Saturday, 24 May 2014

Book Review: 'The Path of Anger' by Antoine Rouaud


UK Gollancz cover art.
 
The Good: Strong characterisation for the two leading protagonists that contributes directly to the plot’s development, inspires emotional empathy, thought-out execution of the story to tie-up the loose ends and throw in twists in a complex and changing structure.

The Bad: The world-building comes across as lack lustre, some of the flashbacks are a little clunky, and there are a handful of mistakes/errors (though I’ll put these down to ‘lost in translation’).

The Ugly Truth: A character driven struggle, fuelled by tragedy and fanned by revenge, ‘The Path of Anger’ by Antoine Rouaud puts a fresh spin on familiar staples. Whilst the master & apprentice, and the empire & republic are oft found in fantasy and sci-fi (thus drawing immediate comparison to Mr Vader, himself) ‘The Path of Anger’ approaches this with a deeper emotional connection to the characters, built upon a lifetime of friendship and hardship – taking the familiar and chartering into newfound territories. Honour, loyalty, betrayal and revenge…what more could you ask for?

For Those That Like: European-medieval fantasy, knights and dragons, kings and castles, chivalry, stories based on the fall from grace, and greater ties to religion and the meaning of life, the universe and everything. For fans of Brent Weeks, Pat Rothfuss, and (oh, all right I’ll say it!) Star Wars.

They took everything from him.
His apprentice.
His emperor.
His life…
But now he’s going to take his revenge.
Dun-Cadal Daermon was a general, once. A knight of renown, favoured of the emperor, and above all else a man of honour. But that was years ago – these days he sports a wine jug and a hangover rather than sword and armour. The Empire might be lost to the depths of history, but Dun the drunk seems determined to drown his sorrows and himself in the depths of his cups.
When Viola, a historian of new republic, comes searching for knights of the Empire, she finds more than she was expecting with Dun. Now, after what seems like an age, the Sword of the Emperors’ is on the verge of rediscovery, though what use it will be to the republic is anyone’s guess.
With memories stirred by Viola’s questions, Dun’s past has seemingly come back to plague him as flashbacks stalk his thoughts – but when a killer strikes in the fashion of an Imperial Assassin, it seems the ghosts of Dun’s past have returned to haunt him.
Summary

Antoine Rouaud’s debut ‘The Path of Anger’ takes readers on a journey to familiar shores, but it’s journey and not the destination that matters. Published by Gollancz in the UK, the novel has had a simultaeneous international release, going toe-to-toe with some of this year’s biggest releases. Combining elements of historical fiction and heroic fantasy, Rouaud has put himself on the map as a new and exciting talent – certainly one to watch out for on the horizon!

Plot

‘The Path of Anger’ tells the story of Dun-Cadal Caermon, a fallen from grace general and war hero of the now overthrown empire. When a stranger comes looking for a lost relic – the Sword of the Emperors – Dun-Cadal is dragged kicking and screaming into his memories, reliving his triumphs and failures, even as they threaten to catch up with him. All the while a bigger purpose lurks in the background – one of a book that foretells the futures and fate of mankind.

Dun’s story is a nice solid underdog tale as he fights to return to his former glory. Whilst the rebel and empire backdrop might not be the first of its kind, the characters’ individual stories and the overarching ‘book and the sword’ piece are intriguing and entertaining enough to ensure a good read.

Characters

Dun-Cadal Caermon is the star of the show. He’s a tragedy in its truest form. Once hero, now zero, we see all sides of Dun from his days of former glory to his present state of despair and drunkenness. To have such a weak hero is a nice change, and for me I found myself empathising and relating to him all the more so for this. He’s not a one-man-army as you’d see in fantasies, nor is he a daisy. He’s also not a two-dimensional cardboard cut-out or a weeping emotional complex. He’s human, and that’s something we can all understand.

Frog is just as interesting – even his name crooks a brow at the mention of it. As Dun’s apprentice, he’s determined to be the greatest knight in the world. But he’s afraid. Terrified even. And we all know what fear leads to… I jest, ish. When Frog is afraid he lashes out, and he’s grown up in fear so there’s plenty of pain to be dished out.

Other characters exist within ‘The Path of Anger’ but I only want to mention the above two as much of the page time is dedicated to them.

Setting & World Building

‘The Path of Anger’ is set in a European-medieval fantasy world with elements of France, Italy, I could argue Egypt around the Naaga, throw in a little bit of Germany and the United Kingdom…you get the idea. The ideas are there, I just couldn’t put my finger on it. The world building is lacklustre, and through the thin veneer it’s not that I could see cracks, it’s that I couldn’t see anything standout and special.

I could pick apart the Empire and Republic thing again, the master and apprentice, and even go so far as to compare the animus to the force, but by drawing these conclusions I risk denying myself of a damn good story.

Style & Craftsmanship

The story is told through the eyes of Dun primarily (I’ll say no more as per spoilers rules) via present day and memory flashbacks. It works for the most part, but there were times that the flashbacks inhibited progression, came across as clunky, and came across as a little samey (when a single scene was retold from a different perspective).

The pacing at times dropped off the curve, particularly towards the middle, but the finale was probably one of the best that I have read in a long time.

I’ll put down the odd grammatical error here and there to lost in translation, but on that note, to have taken the entire manuscript from French to English and end up with something this good…bravo!

Final Thoughts

‘The Path of Anger’ is a hugely entertaining debut and one to which I will subscribe for the rest of the series. The familiar elements made me feel at home as the reader, but there’s enough going on behind the scenes and beyond the norm to keep me hooked. I hope to have presented a balanced account in this review, but in all honesty I’m already leaning to one side on this, and I’m not ashamed to say which.

May the force – I mean animus – be with you!

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