A little while ago, several bloggers started talking about the startling high quality of a new self published fantasy book on the market, The Path of Flames (PoF) by Phil Tucker. People were calling it the next Blood Song, lauding its exciting plot and prose and claiming that it was impressively well-edited for a self published book. I am always excited to be on the first wave of the next big thing, so I decided to check out The Path of Flames for myself so I could weigh in on the discussion. Now having read it, my feelings on this new fantasy are mixed.
Let’s start with the easiest point first, people who are claiming that The Path of Flames is extremely well-edited are reading a different book. The Path of Flames is perfectly readable, and I did not find that the errors detracted too heavily from the experience, but there were a lot of them. Some of them are particularly egregious, such as a chapter near the end having half of an entire page repeated without spacing. However, PoF has a lot of other things going for it that make it easy to power through the small annoyances and enjoy the book as a whole.
The story reads almost like a love child of Game of Thrones and The Way of Kings, even if it doesn’t quite live up to the standard that either of its parents had. PoF is stuffed to the brim with political intrigue, family rivalries, and interesting characters. The story follows five POVs in a group, and one who is off doing his own thing. The group is comprised of two members of a royal family, and three of their staff, and it is nice to have most POV’s together for once. In addition, the setting is a medieval and magic rich world organized around seven cities and races. The driving force in PoF is reincarnation, subservience, and knowing your place. See, the people of PoF believe that there are seven races of people, ranging from the bottom-tier slave race to the top-tier leader race. If you live a good and wonderful life, when you die you will be reincarnated as one race up, or if you live a terrible and disobedient life you will be dropped down a race. This leads to a really interesting take on racism, as all the characters are indoctrinated to just assuming that individuals of lower tier races should just accept their lot and wait to be incarnated higher, and those in the higher tiers are just naturally superior. This system is shaken up when the 2nd to last tier decides that maybe this isn’t the best system for them and rebels, rediscovers magic, and starts melting faces. This is where the story begins, and it blooms into a lightning fast tale that hits hard and often. Tucker has incredible pacing, never quite letting you have a moment to get back on solid ground or take a breath. Solving each life threatening issue begets a new one, and you will be constantly wondering what will happen next.The world is also fascinating, with a lot of detailed lore, culture, and magic. While some of the portal magic was not fully explained, it did a great job rousing my curiosity.
On the other hand, there are some other issues beyond the editing that plague The Path of Flames. The biggest issue the book suffers from is ‘too much tell, not enough show.’ Tucker claims constantly that the lowest tier race lives a life of awful slavery, but we almost never see any examples of this. He also claims that a side character is a sadistic bastard that everyone hates (and much of the plot revolves around everyone’s relation to the character), but only ever gives one very specific example of his wrong doing. I liked Tucker’s ideas throughout the book, but I needed a little more proof to back it up. In addition, I loved the characters – but some of them had strange tonal shifts that I found confusing. It seems like Tucker has a little difficulty maintaining a consistent character voice.
The Path of Flames is a good book, but it could be a great one with a little more work. It is held back by poor editing, needs more show, less tell, and tonal consistency to reach the quality achieved by other stand out self-published books like Blood Song and Riyria. Overall, it was still a very enjoyable book and I definitely plan on reading the sequels. Hopefully the future books will address these issues and achieve greatness.
Rating: The Path of Flames – 7.0/10