Review: The Path of Anger / Author: Antoine Rouaud / Publisher: Gollancz / Release Date: Out Now
The debut novel of French author Antoine Rouaud, The Path of Anger is the first instalment of a planned high fantasy trilogy named The Book and the Sword.
A decade after the fall of the Empire, Dun-Cadal Daermon – once its greatest general – is now a bitter drunk haunting the taverns of a remote port city. Spending his time recounting tales of past glories, he is encountered by young historian Viola who is searching for the last Emperor’s sword. But when one by one the new Republic’s founders begin to be murdered in the style of the Imperial Assassin, old ghosts swiftly resurface, harking back to the general’s time fighting the rebellion, and what it all has to do with a mysterious boy named Frog.
The Path of Anger is something of an old-school fantasy novel: big on events and plot, less so on characterisation. Two parallel plotlines dominate: the events of the present where a series of assassinations draws out the past sins of the victims, and flashback sequences between ten and thirteen years previously where a rebellion against imperial oppression in a marshland settlement grows into a full-scale revolution that ends up overthrowing the empire. The circumstances behind this form the main crux of the story, and while the significance of the titular book and sword is brought up late in the tale, their link to events is more than tangential and the mythology behind their creation is an intriguing one.
Other than protagonists Dun-Cadal and Frog, very little effort is made to develop characters, even the nominal antagonist whose introduction as such is a little jarring. It’s a common (and often valid) criticism of fantasy that its female characters are little more than plot devices, and this is sadly no exception. We get a greater sense of who Viola’s near-mute guardian is than the woman herself whose very presence initiates the plot, while Frog’s childhood love Esyld has no personality of her own and serves as little other than a perceived paragon of virtue and the last remaining link to his lost innocence. Additionally, the book’s greatest descriptive language is lavished on how beautiful they both are. Granted, it’s a far cry from, say, the hateful misogyny of Brent Weeks’ Night Angel trilogy, but it still reduces the women to ideals rather than real people.
Rouaud often jumps between various characters’ viewpoints from one paragraph to the next – a style known as head-hopping – meaning that at times a certain amount of concentration is required to keep track of whose thoughts we are currently privy to. This also means that certain plot twists are not hidden because of a character’s lack of knowledge, but simply because of the author's decision to keep us in the dark. Given that one of the book’s key observations is that events can have wildly different interpretations depending on your perspective, it’s an unfortunate creative choice that robs revelations of true impact. (Although on that subject, there is one reveal that utilises a crafty trick of concealing one plot twist directly behind another.)
As a debut novel, The Path of Anger is competent, certainly, but a little generic for the first instalment of an epic fantasy trilogy. Despite this, it’s still engaging enough to make you want to know what happens next.