I've always been interested in the stories behind the stories. What truly happens in "happily ever after"? What do you do, where do you go, after you save the world?
"Faith Aligned" is that sort of story. While it takes place just a few weeks after "Steps To Deliverance" and includes the basilsean paladin defender Orion, it doesn't really feel like a sequel to that book. For one he is not the main protagonist - that role going to Keteryn, a paladin defender of the elite 1st Cohort of the Basildon army.
Now some people will cry "woke" at the idea of a female lead character, especially in a book based on a tabletop wargame. Rather than being preachy about this, it simply shows some of her struggles in a world dominated by men, where the share fact she is a woman causes others to disregard her and her accomplishments.
But she isn't the only strong female here, as the chief antagonist is also a returning character - the succubus Am'Bira, now demoted from her previous rank of Temptress after her defeat in "Steps to Deliverance". She has a different path before her as she has to redeem herself, but without a significant part of her former power (although her constant dwelling on this does get a little much after a while).
Of course, this being based off a wargame, there has to be some big battles. While in the game any army can fight any other (even another faction of their own army), most stories are more good v evil. As such, it was fun. To see a fight between two of the most evil of the factions - undead v nightstalkers. I also liked how the undead were led by three necromancer who did not truly get along - each with their own undead contingent. To me this was a nice allusion to the game, where different players will have (sometimes wildly) different lists from the same selection of units.
I also really enjoyed that the two necromancer did not care for the zombies the third brought to the battle because of their smell (a factor so often ignored when telling any stories of the walking dead, be it books, movies or tv. Even when referred to as "rotters", no one ever notices the unpleasant stench of rotting flesh).
One challenge when dealing with such supernatural beings is to actually make them true characters - the night stalkers are an example of this, being more of a plot point characters. This in contrast to the werewolves, who have names and are more then obstacles to overcome. Having the Lycanis care about his pack and having them killed for someone else's plans really helped to being him to life.
The interpersonal conflict is not restricted to the "villians" however, the heroes also have the own I eternal struggles. The benefit of having a larger shared setting is there are many things that can be both hinted at and explored explicitly. Having this take place ten years after the splintering of the brotherhood, and l noooking at the knights who joined the forces of Basilea as the Brothermark, it was nice yo see an exploration of how one culture fits (or doesn't) in another, and even better when the realization that different does not mean worse. In fact the more I see of the former Brotherhood, the more of them I want to get. The difference between the basileans and the former brotherhood is one is strongly pious and devout while the other seems to be more secular of driven, as well as the ways each treats the 'ordinary' people makes for great reading. And of course the idea that the angels come down and direct!y support one of these keeps it from being as obvious a choice as it might seem.
It also explores a bit the whole idea of winning and losing. Seeing the difference between doing exactly what is asked of you, doing what is right, and hardest of all, what is wanted from you but never said can be difficult, if not impossible. And even determining what is the greater good among conflicting priorities can be a challenge. What on the surface appears to be a simple adventure actually has quite a bit more depth and things to think about.
Overall while at first read it didn't seem quite as good as his previous books in this world, the more I think on it the more I find to think about. I look forward to reading the parallel novel "Hero Falling", and honestly, anything else he writes in this setting.
Because it is all fun and games . . .