||Well, I just wrote a lengthy review that was devoured by rpgnow requiring me to sign in a second time (timed out I guess) and I lack the energy to rewrite this, so I'll just do a summary:
Style/Presentation: there are 5 books included but they are not indexed. The artwork is good, although the new artist's style took a bit of adjusting to get used to. As with all Troll Lords products it could have used a bit more editing. There is confusion on the extra prime rules introduced in the book.
Stand-Alone Usefulness: The book includes a C&C quickstart rules set but the game is clearly written for use with the main books, and so this is of limited usefulness. It works great as a specific campaign setting for C&C, but it is very high powered, and using much of this material in standard C&C games requires careful consideration.
Usefulness as a Horror Setting: This game is clearly inspired by Ravenloft, but it is much closer thematically to the movie Van Helsing or Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. I would also suggest this was a great resource for a Castlevania style game. Characters in this game are tough, very tough. They face slavering hordes of monsters that are just as tough, however; it's a strange mix that felt like a "fantasy heavy metal" take on horror to me.
Contents: Four new classes, a ton of new magic items, gear and spells, a detailed overview of the demiplane and a scenario for 4th level characters that will put them through the wringer of a haunted former keep turned inn turned bastion of EVIL. There is also a PDF with class-based character records and a quickstart rulebook that is more useful as a hand-out to players new to the whole RPG thing than to running the boxed set as is.
Overall: James Ward knows how to write a fun old-school sourcebook. It's not for people who find and crave balance, nor is it for people who learned everything they ever knew about role playing games within the last six years; if you were gaming in the 80's you will grokk what this set is about and appreciate what it's trying to accomplish. It;s very accessible and full of weird over-the-top ideas. Well worth the attention of old school and C&C fans alike. I could also see this being converted to a more modern game like Pathfinder with minor work involved. Fans of WoD games need not apply, this is a brand of heavy metal dark fantasy that has little to do with the precepts of the White Wolf brand names; likewise if you come to this expecting a Ravenloft supplement with the serial numbers filed off you will only be partially correct; the Tainted Lands is closer to James Ward's homebrew Ravenloft, I suspect, than anything else, and the higher overall power level of this game means it will most definitely play out like some sort of dark heroic fantasy than gothic horror.
Style: 4/5 -- good art, good layout, needs some errata and editing
Rules: 3/5 -- useful for its internal setting, harder to adapt a lot of it to a standard C&C game
Readability: 5/5 -- James Ward's relaxed and casual style of writing is a pleasure to read and made this more engaging than many existing C&C modules
Overall: 4/5 -- I'm using this for a Tainted Lands campaign "as is", the wacky concepts within make for a singularly unique over-the-top splatterfest campaign; if you like old-school and this sounds intriguing, grab it!
[4 of 5 Stars!]