Fleeing from a vengeful king has sent the former NPCs across Solium’s borders, into the kingdom of Alcatham. As wanted fugitives, they head to the small farming village of Briarwillow, hoping to blend in, lay-low, and avoid trouble at all costs.
Unfortunately, Briarwillow has problems all its own, and its troubles quickly become theirs. If they hope to survive long enough to escape, they’ll have to tackle an all-but-forgotten mystery buried at the town’s border, as well as seek the wisdom of a mysterious group of mages.
With time, magic, and at least one god against them, it will take everything they’ve got to save Briarwillow, and themselves.
The highly anticipated sequel to Hayes’s unique, role-playing-game-inspired NPCs sees the return of everyone’s favorite non-player characters. Exiled and on the run, the gang ventures into new territory, both physically, as they cross the border into a new kingdom, and figuratively. While still infused with all the charm of the original, fans of Hayes’s work will also quickly notice a distinct shift in the overall feel of the narrative, moving into slightly darker arenas and taking on heavier, almost somber undertones. Hayes’s signature humor is still present, of course, but the backbone of the story feels more serious and deals with themes that resonate more deeply on an emotional level than the first book did.
The pacing of this one is quite a bit different as well, sauntering at a slower, more controlled clip, and the scope of the world the NPCs explore is smaller this time, hovering around a single location instead of sprawling across a massive kingdom. But where a certain video game franchise attempted something similar and failed, Hayes succeeded, taking the opportunity to more fully flesh out the characters and overall mythos of the world.
The one thing I was perhaps a tad disappointed with was the lack of interaction between the real world and the adventurers. That was part of what made the first one so brilliant, in my opinion, and this one doesn’t really have that same aspect. Yet. It’s obviously coming in future installments though.
In a way, Split the Party almost feels like the start of the series rather than a sequel, as it was very episodic in nature, less sprawling, and felt like the base for something much larger. Even though there were a lot of obvious references to the first installment, it still felt a bit more like a side-step than a step forward in terms of answering the questions we were left with at the end of NPCs.
That said, the plot of this one is definitely self-sufficient, and while my questions might not have answers yet, I was left feeling satisfied and looking forward to the next one. So I suppose the best analogy would be that it was like watching an episode of my favorite show in the middle of the season, rather than the season finale.
Anyway, take that for what its worth. I’m still a huge fan of this series, and all I can say is, “MORE PLEASE!” 🙂