(Minor spoilers included)
I have recently acquired and read the novel “Godwalker” by Greg Stolze. It’s the first (and maybe last) novel that takes place in the world of the rpg Unknown Armies (and may therefore cause the world to end). It took me about three sessions to finish reading the book which is a good sign. As I have GMed Unknown Armies and bought each and every rulebook (not that many) I am probably a bit biased and I may not be able to tell wether the novel would be a good introduction to the game and it’s mood or wether it would be enjoyable out of context.
The whole depth of the Unknown Armies setting in it’s entirety cannot of course be explored in one single novel and neither can I explain it here in short for all those who never played. The basic set-up is our world with an “unknown” layer beneath that is hidden from ordinary people. This is similar to many other games that take place in our world. Of course it differs (otherwise why make a new game?). As with many of the afore-mentionned games there are hidden powers in the world. The difference is that just about everybody can make use of these powers if – and here it comes – if they are prepared to pay the price. I think that sums up my view of UA: there’s a lot of power you can have, but … how much are you willing to give up for that power?
Another difference is that there is no ‘prime evil’. No character I have seen or created was evil beyond redemption, there are just a lot of shades of grey. It’s so easy to switch from good guy to bad guy I have been considering finishing my campaign with the players playing characters from “the other side” for the final chapters. Of course there are a few non-human monsters but nothing fits the ‘evil’ definition as in VtM or CoC (which I never played).
I think the novel reflects these themes of UA quite well. For my taste the overall mood is too light and the characters don’t have to suffer enough. They actually do if you think about it but it doesn’t come across like that. Horrible things happen to Joe Kimble but I am missing desperation, depression, “Angst” … – or maybe I just read too many vampire books.
Another theme I found prevalent was that nearly every character seemed to be having good intentions. But soon you learn that even with good intentions there are a lot of different outcomes and in the end the hunger for power and life may subdue anything else. Yet even the monster, even the Freak had a kind of sad niceness about it.
The metaphysical explanations that give a certain background for the “unknowing” reader occur a bit too often in the beginning of the novel but I have heard say that the book does a fine job explaining the world to someone who doesn’t know the game. The explanations become rare towards the end as the writing becomes more and more confident.
All in all the story is pretty straight forward and enthralling (when will ‘spannend’ finally be an English word?). The characters are believable even if a bit too nice, too soft for my taste. If you take the character of Joe Kimble it would be a good first scenario to establish him in a new world and continue writing his story. The story telling is reminiscent of Tim Powers in such a way as the game itself was inspired by Tim Powers books. I’d have enjoyed a mood a bit darker and more threatening and so this novel screams out to me: there will be a seque!!!
If you would like to read the novel it can (still?) be ordered at danielsolis.com:Godwalker. I am not lending out my copy. After all this is every Bibliomancers major charge waiting to happen 😉
Did I mention, that I really enjoyed reading the book?!?