Lands of Gold and Fire. Probably one of the most anticipated books for the 7th Sea line after The New World itself. It's been delayed a few months while the dev team worked to get it just the way they like it. So how did they do?
Like all the other splatbooks, this one can be divided into the Fluff and Crunch sections.
We've got five new nations with unique backgrounds here. Aksum (Ethiopia/Somali States) a coastal trade nation on the losing side of a war with the Mbey while their empire is in rapid decline, Khemet (pre-Ptolemaic Egypt) a land shrouded in eternal night after the Queen betrayed the gods, Maghreb (the Barabary States) where the wasteland villages and prosperous coastal cities exist in an anarchic alliance to resist an impending invasion, Manden Kurufaba (The Mali Empire) the most prosperous land in Ifri, buckling under a flood of refugees fleeing the troubles elsewhere, and Mbey (the Kingdom of Kongo) decimated by the Atabean slave traders, their ruler has given in to despair and madness, bargaining with eldritch abomination spirits and waging war against the Aksum to capture more slaves to sell to the Atabeans- buying enough weapons in the hope of driving the invaders from Ifri.
There is enough flavor here to make an entire campaign out of adventuring in Ifri drawing from equal parts history and fantasy. The major players in Ifri are featured throughout and all are compelling in their own way- especially the leader of Mbey who has given himself over to madness and dark power to drive powerful Atabean invaders from his shores. Runner-up goes to Mar Veraci of Maghreb, the transgender pirate queen hailing from Vodacce. Mar governs the cities and protects Maghreb in her Blue Queen's place while she is communing with spirits to prevent an invasion from Mbey, trying to ward off the advances from Montaigne and the machinations of her jealous sister.
The book includes new sorcery. Melbur sorcery strikes me as an almost cut/paste of Sanderis from the core book (though there are significant differences), while Heka sorcery is a kind of Enchantment based magic. Most splats contain one magic school per nation, so this is a bit lacking.
New dueling schools are included here as well for more martial players.
There are two new player mechanics that are introduced here. The first, Zahmeireen Weaponry, is a much more in depth unique-weapon system than the current Dracheneisen weaponry- and one I hope they adopt in errata to change Dracheneisen. You select an Origin (how you got the weapon) and a Facet (its effect). Additionally, completing Legends are a potent way to increase the power of the weapon.
Next is the Vile Dice of dealing with the Abonsam spirits. Essentially, bargaining with these Eldritch Creatures grants bonus dice, but using the dice grants corruption.
Fluffwise, this book is beyond good. Its locations and people are compelling to read about and beg for adventure. But the Mechanics section is lacking in Sorcerous lineages. Bonus points for having a better legendary weapon system than the original Dracheneisen though. I give it a 4/5. Worth the money and very good, but not necessarily a MUST BUY NOW book.
[4 of 5 Stars!]