The trouble with most "gamer fiction" is you can practically hear the dice being rolled in the background. Sometimes, and it doesn't matter how compelling the story, you can't bu help see or hear game terms being thrown about.
Thankfully that is NOT the issue here with Shadowtide: A Blue Rose Novel by Joseph D. Carriker, Jr.
Carriker gives us a story we can get into and characters we can care about, that is the job of all good storytellers; whether that medium is a novel, a play or a role-playing game. In this case, we get a good novel that preserves what we like or want from the RPG but still satisfies as a novel.
The story opens with the disappearance (likely murder) of two envoys from the Sovereign's Finest. The Sovereign is Queen Jaelin of Aldis and her envoys are tasked with helping out where they can and mostly fighting the forces of evil. The two envoys are tracking down a reported case of Shadow Sorcerery in the Veran Marsh east of Aldis. Shadow is more than just black magic, it is a taint of the unworldly, of the unnatural. Contrasts are turned up in Aldis, the evil are very evil and the good...well the good try to be very good, but as this book reminds us even the Envoys of the Queen, the very symbols of good, have to make hard choices.
The story begins with a trio of envoys. I would say "unlikely" but in truth the envoys are a varied lot. We have Soot who is a Rhy-Crow, or an intelligent crow with the abilities of an Adept. Morjin Brightstar, a lovable rogue and rake who works best alone, but is constantly falling love with whomever he meets. A note. Morjin is a character who in a lesser hand would have been VERY annoying. But Carriker invests a lot of attention and dare I say love into Morjin that you feel for the guy. He is a former Roamer, a nomadic culture similar to the Romany of our world, but he has been exiled from his clan. So it becomes easy to see how his happy-go-lucky, devil-may-care nature hides a profound sadness of what would be a good heart. Finally the last of our trio is Ydah (pronounced EE0dah). She is a Night person, or what might pass for a half-orc in other books. She is the fighter to Morjin's lover. She is also recovering from recent grief and hides her sadness behind a gruff exterior and a desire to beat the living crap out of people. Which she excels at.
The trio finds themselves in a hidden smuggler's town called Serpent's Haven. Where basically everyone is a criminal or descended from a criminal of some sort. Their mission here is to discover what happened to other envoys and figure out what the nature of the Shadow they were looking for.
I don't want to spoil the plot, but suffice to say it involves cults, crazed cultists, a Dark Fiend and the ever-present danger of Shadow to all that are around it, friend and foe alike.
Naturally, comparisons will be made to the Valdemar books by Mercedes Lackey, of which Blue Rose is inspired by, but those comparisons are mainly superficial here. Sure one can tell a "Valdemar" story with Blue Rose. One could also tell this story with Blue Rose. The differences to me lie at the heart of what Shadowtide and Blue Rose are really about. The characters of both the novel and game try to do Good with a capital G. But often the only choices they have are goods with a little g. They can't fix every problem. The difference I think then between a Blue Rose character and say a D&D character is that it is the good they can't do is what bothers the Blue Rose characters, and this makes them want to do and be better next time.
That is certainly true for our trio of heroes here. Morjin feels bad about how treats certain people when he knows he has worked towards the greater good. Ydah feels bad about having to kill (and kill she does) cultists, but she needs to stop an even greater evil. Soot, well Soot has some problems all his own and shows us how dangerous the cult they are dealing with is.
In the end, the characters care about their actions. They care about how others see them as envoys and they care about how others are treated. They know there is injustice in the world, even Ydah mentions the stares she still gets in "enlightened Aldis", but they are working to make things a little bit better. Because they care they are not the "murder hobos" of other games or stories and we care more for them as well.
The book ends, but room for a sequel is left open. I certainly hope so. The characters are entertaining and the mystery they are delving into is a fascinating one. Kudos to Carriker for giving us characters whose motivations I believe and whose stories are compelling enough to make me want more.