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Revenge and Tragedy,
This review is from: The Path of Anger: The Book and the Sword: 1 (Hardcover)
The Path of anger is a fantasy novel that wears the `fantastic' lightly. If a fantasy story needs magic, then this has it, but used sparingly. `The Animus' is the manipulation of the Air element as practiced by the Knights of the Empire, and, for sure, there are 2 strange creatures that give an otherworldly feel to the narrative. But it is not the fantasy aspects that determine or drive the story. This reads more like a historical fable in the form of a revenge tragedy.
So Rouaud is not fixated on the usual medieval period on which most comparable fantasies are based, particularly those from USA and UK writers. Instead his has a wholly (continental) European, feel, in the way that say, a French or Scandinavian film will differ from its Hollywood remake.
The Path of Anger is set in an un-named Empire and its subsequent post-revolution Republic, and the imaginative interweaving of different European eras and cultures builds a unique world for us. Elements of the 1st French republic and empire, Italian internecine struggles, a dash of `Ruritanian' pomp may be a puzzling or even disappointing context for readers expecting the normal fantasy world to be built and explained for them. What? No Maps? No Dynastic family trees?
But stick with it. These are not needed to locate the action. We are offered hints and speculations to build our own picture. Epochs and eras have merged into something truly strange, beautiful and memorable. Togas and tri-corn hats, spectacles chain mail and silk, oil lamps and armchairs, and an ancient blade of power that is described as `a rapier'...
This European feel is underpinned by the dialogue. Speech patterns and style (apart from one jarring USA idiom early in Chapter 1) are not deliberately elliptical, indicating perhaps a careful translation from a more `philosophical' register in the original language. Complex emotions can be expressed.
So Rouaud confounds expectations and offers a character driven narrative. We have the careworn knight-general Dun-Cadal, possibly the last decent man in a corrupt empire, and his strange protégé-squire, `Frog, whose mysterious past is slowly and shockingly revealed in part two. Part one tells the tale of the Empire's violent overthrow from Dun-Cadal's point of view. Part 2 belongs to Frog. Each tells the same story, but which is true? Events are overlapped, incidents told and retold to reveal hidden meanings, to expose betrayals and so to try and avoid the vengeance of the path of anger. Sharp visceral bouts of well-wrought violence ensure this latter hope is in vain.
A subplot about the search for a book of destiny and sword of power are additional threads which are used to help the development of the relationship, and perhaps to enable a sequel.
Ultimately, though, the stark truth of the real basis of the relationship between Dun-Cadal and Frog becomes clear, and it is not a comfortable or comforting one. I loved it.