Written by: Cavan Scott (from a story by Richard Pett), Directed by John Ainsworth
In which Valeros, Ezren, Harsk and Merisiel travel from Wati to the Great Library of Tephu in search of information about the Forgotten Pharaoh and the cult that venerates him. Unfortunately, other interested parties seek the same information; surrounded by all sorts of enemies, can our heroes trust anyone – even each other?
Listening to this installment, it struck me what’s been largely absent from these Pathfinder Legends tales – a sense of humour. Yes, there are the constant barbed comments that Harsk and Valeros hurl at each other, but I’m not talking about that kind of humour – I’m talking about the kind that permeates stories like Star Trek’s The Trouble With Tribbles, Doctor Who’s The Romans or City of Death, and many an episode of Farscape, where the humour originates from characters’ actions and reactions to a given situation, and things flow organically from there.
The first half of Shifting Sands takes this approach as the protagonists apply their “bull in a china shop” approach to obstacles in a city bound by rules, regulations and customs with about as much likelihood of success as Laurel and Hardy delivering a piano unscathed. Frustrated with the bureaucratic red tape barring their access to the archives, Merisiel resorts to her considerable skills at breaking and entering – and promptly gets caught and arrested. The others’ efforts at research can be compared to those of the Three Stooges at any task, and their efforts to extricate themselves only make things that much worse. Then, at the heroes’ trial, the supreme authority in this part of Osirion takes a shine to one of the men – much to his dismay – and their continued freedom depends on pleasing this woman’s capricious whims and desires… Having this particular character pushed out of his comfort zone is a delight and makes a refreshing change from his usual dour demeanour.
The second half of Shifting Sands shifts gears into much more traditional territory – confronting key members of the conspiracy; piecing together more scraps of information on the Forgotten Pharaoh; and trekking to a lost pyramid in the middle of nowhere – but it’s done with considerable aplomb and character conflict as the Mask exerts its insidious influence that things never become po-faced. It’s also nice to hear one of the protagonists reflect on how their presence inevitably causes pain and suffering for those around them, and want to make things right for a change instead of running off and never facing the hard consequences…
Verdict: After the action-heavy Empty Graves, this installment favours plot and character interaction with a deftly light touch, resulting in a pleasant change of pace and tone. 7/10
John S. Hall