I've reviewed the monster book and the ennie-award-winning player's guide, but I've somehow neglected the campaign setting. Today, I'll remedy that!
This campaign setting/city source book is 162 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page blank inside front cover, 1 paged editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page blank inside back cover and 1 page back cover, leaving a whopping 154 pages of content for us to lose ourselves in, so let's check it out!
Due to the size of this book, I'll not comment on each and every nook and cranny of the city as detailed in this pdf, but rather give you an overview, some examples and generally tell you which components caught my fancy.
After a 1 page foreword, we're treated to an introduction to the city per se in chapter 1, complete with a nice map, heraldry of the noble houses and basic information such as political positions and taxation. The basic premise for the general political landscape is that there are two human ethnicities, the Azindraleans and the Kortezians and the latter have subjugated the land in the past, now having been installed for a very long time. While this might look like a colonial backdrop, it really isn't - the city is aptly named after London in its imperial heyday, as it is a blistering metropolis of trade, intrigue and adventure, at the same time blessed and cursed by the cultural discrepancies between the houses of its ruling class.
Set against this backdrop of a now semi-independent metropolis with political unrest, we are introduced to the individual wards of the city, all of which get their own maps. Even better, we get personalities of interest, a huge plethora of interesting locations that fit to the ward and even some more than interesting adventure locales. Each of the wards comes with such a distinct flair that they might actually serve as their own towns and the distinctiveness of the wards lends itself to comparisons of the best among modern urban fantasy writing: Though I happen to love the work of e.g. China Míéville, you don't have to necessarily dwell upon the more urban/steam-punkish/weird elements of the city, as this setting succeeds in walking the tightest of lines, providing on the one side all you'd need to do to steer your campaign in that direction, while still having the option to ignore the almost industrial-revolution feeling of the city. Nice bits of details like parade, festivities, etc. are also presented as are new and old street names, taking to conflict between Azindraleans and Kortezians and their supporters to the linguistic level. That being said, on to the wards (which all get their alternate monikers to choose from depending on the NPC):
-The Army Ward contains both a coliseum and of course, the judicial branch as well as the barracks for the military. Consequently, we are also introduced to several generals and to the intrigues within the military.
-The Castle Ward contains, surprise, the castle and the manions of the ruling class. As such, it's of course heavily patrolled And features some nice ideas with regards to the politics of the city. We also get a sidebar detailing the prejudices of the different ethnicities towards other factions and people, which proved to be immensely useful. Once again, the adventure hooks are plain awesome.
-Dock Ward, the trade-hub could have easily fallen prey to feeling somehow like Freeport. Thankfully, due to the great writing, the docks feel unique and even comes with a ncie, creepy children's rhyme.
-Residential Ward: Probably one of the coolest districts, at least in my humble opinion, this is the hot-bed of Kortezian resistance against their oppressors. The district is almost catatonic in day-time. At night, however, the whole district erupts into an extremely atmospheric carnival and drunken revelry, including a butcher that makes entertainment of his slaughtering pigs likened to the nobility, a group of creepy mimes as well as hilarious jokes played upon the tax-collecting lord. This chapter alone is probably cooler than almost any ward I've ever read in any medium.
-Temple Ward: A rather safe place, the temple ward features a procession of benevolent ghosts that seek to ease the burden of the downtrodden, cultist and clerical intrigues and a disfigured, albeit brillant soprano who has become a kind of celebrity with a nice twist and potential for political unrest.
-Trades Ward: This is where both mercantile feuds and criminal syndicates/gangs clash, where the slave-trade is orchestrated and where adventueres can both spend and earn money in a plethora of different ways.
After that, we get a great investigation-style introductory adventure in whcih the PCs have 3 days to prove the innocence of a man who is charged for murder and can expect no justice from the court.
We also get some nice monsters, one of which, an aberration, is just plain genius.
Finally, we get a huge amount of pages devoted to providing stat-blocks for all the NPCs introduced in the book.
Layout adheres to the two-column standard, is clear and concise and printer-friendly b/w. The book is extensively bookmarked, but could have used another pass at editing: I noticed a bunch of minor typos & editing glitches as well as some minor homophone-errors. While none impeded my ability to understand the content, it's the only significant problem I have with this book. The writing of the were-cabbages is absolutely stunning and the city comes to life in a way I have rarely encountered in any work of fiction, be it RPG-book or fantasy novel. The huge amount of unconventional ideas and hooks for adventures is enough to keep a DM going for years and even make you actually want to do it. While the details presented, the setting falls somewhat short on the item/drugs/poison/etc. section, but with e.g. 4Wind Fantasy Games "Luven Lightfingers"-book, you can easily remedy that. Usually, I'd settle for a verdict of 3 or 3.5 Rudii due to the amount of editing glitches, HOWEVER: Even if you're as nitpicky as I am, at least think about giving this book a chance - the writing is that good. Yeah, it's D&D 3.5 and while the stats thus are not PFRPG, the writing alone is more than sufficient to make up for that. My final verdict will thus be 4 Rudii: One of the best, most imaginative city-sourcebooks out there.
As always, thank you for reading my ramblings,