Gears of Faith (Pathfinder Tales) by Gabrielle Harbowy (Tor)
One of the tests of a shared world is how accessible the stories are to a reader who is a stranger to that world. Pathfinder is an extremely popular fantasy role-playing game (along the lines of Dragons and Dungeons, for non-gamers like me). There’s a wealth of material about the various landscapes, races, characters, and histories of the world, and a series of novels (over 30 of them) set in it. This current addition includes a glossary and maps to aid the unfamiliar traveler.
The set-up is this: two characters (Keren, a knight dedicated to the goddess Iomedae, who incidentally was once human; and Zae, a violet-haired gnome who is both a fanatic tinkerer-inventor-engineer and a mystical healer; oh, and also incidentally, they are both female and are lovers) arrive in the great city of Absalom to continue their respective training, only to find themselves caught up in a series of increasingly violent attacks that center on the theft of a supernatural device. The story weaves together mystery, action, romance, with the question of the proper balance between trusting one’s sense of what is right and obedience to a higher authority. Pacing allows the newcomer to explore this colorful world while falling in love with the characters, yet there is sufficient drama and escalating tension to keep a familiar reader turning the pages.
My favorite parts were the scenes of Zae in her engineering classes, with lively dialogs with her fellow students (of various races and temperaments) and the inevitable results of her fearless curiosity. Her mount, a large dog named Appleslayer, adds warmth to the family. Plus, it’s very cool to have a dog as a companion on a quest.
The usual disclaimer: I received this book as a gift; everything I've said about it is my own opinion and no one paid me to say nice things; are you happy now, FTC?