I have a confession to make; I’ve never played the Pathfinder RPG. For a period of time it was the most played RPG in the world, but I never got a chance to try it. But I have played the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, which is based on the “iconic characters” that Paizo created for their Pathfinder universe. I played my whole campaign as Valeros, the mighty warrior, fighting alongside Seoni, the sorceror, and whatever character Quinten played after his bard died. We enjoyed the campaign and our introduction to the world of Pathfinder. Then I started listening to the Glass Cannon Podcast, an official Pathfinder Actual Play Podcast, who has set their game in the world of Golarion. Their great storytelling made me want to know more about the lore of the Pathfinder universe. So when I saw that Jim Zub had authored a Pathfinder graphic novel, I ordered a copy right away.
Dark Waters Rising reveals the background of the iconic characters of the Pathfinder universe and shows how they came to adventure together. It provides a glimpse into the lives of some of the characters we embodied in our adventure card game. And I have to say that Valeros is much more brash and blood thirsty for battle in this series than I played him in our adventure. But the storyline that Zub puts together in this series is quite interesting, if not fairly straightforward for a fantasy adventure. A group of heroes finds some goblins, kills them, goes to the closest town and tells them some bad stuff might happen because of said goblins, then has to defend the town from a big bad monster connected to the goblins. It’s pretty standard for the start of a fantasy adventure. The really interesting aspects of this first volume come from the character development and how each hero interacts with the others in their burgeoning party. Zub writes some great banter between the heroes, especially between Valeros and Merisiel, the roguish Elf. So if you’re a fan of exposition, this first volume will be right up your alley.
There is one glaring issue that I have with this graphic novel, though. The art is not very good. Andrew Huerta’s panels are often way too busy and convoluted. It is hard to follow the action at times because of how much chaff is in the panel. And colorist Ross Campbell does not do Huerta any favours by using a very dark colour palette that makes the characters seem to blend in with the background. The panels in the climactic scene of the story are so green that it’s hard to tell where the background ends and the monster begins. Some may argue that it highlights the monstrosity of the beast, but I just found it distracting. And I obviously wasn’t the only one who didn’t enjoy Huerta’s work, as he was replaced in the second volume by Ivan Anaya, who I have heard does a better job.
Also, I still have trouble with the portrayal of Seoni in the Pathfinder world. She is constantly being drawn with immense amounts of cleavage and a glaring lack of clothing. Yes, she is a sorcerer, therefore she can’t be wearing armor, but it remains another problematic portrayal of a female character in a fantasy world. Hats off to Paizo for Kyra the cleric and Seelah the paladin, both properly armored to go into battle, but in an industry where women are too often portrayed as near-nude, Seoni sadly conforms to that trend.
If you’re a Pathfinder fan, know the lore, and have experience seeing these characters in the world of Golarion, you should definitely check this series out. Learning about their backstories brings more vibrance to the lore. But if you have no investment in the Pathfinder world, there are better fantasy graphic novel series’ out there. As for age range, I chose not to put this one in my middle school library collection because I found there was a lot of blood and violence throughout the book. This probably fits in the 15 and up range. I do plan on getting the second volume when the paperback releases in March to see the changes to the art, but this isn’t one I am dying to dive into in the future.
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