Book Reviews from the Staff of the Poison Pie Publishing House


December 3, 2016
Bestiaries of 2016

A kerchet from Imbelnhi's Bestiary.

As evidence of our fondness for books about beasts, the Poison Pie Publishing House published two bestiaries, The Faerienomicon and A Bestiary of East Tennessee in 2014 and 2015, respectively. In 2016, as part of the PPPH blog, the staff assembled an A Survey of One Hundred Bestiaries. Several of these bestiaries were published in 2016.

As the year draws to a close, we decided to bring to the attention of our readers a couple of our favorite such books published this year. There were numerous excellent candidates to choose from (in stark contrast to our recent presidential election). The two largest publishers of fantasy role-playing games (RPG) each released at least one bestiary in 2016. Volo's Guide to Monsters, published by Wizards of the Coast, was a second manual of monsters for the 5th edition of the world's oldest fantasy RPG, Dungeons & Dragons. (For the curious, this is entry #123 in our survey. Obviously the staff felt compelled to exceed the original mandate of one hundred bestiaries.) The Villain Codex (entry #125 in our survey), produced by Paizo Publishing as part of the Pathfinder RPG, describes associates and practices of twenty villainous organizations, including an arcane society, carnival troupe, diabolical church, merry outlaws and scandalous pirates. Today, one expects a very high standard of quality from these two publishers. These books have excellent production values, including hardback binding, full color interior, illustrations of each entry rendered by a stable of talented freelance artists, visually appealing layout and careful editing. The text in each adheres to the style established for 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder respectively. (The excerpts in our survey are an attempt to convey to interested readers these elements for all of the entries.) To be sure, readers will not be disappointed in either of these book of beasts.

The cover of Imbelnhi's Bestiary.

However, we chose neither of these books as our favorite bestiaries published in 2016 because there were two unexpectedly delightful surprises in 2016. The first of these is Imbelnhi's Bestiary (entry #92 in our survey), published by Flying NightBear Games as part of the Beyonder RPG. Imbelnhi's Bestiary is "a traveler's account of our continent and her creatures." This book presents no mere conversion of familiar beasts to an updated edition of rules, nor does it provide "additional descriptive color" to well known creatures. Instead, the entries in this bestiary are newly imagined, such as the kerchet, pictured above and highlighted in the survey. The book is clearly the product of a labor of love. Much care has gone into all aspects of its creation, from the writing to the illustrations to the production of the book in such a way that it brings to mind old leather-bound tomes of yore. If there is a criticism it is that not all of these entries include illustrations.

The cover of S. Petersen's Field Guide to Lovecraftian Horrors.

The other bestiary of 2016 worthy of special consideration is S. Petersen's Field Guide to Lovecraftian Horrors (entry #110 in our survey), published by Chaosium Inc. as part of the Call of Cthulhu RPG. This field guide is subtitled, A Field Observer's Handbook of Preternatural Entities and Beings from Beyond the Wall of Sleep, and contains entries on fifty-three creatures from the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Sticklers may point out that this book was originally published in December, 2015, but we did not get our hands on a copy until this year, so we are including it as a favorite bestiary of 2016. This book contains all entries from the long out-of-print S. Petersen's Field Guide to Cthulhu Monsters (1988; entry #108) and S. Petersen's Field Guide to Creatures of the Dreamlands (1989; entry #109).

Yog-Sothoth from S. Petersen's Field Guide to Lovecraftian Horrors.

In one sense, this hardcover serves as the long-awaited reissue as the wonderful text of the two original softcover publications is kept. However, the hardcover edition contains all new illustrations. The styles of the illustrations in the original and new editions are completely different. Therefore, we can happily advise others who are fond of the fiction of Lovecraft and/or bestiaries, that the arrival of the new edition does not make the old editions obsolete nor does familiarity of the originals preclude interest in the new release. In this book too, one senses a labor of love by a group of individuals who knew the community had been waiting decades for a hardbound reissue and were determined not to disappoint.