Ever since D&D4e came out, there has been one obvious hole in the product line up. That is adventures written by writers who know and respect 4e's design, yet aren't afraid to use that design to push the baseline with engaging stories, open ended plots and a variety of encounters and NPCs. Its been 2 years now and Courts of the Shadow Fey seems to have broken the drought.
The adventure is substantial covering three levels of advancement at Paragon level. The story easily fits into the PoL setting (or any D&D setting) yet provides a detailed and evocative sub-setting with the Fey Courts that is usable by itself. The writer has a deep understanding of faerie lore which he melds with D&D very well.
The adventure is broken into a number of acts with clear entry and exit points.However, the inside of each Act is very open. PCs will find themselves engaged in a variety of tasks during the adventure from courting Fae maidens, dueling Fae knights and blackguards on misty clifftops, investigating foul murders and slowly earning the status necessary to interact with (and to some extent to even perceive) the most mighty of Fae lords and ladies.
The presentation is superb. Visually, the book is top notch with high quality black and white art that is appropriate to the text and atmospheric. The maps are polished and reminded me of Andy Law's great cartography. The layout is dense. I could have seen the same text easily fill 144 pages and include more white space.
The presentation of the mechanical aspects is also superb. The encounters are embedded in the text rather than seperated out like in WotC adventures, though they are still clearly identifiable. I found that this helped integrate the encounters into the plotlines and add to the sense of narrative continuity. There is also many useful writer's insights. There are new subsystems that work well with 4e's existing systems such as status and even a chase, without reinventing any wheel. This adventure is usable with 4e as written, so no DDI issues will arise.
Finally, the writer also provides some interesting alternatives, like optional stats to boost damage and reduce HP of monsters in a systematic way to cut down combat. I can see this as being especially appealing to those 4e player that will attracted to the strong narrative style of this adventure.
Overall, this adventure is what 4e has needed since it came out. For those that like 4e but are disappointed by prewritten adventures, check it out.
[5 of 5 Stars!]