Vodacce can be summed up in terms of manipulation and deceit. It's a place where you need to watch your step, yet it's welcoming... if on its own terms. It's a land of wealthy merchants, fierce honour and convoluted plots, beautiful architecture, treachery, passion and pride. The Introduction explains this and introduces the rest of the book.
First up, Vodacce starts with the history of the country from ancient times right up to the present day... and I mean ancient, apparently scholars believe Vodacce to be the cradle of sentient human life on Théah. Seat of a world-spanning empire, this began to be disrupted by the arrival of the First Prophet on Vodacce's very streets, leading to the establishment of the Vaticine Church. From then on, Church history was closely entwined with the nation's - particularly as most of the ruling noble houses practised sorcery, something the Church condemned. However a thousand years later, the Third Prophet announced that the new home of the Church would now be in Castille, not Vodacce, which led to a bitter war between the two nations in which Castille was ultimately victorious. Undaunted, the nobles in Vodacce resumed their power struggles, the nation remained stauchly Vaticine in belief, and both art and science flourished. In the present day, it's still prosperous but divided with seven merchant princes all hoping to rule a united nation.
These princes are then detailed, along with all the intrigues and facets of the Great Game they delight in playing. Of significance is the number of bastards - with public acceptance of courtesans and mistresses, genealogy is a nightmare, yet everyone is very proud of their bloodline. There are also a couple of families not now in contention for rulership, but still hanging around on the edges. We also find out about notable places - and in the next chapter, Heroes, people - that the party may get to know if their travels take them to Vodacce. There are a couple of quite good maps of the nation's islands, but an overall map would have been helpful, particularly as the locations descriptions start by talking about there being eight provinces - OK, but where are they? That aside, there's loads of material to help the place come to life in your game, and that's before you get to the culture and religion notes at the end. Music and opera are popular but there's an odd thing... very few women learn to read, not even (especially?) noble ones.
In the Drama section we learn about new Sorté rules - the prevalent form of magic that warps destiny - as well as new backgrounds, skills, a single knack, advantages and equipment. And of course more swordsman schools. Note that duelling is accepted practice in Vodacce unlike most of the rest of Théah, so it's all the more important to be able to handle a sword. Given the artform to which intrigue has been raised here, I suppose it's inevitable to also have some new poisons...
Finally, Cunning provides details of the Great Game for players and GMs alike. There are also pieces on how Vodacceans view honour and the place of women. For a start, only women practice Sorté magic. Playing one is challenging at times, but can be extremely rewarding especially if you like behind-the-scenes intrigue and manipulation. For GMs there are dark secrets and stat blocks for the NPCs introduced in Hero, notes on Fate and a couple of new monsters.
Another book that gets you thinking of reasons to send your party to the nation described, because reading it makes you really want to go there as it comes to life on the pages.
[5 of 5 Stars!]