Extraordinary Zoology is the first novella in the Tales from the Monsternomicon series set in the Iron Kingdoms tabletop miniatures game world from Privateer Press. Outside of his Schlock Mercenary series, this is the longest work I’ve read by Howard Tayler.
Strange beasts are stalking the forests near Corvis. Lynus Wesselbaum—assistant to the world-renowned professor, Viktor Pendrake—must travel with the Professor to find out who (or what) has been causing problems there. Along the way, Lynus learns to have more trust in his companions, including in the beautiful and talented Edrea Lloryrr and in the gruff Horgash Bloodshout.
I’ve never played any games in the Warmachine, Hordes, or Iron Kingdoms worlds, so Extraordinary Zoology was my first exposure to them. Since this book is set in the Iron Kingdoms world, a lot of work had already gone into the setting. Tayler took that setting and created a set of interesting characters whom I would love to see in future works. All of them were larger than life, which made sense, given the setting. Game heroes should always be larger than life.
The plot had a little bit of mystery rolled into it—with just a hint of possible romance—rather than simply using a standard adventure story plot. This made it feel more robust. It moved along at a steady pace, too, never spending too much time in one place, but also never glossing over important bits. The only drawback some people may find is that it felt very much like someone had written down one or more gaming sessions and converted them into a book. This didn’t bother me, however. They do this a lot in Japan, and some of my favorite stories have come from this method (Record of Lodoss War being the most well known example).
I really enjoyed the monsters encountered by the characters in Extraordinary Zoology. They were unlike most I had seen before in other games I’ve played or books I’ve read, so they felt refreshing and new. The main villain, however, felt somewhat flat and stereotypical. Very little time was spent on fleshing out his motives. I enjoyed how the main characters defeated him; it was fairly unique (at least among books I’ve read).
Scott Aiello did a wonderful job with the narration. He had different voices for each of the characters, bringing them to vivid life in my mind. Aiello is now one of my favorite narrators. He added a vibrancy to the book that greatly enhanced my enjoyment.
I suspect I would have gained even more enjoyment from Extraordinary Zoology if I was familiar with the Iron Kingdoms world. Still, I found this a solid introduction to that world, and I plan to read other stories set there. Tayler has the comedic timing down, too. I recommend this book!
Audiobook Release Date: March 10, 2014 (USA)
Original Release Date: July 25, 2013 (USA)
Narrated by: Scott Aiello
Publisher: Audible Studios / Privateer Press
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (very brief mention)
Violence: 2 (fantasy violence, battle scenes, death, nothing that graphic)