Review: The Path of Flames by Phil Tucker

Series: Chronicles of the Black Gate #1
Published by: self-published
ISBN: 1530935660
ISBN 13: 9781530935666
Published: May 2016
Pages: 622
Format reviewed: ePub for SPFBB 2016
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five

Like my previous review, this was read for the final round of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 2016 hosted by Mark Lawrence, more of which can be read here.

This is the type of book that throws aside any misunderstood preconceptions about self-publishing. This has everything – history presented without info-dumping, and yet you easily understand a great deal about their history, even though there’s numerous races of people involved. The numerous races have a caste tier system, reincarnation is discussed over what the majority believe and how this influences how they interact and treat those around them… and of course there are the finely tuned and played politics that are just as easily understood.

The book starts with an epic battle, in which we see an important man (Lord Kyferin) slain, and it’s the aftermath that is what causes much of the plot as we follow what this means for countless people. We see how religion ties into the lives of multiple classes of people, and what it means in the bigger picture.

We move through the novel through multiple points of view, and each feel worthwhile – at no stage do you feel annoyed that you’ve left a character you’d rather be seeing more of, and instead are stuck with someone boring. We follow Asho – someone from the lowest class, who rises through believable and dramatic turns of events to be a person of importance. There’s Kethe, Lord Kyferin’s daughter who aspires to be a knight, and her Lady Iskra, her mother, also has POV chapters and is just as strong, and supports Kethe’s journey.

Tharok is a fierce warrior that experiences berserker type rages – and his tusks and body build certainly makes his entire warrior path the more believable and interesting. Within his race of people there’s another class structure, and the warring tribes have their own loyalties or disgust based on who they’re viewing. When he is captured by a group who aren’t on his side at all, his story gets increasingly interesting as he has to use newly found items of value to his best value.

There’s Tiron, a former knight and follower of Lord Kyferin, who is not the only person in this book who hates the former Lord with a vengeance. His characterisation feels utterly real to read as his reactions craft his character, but his plotline is possibly one of the weaker elements of this otherwise engaging book. Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty complex and tortured and such, and it’s slowly dealt out as one of the more mysterious plot points where you have to keep reading to find out what happened… but it was the slower plot and characters to win my affection.

Then there’s Audsley, a Magister, who has a fire cat that can fly, and is one of the few friends to Lady Iskra’s young son who is soon more alone than a young boy should be. Audsley is one we know little of for the first half of the book, and yet it works.

The characters are what drive this novel – though the plot is equally as interesting. Magic exists in this world, though some (or all?) of it has been gone for a long, long time. It makes a resurgence in this novel much to the disbelief and horror it’s used against. Berserker rage (or something like it) is also an interesting plot point of this novel as it appears in some surprising places.

A lot of this we’ve all seen before, and yet it proves the point that anything that is done well is captivating – no matter how many times we may see it. This book also wins bonus points for me thanks to its multiple strong female characters – and they’re firmly self-motivated and empowered. Even amongst the barbaric Tharok plotline, there are still strong and intelligent female characters who hold their own.

Of course this novel could use an editor to tighten it up here or there, but it certainly doesn’t need much work done at all. Personal preference would also call for a different cover. Overall this novel is engaging and had me looking up whether there was to be another book before I was even a third of the way through – and it was to find both books two and three are already published – which is excellent news. I firmly rank this amongst Michael J. Sullivan, Michael McClung, and Mitchell Hogan. And I can’t wait to read book two.

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