The Path of Anger by Antoine Rouaud
Book One of The Book and the Sword Series
Published by Gollancz, October 2013
Review by Mark Yon
I must admit my first impression was that this debut Fantasy novel was a book catering to the ‘I know-what-I-like’ reader. Admittedly the cover is very cool, but as we’re looking at a world of knights, Emperors and assassins, I was rather concerned that I’d think I’d read it all before.
How wrong I was.
General Dun-Cadal Daermon is a broken man, spending his days hidden away in a corner of the world drinking his life away. Whilst there he is found by Viola, a young historian from the new Empire who has found Dun-Cadal in the hope that she can discover what it was like at the time of the fall of the Emperor , from someone who was there.
More importantly, she hopes to persuade him to tell her what others have tried to discover, and failed to do. The main plot is about an attempt to recover Eraed, the Emperor’s sword, reputed to be magic, which was once allegedly hidden by Dun-Cadal when the Empire fell.
At the same time old friends of Cadal’s, who unlike him abandoned their imperialistic ideals and embraced the Republic, are being assassinated. The truth, when it is discovered, is a revelation.
The world is deliberately medieval-esque. It’s rather like the French Revolution of the 1790’s transposed to a more traditional medieval fantasy world. There is magic here, known as the animus, which people can tap into, although at a physical cost.
The world of Masalia is a world in transition: a place where we look at the formation of a Republic and the collapse of an Empire. It raises interesting questions, in the same way that the Star Wars trilogy does: when the Empire’s ended, the bad guys have been beaten: what happens next? The reader, and the people within this world, may not like all that they see.
In the end, The Path of Anger is a much richer, darker and subtler story than a mere quest novel. It is not just about the quest but also about betrayal, about friendship and about loyalty, all of which are tested along the way. It’s even about redemption, of a sort.
Interestingly, we see the main events twice – once focused around General Dun-Cadal and historian Viola, and then, in the second part, around Dun-Cadal’s apprentice, Frog. Some writers would have intertwined these two viewpoints throughout. I’m pleased to say that Antoine has taken the less exhausting route of dividing the book into two parts. Cleverly, and with the vantage of hindsight, the reader can see the same events but from different perspectives and with a different understanding as they read them again. In each part we are reminded of events in the past as well as in the present, as memories flash back to and from the present point in the plot.
I enjoyed this very much. The language, the style, the subtle characterisation that develops as you read, made this a pleasure.
Indeed, a pleasant surprise, and one which takes those usual tropes to create something that is clearly its own story. Recommended.
Mark Yon, November 2013