Scholar's Review #35: Rifts Duty's Edge
Updated: Jan 21
“A failed mission’s last survivor, Lieutenant Steffan Meyer is injured and cut off from any support from home. All he has left is his mission, a task that has already wiped out his team.”
The first novel released by Palladium Books in over 20 years, I believe this release is also the first from Will Erwin as an author. Of note, he is also the cover artist, the details of which bear some import on the scale and scope of the narrative. It follows the trials and travails of Lieutenant Steffan Meyer, a soldier of the New German Republic squad on a failed mission to strike against the Phoenix Empire. It was hoped that this strike would negatively impact the Phoenix Empire's support to the Gargoyle Kingdom and Brodkil forces, whose capability to wage war and effectively siege the German nation are dependent upon.
First Act. Without giving too much away from the plot, the mission fails in a catastrophic way. The fallout of this failure leaves him the sole survivor of his team, brutally injured and sickened. He is rescued by one of the local human tribes, the Makfi, and brought into their care. This care isn’t strictly out of altruism, but because of Steffan’s recovery of a Soul Stone from the strike team’s final battle site. Through his recovery, Steffan learns more of the Makfi tribes (descendants of Middle Eastern Arabs) and recovers, earning some key psychic abilities, some new equipment, friends, and unearthing the influence of a hidden Azizian, a threat to the Makfi long-since thought to have been eliminated.
Second Act. Expanding on Steffan’s recovery, it allows both he and his band of friends to explore the region in a manner that develops both the regional character and the specifics of the mission Steffan has vowed to see through to the end. They look for a way to strike the Phoenix Empire, forge the Soul Stone into an implement with a distinct capability to influence magic, and further explore the history of the Makfi and their former Azizian overlords.
Third Act. The final assault against the Phoenix Empire. If I were to find fault with the narrative, it would be some of the scenes within the capital city of Rama, and their interactions with the demonic/monstrous forces that rule the nation. In a few instances, I found the demons simply resembled a prohibition-era movie mafia gangsters with magic abilities and mega-damage capacity. That said, it really does fall in line with the Palladium Books presentation of the daemonic in general, an anthropomorphism that I understand to be a necessary evil to move the plot along. What redeemed this act and helped wrap the novel together really nicely is the reveal near the end, which positions the reader to understand the year PA, and as well deliver a cathartic explanation for several things in World Book 4: Rifts Africa.
Trinitite and Soul Stones. One of the running themes throughout the book is the effect of Trinitite crystals (in particular the Soul Stones) have on the Makfi society. The incident that led to the critical failure of Steffan’s original mission left his body riddled with the Trinitite, and in possession of one of the rarest of artefacts, a Soul Stone. This is leveraged as his ‘in route’ to the Makfi society, and the method the author used to ensure someone just simply doesn’t kill Steffan and steal the Soul Stone was nicely nuanced. The value of the resource is revealed in a way that also allows the reader to learn more about this commodity, its place in the Makfi society, and the direct impact it has on Steffan.
Culture and Social Interactions. One of the highlights of the novel is the presentation of the Makfi tribes and the culture developed in the post-apocalyptic setting. The author does a spectacular job of teasing out the information along the plot narratives without giving us any unwieldy info dumps. Of note, the exchanges between characters also follows a sense of realism; dialogue is snappy and purposeful in delivery. The social strata, guilds, history (be it positive or negative), all of it, are appreciably done. The author also avoids some of the more obvious clichés and tropes when dealing with things like the Azizian cults, the various guild hierarchies, and the common culture clashes that often occurs. To be clear, there are a few in there, but they are largely supporting of the canon developed by Palladium Books.
Narrative of Psionics and Magic. One of the more problematic elements of Rifts fiction would have to be the portrayal of the psionics and magic systems. The narrative perspective is Steffan Meyer’s, and the few times that magical ‘effects’ are used, they are suitably arcane and cryptic, leaving the reader to wonder alongside the protagonist to their effects. Psionics was something I particularly liked, especially given the increased prevalence of these abilities in Rifts canon. The mystery surrounding the various abilities and how they were viewed in general by Steffan, or in practical settings like combat, were subtle. In both the cases of magic and psionics, game mechanics were withdrawn from the story, leaving a more fluid and believable narrative, showing the effort to exercise these powers and their final effects.
RATING AND RECOMMENDATION
Scholar’s Review Rating (9/10). It has been an eternity since Palladium Books released a novel for their flagship line, something I have been decrying about for ages now. That they have finally seen fit to allow one to print is puzzling, but I am very content with the results of the wait. My only hope is we don’t have to wait another generation for more of the same. As far as the quality of the read itself, I found this to be quite the page-turner; typically flipped through a chapter or two each night before bed. As the story developed, I was well engrossed in my discovery of the region and their culture, as well as how they are dealing with the Phoenix Empire; any interest in something linked to Rifts: Africa is, quite frankly, something of a revelation, as revealed in my Scholar’s Review of World Book 4: Africa. The presentation of the chapters as report logs back to the NGR was nice, the culmination of the plot and the denouement, rewarding. I highly recommend this product for any fans of the Rifts RPG. This could easily appeal to anyone looking for a gateway product into the world of Rifts.
Addendum: The level of detail was very much appreciated, and something that could *very easily* be converted or expanded upon to create a gaming supplement. Not for nothing, but I believe that releasing future novels in tandem with a World Book/Sourcebook/Adventure Sourcebook could do very well for Palladium Books and very well turn into an expanded business model. When examining some of the major players in the RPG and Table-top gaming industry, Wizards of the Coast and Games Workshop have both fully embraced the novelization of their IP to great effect, which then in turn supports their various product lines, or in some limited cases, allowed them to expand their product lines to match. My hope is this novel receives the accolades and success it deserves, providing Palladium Books both with a way to reward the author for his contribution, but also to spur on the distinct possibility of future novel releases.
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