I honestly don't know why I purchased this book, since I rarely play in northern settings, but something about it just intrigued me, perhaps because I come from the north myself and wanted to see how Open Design had handled Odin, Thor and Loki. Looking at the cover, how can you not be drawn to this book?
The first two chapters present the Northlands setting and the myths on which it was built. I love the nordic mythology and have read plenty of stories in my day, however, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the designers had changed certain things, like names, to give the setting its own feel. For one, Odin and Thor are nowhere to be found, but is probably hiding beneath the names, Wotan and Donar. These two chapters will probably get the least use in my own games, but are really well-done and did inspire me while I read them (especially the strange world of Hyperborea!). I should probably also mention the awesome map whose cartographer is not mentioned in the credits (I am guessing Jonathan Roberts?)! Shame on the person who did the layout, big mistake, or maybe I am just blind?
Chapter three presents new options for players, like the various northern races, new class options (for nearly all the core classes), expanded skill options, feats, character traits and new (northern) equipment. Most of these options are useful in games outside the Northlands, and I just want to mention a couple of my favorite options. First there are the two Hyperborean races, the dayborn and the nightborn, these have a really cool Sword & Sorcery flavor and will definitely find their way into one of my games (they felt slightly like those two races in H.G. Well's The Time Machine). I also want to mention the two new sorcerer bloodlines, Giant and Hyperborean. The giant is just shear genius and I love the flavor and especially the signature ability at 20th level. The achievement feats are just cool and if one dares introduce them into a game, will offer so much flavor and challenge to the players. The equipment section is probably my least favorite, but that is probably because it will see the least use in my games as they are highly tied to the Northlands setting. And really, snowballs deal 1d3 nonlethal damage? I could really do without the whole snowball theme that is scattered throughout the book.
Next up is chapter 4, magic of the north. Having read the small section on Grudge magic, I am still not sure why it is there or what purpose it serves, but I did like the rune magic section. The spells were not that interesting and I could probably have done without half of them, but a few were really cool and inspiring, especially Jotun's Jest (which causes a weapon to increase in size, becoming fit for a colossal creature) and Wolfsong (which allows a person to howl like a wolf, sending a message that can be heard up to 5 miles away, outdoors, of course). Most of the magic items are highly tied to the Northlands setting and even carry nordic-sounding names such as Hringhorni, Lævateinn, black lavvu, eisenscham and raidho sled. There were a couple that I didn't understand the purpose behind, like the World Tree (I understand the whole Yggdrasil thing, but to make it an artefact? I think not.). How is this supposed to be introduced and even used in a setting? I am also unsure about the Warning Wolfband, while I really like the idea (the wearer cannot be surprised), I dont get the pricing of this one (321,300gp). How did the designer arrive at this number? Rather make it an artifact or lower the price considerable. I would definitely go for the last option, as the ring isn't that powerful when compared to other items such as a Vorpal blade. Among the items that I thought were really cool, were the feather of huginn (break the feather and create a raven messenger) and the bitter horn (a drinking horn that can tell friend from foe, how cool is that!?)
The last two chapters presents optional rules for the frozen north and, of course, a bunch of new (or rather old) monsters. The rules chapter was well written and useful if you are playing in the Northlands setting, but also a little crammed and chaotic in its structure (while reading about natural hazards, we are certainly presented with Fate Afflictions and then, the hazards continue afterwards, as if it was just thrown in there at random). The monsters were just cool and useful. The only monster that I thought was missing was a low-level monster (CR 1-3). Aside from that, we get monsters for both epic, high-level and mid-level games.
Overall, a surprisingly good book with lots (and I do mean lots!) of options for both player and GM. My biggest concern is the layout. There are lots (and I do mean lots!) of small mistakes scattered throughout the book (spelling mistakes, font mistakes, font size mistakes, text placement mistakes etc.). It would have greatly benefitted from a couple of proofreaders before hitting the market. I own the softcover, so I am particular sorry to see so many mistakes, as it can't be updated along the way (as a pdf can).
I am going to settle on a 3.5 star verdict, but since the material is just so good, I am going to round up to 4 for the purpose of this format.
[4 of 5 Stars!]