The Path of Anger is an impressive debut. Antoine Rouaud has created an enthralling novel in which the things you think you know aren’t necessarily so.
The Empire has fallen. In its place the Republic has risen. This doesn’t sit well with everyone. For instance, the Fangolin monks don’t like it since people are choosing not to follow their teachings anymore. One of those beliefs is that the destiny of mankind has been recorded in a book, a book that has been lost for centuries. The very concept of free will is frowned upon.
Dun-Cadal Daermon was a general in the Imperial army, some would say the greatest of his generation, who devoted his life to defending the Empire and his Fangolin faith.. Now he spends his time in taverns getting drunk in the southern city of Masalia where he mourns the fall of the Empire and the death of his apprentice, waiting to die. He was rumored to have stolen the Emperor’s sword when the Empire fell. From time to time he sends treasure hunters to the eastern parts of the kingdom, telling him that’s where he’s hidden it.
The book opens with an attractive young historian from the capital finding him. She’s also interested in the sword. But her interest goes far beyond treasure hunting. At first Dun-Cadal tries to brush her off.
There’s a major holiday coming up, though, and this year all the representatives are meeting in Masalia. Dun-Cadal realizes he knows many of them. They were once the generals and nobles who fought alongside him trying to preserve the Empire. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Mostly.
No sooner do the representatives begin arriving than they start dying. Someone dressed as the late Emperor’s personal assassin is targeting them. The post of assassin was one Dun-Cadal held before being promoted to general.
Now Dun-Cadal finds himself being drawn back into battle. He may get his death wish sooner than he thought.
The Path of Anger is divided into two parts. The second is slightly longer than the first. Much of the novel is flashbacks. The flashbacks show major events in Dun-Cadal’s life, events that eventually lead to the fall of the Empire. Rouaud uses this approach to great effect, foreshadowing and dropping clues as to what is about to happen, only many of the clues aren’t what they seem.
There’s big twist at the end of the first part. Much of the second part consists of learning many of the things you thought you learned in the first part are wrong. The flashbacks here cover many of the same events as in the first half of the book. Only these flashbacks show you what really happened.
The characters are complex and fully realized, three dimensional people. They grow and change throughout the course of the book. With a general as one of the central characters, you can expect a lot of action. You won’t be disappointed. Rouaud handles the combat scenes well, whether the combat is between armies or hated enemies with personal vendettas to settle. He also ratchets up the tension with each chapter, especially near the end, when all secrets have been revealed and all that’s left is revenge.
Rouaud is French, and there are times, especially in the early chapters where the Republic has an air of the French Revolution about it. I would have preferred a little more emphasis on this aspect of the culture.
Another thing that impressed me was the translation. Tom Clegg has done an excellent job with the translation. The prose flowed and had a cadence and at times lyricism to it that I wouldn’t have expected to translate well.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Path of Anger. I’ll be looking for the next volume in this series. You can read the first chapter here.
I would like to thank the David Gemmell Awards for sending me the review copy. A shorter version of this review appeared on the Gemmell Awards site.