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The Chronicles of Siala, by Alexey Pehov
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Alex Fuller
REVIEWER/PREVIEWER



"You're capable all right. Only I have absoutely no doubt your brilliant plan will lead us all straight to the graveyard."

Harold, Shadow Chaser

Returning to the Russian fantasy scene, Alexey Pehov's The Chronicles of Siala trilogy is a more traditional high fantasy setting. The series has been translated into English by Andrew Bromfield, also known for translating Sergei Lukyanenko's Night Watch series. The first two books, Shadow Prowler and Shadow Chaser, are already available in English at the time of writing, and the final book, Shadow Blizzard, is due an April 2012 release in North America and the UK. Harold the master thief and his journey to the underground fortress Hrad Spein are the focus of The Chronicles of Siala. Located within Hrad Spein is a lost horn that is said will save the city of Avendoom, and by extension the kingdoms of man, from dark forces that are uniting under the banner of the Nameless One. Hearing of Harold's exceptional talents, the king has "persuaded" him to take part in a journey to retrieve the horn.

Supporting Harold on his journey towards Hrad Spein are ten experienced Wild Heart warriors, an elfin princess and her guard, and the King's goblin jester, Kli-Kli. This may immediately jump out as a prime situation for either the standard X-member party, or perhaps even a grid-based SRPG, battle system. However, I would be interested to be a system that focuses nearly entirely on Harold's role in the battles. As Harold is not an experienced fighter like his companions (except maybe Kli-Kli), he relies on staying out of trouble but still manages to have great effect on encounters through getting into key positions for stealthy attacks. Players would therefore be required to skirt around battles. His companions should still have significant impact on the battle, but perhaps without Harold's assistance from the shadows they become overwhelmed and are in turn unable to protect him. If Harold finds himself in trouble he could call on a companion for assistance, or perhaps draw the enemy into range for an ally's attack.

The lack of a strict party-based mechanic could also come in handy when linking up the first part of the trilogy, where Harold must venture solo into an abandoned section of the city to aquire a map for his journey (which would also be counter-intuitive to link with an SRPG system). This section has been abandoned ever since a magical ritual went awry and naturally none who has ventured in since has returned. It's an area that could serve well as a tutorial, but I would be wary of doing so as it would eliminate the incredibly atmospheric and lonely feel that this early part of the tale has and to lose it would be losing a great deal of the trilogy's character.

The characters of the series are lively and a vital part of what makes The Chronicles of Siala so engrossing. The variations in personalities certainly helps, from the charming members of the Wild Hearts to the downright vicious and unsavory characters, especially those in Harold's flashback visions. There is a nice chemistry that develops between the members Harold's party. Kli-Kli is often the source of comic relief but it is clear that there more to him than meets the eye, and more than once does he play a significant role in battles. Kli-Kli and Harold's interactions are a highlight of the series, especially those where Kli-Kli is keen to inform Harold how Harold has further fulfilled sections of a Goblin prophecy about the 'Dancer in the Shadows', and Harold's often blunt dismissals of such. Harold's self narration is witty and gives an added level of engagement to the series; any writing for an RPG should keep this important engagement between reader and story intact.

A linear approach to the story is necessitated by the overarching plot, but that certainly doesn't mean the game itself would be a straight line. The battle system, as suggested above, could involve many potential 'solutions', and Harold has access to an impressive number of useful gadgets that should help increase the options available. The travelling between various important points shouldn't need be limited to a single path and there are sections where Harold and his companions visit various towns or settlements, so if one did want to include sidequests there are readily available areas where they can be implemented. Unfortunately due to the writing being done before its release date I have yet to read Shadow Blizzard, but things are set up so that it should be an exciting conclusion, one that I am looking forward to no matter what format it may come in.

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