted, I don’t want to see Faulknerian-long sentences spanning multiple pages, but I would like to see some compound sentences and few sentences beginning with “And” or “But”. This book, sadly, has a number of these occurrences, which makes the English major and editor in me cringe repeatedly.
Another issue that I brought up in the error tickets: the issue of languages. Not everyone reading the book is going to have access to Google Translate, nor know how to speak any of the languages used, yet the book omits the concept of footnotes to translate the text. This isn’t too bad with certain parts in which we see one word (and context clues are easy to work with), but it is downright frustrating when we have entire sentences in a language.
I’m luckily someone who’s picked up a few words from various languages during my travels (studied French, Spanish, and Japanese in school, and shared housing with students across Europe and Asia), so I could figure some things out, but others left me scrambling for Google Translate to determine what was being said. Sure, many times it was simple phrases such as “How are you?”, but it does detract from anyone who wants to know what’s going on but doesn’t have the means to check.
Again, as I am on the record of saying, I hate it when an author does not follow their own rules. This novel does that on a few occasions, but the biggest one is the use of Porte: in the rulebook, it is explained that a sorcerer must injure himself by cutting open a vein in order to open a portal. The only alternative is to cut open the world itself to create a screaming wound in the fabric of reality (which is a quick path to become a villain). In the novel, we instead see the character just open the portal and pop back into existence without any wounds, and in both cases, one handed (with nothing in that other hand). I have submitted a ticket for this and similar situations and concerns about the use of other forms of magic (i.e. objects don’t have strands, but you can move dice as they roll?), but I’m not sure if it’ll be fixed or clarified.
Certain details and explanations were omitted. For example, at one point, the characters travel via a magical means and go from the middle of the ocean out to Asia (China~ish?), but no word as to how they got back (as I doubt they’d do another round of Event Horizon just to get home). The book also omits details about what certain symbols mean, such as the color and actions of the strands that a strega can see (when seen through the eyes of said strega), which does detract from one of the biggest appeals of the novel: to get ideas of relaying information to players of the game.
Finally, there are certain parts I would call anticlimactic and arguably weaken the appeal of major players of the setting. For example, our lead character meets Queen Elaine (and knows more about her past than anyone in that court), angered (and may have had sexual relations with) Giovanni Villanova, flirted with Emperor Leon Alexandre (and somehow avoided his strega wife knowing her secrets), and of course sails on a ship with none other than Jeremiah Berek of the Sea Dogs (the luckiest man in the world and one of the most famous pirates). I felt there was too much name dropping and touching on plots that could have filled their own books than actual progressing the plot in a significant way. This technique is often used as a means of promoting the importance of the main character, but this action does make these big names fall flat; they just don’t feel real when compared to this new character, which I feel is an injustice.
I won’t be giving Daughter of Fate a rating, as this is an early draft that hasn’t finished being thoroughly swept by editors being compensated for such a task. It’d be skirting the 2-3 rating, though.
I would suggest the book for people new to the setting of 7th Sea and haven’t been spoiled by the massive metaplot presented in the previous edition of the RPG and the card game. It’s a decent tale to help set the tone for the game and the setting, and while I do feel it is a rough start that tries to cram too much into a small space, it can be a useful tool for beginners.
For those of us who have been spoiled by years of writing from the first edition, both good and bad, and are familiar with a number of potential plots, the book is a bit lacking in my opinion. You may want to give it a pass unless you are really curious about how the new plot is being handled.
According to the Production Schedule, Daughter of Fate is a bit behind schedule (we just got the early view PDF this month, estimate electronic release was November), but that’s to be expected with the massive success of the Kickstarter, all of the books coming out, and the holidays. I would estimate a release sometime in late January to early February for an electronic version.