Pages of Pain
First off, I’d like to just state how much I love the hard cover edition of this novel. The dust jacket cover art is vibrant and very well done. The cover has a nice, thick, almost leather like feel to it, and the binding is superb. I’m not really a book snob. I have an eReader and I enjoy it. But sometimes it’s nice to read a real book. The hardcover version of Pages of Pain was just about the perfect type of hardcover. It wasn’t cumbersome, heavy, and the binding didn’t interfere with holding it open and flipping through the pages. There also wasn’t that gap you sometime get between the cover, the binding, and the pages. After a complete read through, the binding showed no signs of wear and tear. And it’s gorgeous! Feast your eyes on this beauty.
Alright, enough of gawking at relics. Time for the good stuff.
Pages of Pain is an intriguing read by Troy Denning. Here he crafts a strange, poetic tip-of-the-hat to the old Greek myths with an intellectual plunge into the meaning of pain and responsibility. It’s a complex story that comes together with thought provoking conclusions.
On the surface there is the typical hero who is on a quest for the gods. He is a champion of great deeds. He’s also quite smug and quick to list out all his accomplishments to the point that he won’t stop unless someone interrupts him. Yet this prideful hero is the main character of the story. There is a well crafted balance that allows the reader to follow the hero without being utterly disgusted with him. By the same token, Denning occasionally reminds the reader that the hero is far from perfect and has plenty of flaws. He is both likable and unlikable. His character is formed by strengths and flaws. In one way, the story is his quest to overcome his shortcomings.
The hero doesn’t really have a name, either. In fact he’s lost many of his memories of his earlier life. He doesn’t know where he was born, who his parents are, or what his name is. Regardless he’s made many memories since then and has quite the reputation. He’s made a deal with Poseidon to travel to Sigil and deliver a gift to the Lady of Pain. That’s where the fun kicks in.
The Lady of Pain is a strange god or godlike being. She rules Sigil, the hub of the multiverse, thus controlling access to every plane of existence. Yet her very existence is a puzzle. Plus puzzles are a huge underlying theme in the novel. As part of the Planescape lore, Denning couldn’t reveal too much about her. Yet what he does do with her is a brilliant stroke of penmanship.
The Lady is also the narrator of the story. The hero’s adventure is told through her eyes. As such, it makes for some fun storytelling. Denning uses the extra freedom to toss in some delightful prose and intriguing explorations into topics like pain and responsibility. What is the purpose of pain? Why must we suffer throughout? Is pain actually a good thing? What lengths would you go through to fulfill your responsibility to others? To yourself? Throughout the story there are some great intellectual threads that probe into these questions. The added depth makes the story an extremely enjoyable read.
Without giving away too much of the plot, the story goes from Sigil to mazes. The hero joins forces with a vampiric lunatic, a deluded elf healer, a crazy centaur, and a fiend. There’s a great deal of pain and exploration that’s strewn along the journey. There’s swordfighting, flashbacks, and magic.
Put all that together, and you’ve got a great book. Pages of Pain incorporates deep characters, a fascinating story, and titillating themes into a book on par with the likes of Matthew Stover. This isn’t an action fest, or a light tromp through a fun adventure. This is a look at serious ideas tied into a captivating narrative splashed with skillful prose. It doesn’t go on and on like a Stephen King tome, and it doesn’t end before the story is finished. Simply put, this is one of the finest novels I’ve read by Troy Denning, and I highly recommend checking it out if you’re a fan of his work. I give it an outstanding five out of five metal bikinis.