Kind Blade and Cruel Divinities is a stand-alone novel set in the Ponyfinder campaign world. A self-contained story, albeit with a potential continuation teased at the end, it tells the tale of a young human male training to become an adventurer in a nation of ponies. Unsurprisingly, adventure ends up finding him.
Before going any further, I need to make a disclaimer: I’m a supporter of the author’s Patreon, as well as having ghost-written a small portion of one of the Ponyfinder sourcebooks. I’ve also used some Ponyfinder material in the course of my own creative writing. All that, plus I consider the author to be a friend of mine. So take this review with whatever grain of salt you feel is appropriate.
With regards to the technical aspects of this book, it’s available in three formats; my review is focused around the PDF format only. In that regard, the book is one hundred seventy pages long (which makes the listing for one hundred thirty rather odd), and doesn’t seem to have the cover art attached for some reason. There are exactly three illustrations to be found, all of supporting cast members, rendered in grayscale. There weren’t any bookmarks here, which feels like an oversight, as it would be helpful to jump from chapter to chapter. But enough technical details, let’s get to the story!
Kind Blade and Cruel Divinities is the story of Christopher King, a young man who’s just journeyed to Viljatown, the capital of the Pony Empire, to enroll in their adventuring school: the Academy of Kind Blades. Told in the first person, we spend quite a bit of time following along as he trains at the Academy, getting to know both the ponies around him and what it means to be an adventurer. Both lessons are thrown into sharp relief as he goes on his first adventure where, appropriately enough, things take an unexpected turn that leads to more than he bargained for. I won’t say anything about the specifics of the plot, save that it gets into the “Cruel Divinities” part of the title.
The character of Christopher King is presented as something of an alternative to what you’d expect from someone actively looking to become an adventurer. Rather than being the brash, ambitious type, he comes across as someone much more reserved, almost to the point of being hesitant. He wants to be an adventurer, but doesn’t seem to have any particular goals beyond that (indeed, when it’s hinted that he’s destined for greater things, he’s less than thrilled). Analytical without being intellectual, his narration is presented in a tone that can border on being stilted, highlighting how he tends to be reactive rather than proactive. Although he’s no fool, Christopher comes across as someone doing his best to manage his circumstances, rather than trying to take control of them; after enrolling at the Academy, he seems content roll with the punches (sometimes literally)…until, perhaps, the very last page, hinting that we’re going to see some character growth if there’s ever a sequel book.
On the flipside, the protagonist’s major flaw isn’t one of character, but one of meta-character. That is, Christopher doesn’t quite function as a “stranger in a strange land” that new readers might require him to, if they’re not already familiar with Ponyfinder. Because Christopher himself is from a town with a mixed population of humans and ponies – along with his fairly passive nature – there are numerous background elements that aren’t expounded upon, and might not make sense unless you’re already familiar with the setting. For example, Christopher takes notice that the mayor of Viljatown is a cow rather than a pony, but when he points this out to other ponies they react with confusion, claiming that he’s mistaken and that the mayor is a pony after all. Why that happens (it’s actually a reference to the specifics of how the krava (cow race) integrated into pony culture, as per their game sourcebook) is never satisfactorily explained in the story.
That’s a flaw because the book quite clearly wants to serve as something of an introductory tale. We spend quite a bit of time following Christopher’s lessons at the Academy, which serve to walk us through the mechanics of how magic and certain other features of adventuring work. The characterization of the ponies around Christopher keep this entertaining even if you’re already familiar with the underlying game mechanics, thankfully. It’s just a shame that this same level of presumed ignorance wasn’t presented with regards to his four-legged classmates, since that’s likely to be the bigger point of uncertainty for those unfamiliar with Ponyfinder.
Overall, the story here is a fun one. Although it could have been stronger, the story manages to do a decent job of introducing readers to the Ponyfinder world while also taking them along on an adventure. The main character isn’t the sort of person you’d expect, but the story manages to lay down just enough breadcrumbs to make it clear that he’s going to become someone different as he continues to go adventuring. Given that, it’ll be interesting to see where the story goes from here.