First, the price. I bought this when it was on offer (GM's Day 08, I think), and the British Pound was strong against the dollar (remember that?), so for me it was a bargain. I don't think, particularly now this is an "obsolete" edition, that the full price is worth it. As I write this review (March 09), the asking price is 28GBP. Twenty eight quid for a PDF? Somehow, I think not.
Secondly, perhaps the PDF has been saved with loads of layers per page, but it is s..l..o..w to scroll through unless I disable images. And I hardly have a wheezy old 486 or anything like that. Some more effort could have been made to make it a useful PDF, I think.
So, finally, the product itself.
This is a three-in-one sourcebook for different approaches to magic. Not your spells/level divine/arcane types of the core rules, but three mechanically different methods with the intent to cover three different approaches found in fantasy literature and mythology.
There are three different paths - Pact Magic, Shadow Magic and Truename Magic. Each comes with a base character class, some prestige classes (usually along the Mystic Theurge lines of mixing disciplines), some monsters, feats, magic items, NPCs, organisations (usually one for and one against the path) and, of course, a list of powers usable by that path. So far, so typical for a D&D supplement.
Pact Magic covers the interaction with mysterious othrworld powers, and the granting of gifts by those powers. Sort of Warlock-y, but also with the feel of the Elric stories - one could picture Arioch as one of the powers featured here.
So, Pact Magic introduces a new concept to allow for the powers contacted. Not gods, as these are in the realm of the Cleric. The powers are Vestiges - beings that have achieved immortality, but are banished from the realm of the immortals. They dwell yog-Sothoth-like, "in-between" the known realms. They are mysterious, dangerous but at the same time impotent without someone to act through. Amongst the long list of vestiges are some nice nods to older editions of the game - Acererak, Dahlver-Nar (whose artifactual Teeth get a re-working), Geryon and Tenebrous (the dead shadow of a dead god).
The pact-magic using class, the Binder, is able to bind one or more of these Vestiges to him for the duration of a day, some Vestiges needing a minimum class level to bind. Doing so grants a themed package of powers. Acererak, creator of the Tomb of Horrors, for example requires you to be a5th level Binder to bind. He grants the abilities to detect undead, hide from undead, speak with dead, paralyzing touch, immunity to cold and electricity and the ability to heal undead. All of these are pretty much at will/unlimited.
The Vestige idea is an interesting one, probably let down by the fact that most of the granted powers can be replicated in other ways - there are no truly exciting or unusual powers. The flexibility of being a Binder is good, although once you have bound your Vestiges for the day you are pretty much set, so if you were, for example, to bind Acererak and not encounter any undead... I have doubts, although I haven't played, that the Binder is really powerful enough compared to other classes. Of the three, though, it is the most interesting.
Shadow Magic and Truename Magic, although seperate chapters, are pretty similar. Instead of gaining spells, you gain Mysteries or Utterances, which work more like spell-like abilities. The terminolgy differs for the two paths, but the net effect is similar. Once again, as with Pact Magic, there is nothing in terms of granted powers that is excitingly different from those you can already get. Buffs and blasts, mostly, in which case you could simply play a standard caster and apply the method as fluff. Truename magic is carried out far better, as an integrated part of the magic system, in Monte Cook's Arcana Evolved.
This book also suffers the flaw, in my opinion, of other 3.x supplements, in that the prestige classes (and core classes) have too much useless fluff attached. There are too many details about "how to play this class", or "how to make a good build", which to my mind take away a lot of the fun of discovery of the game. Further, in attempting to give background details for, say, a prestige class, but at the same time keep those details vague enough to be generic makes them become repetitive space-filler and nothing more. I could probably survive with being told the a Child of Night is a shadowcaster who binds the substance of shadow to their own body to achieve a form of immortaility. The rest I can get from the game details.
Goods: some interesting ideas for Vestiges and Pact Magic.
Bad: Nothing really innovative or exciting. Too much bland flavour text. PDF almost unusably slow.