epic fantasy with a fascinating and unique cosmology

By Calvin Park
By Calvin Park
the path of flames

The Path of Flames

Phil Tucker

About

A war fueled by the dark powers of forbidden sorcery is about to engulf the Ascendant Empire. Agerastian heretics, armed with black fire and fueled by bitter hatred, seek to sever the ancient portals that unite the empire – and in so doing destroy it.

Asho–a squire with a reviled past–sees his liege, the Lady Kyferin, and her meager forces banished to an infamous ruin. Beset by tragedy and betrayal, demons and an approaching army, the fate of the Kyferins hangs by the slenderest of threads. Asho realizes that their sole hope of survival may lie hidden within the depths of his scarred soul–a secret that could reverse their fortunes and reveal the truth behind the war that wracks their empire.

Unpredictable, fast paced, and packed with unforgettable characters, The Path of Flames is the first installment in a gripping new epic fantasy series.
 

My Thoughts

If you’re looking for an epic fantasy with a fascinating and unique cosmology, The Path of Flames by Phil Tucker is the book for you. This is a novel with traditional set pieces (knights, castles, witches) set in a truly unique world. The first novel in a series, The Path of Flames sets the stage very well for what is certain to be a gripping story.

For me, the single greatest standout aspect of this book is the worldbuilding, specifically the cosmology. In this world, there are various planes of existence that are connected via solar gates. Each plane is named after the major city on that plane. Travel is possible through these gates, and the religious system is tied strongly into the belief that one “ascends” from the lower planes upward toward the highest planes and eventually through the White Gate. Conversely, the Black Gate waits below the lowest plane to claim the souls of those deemed particularly unworthy; presumably this gate opens into the equivalent of hell. 

This is so unique. While some of the planes touch upon one another and can be traveled to without gates, most require moving through a gate. I really enjoyed this unique way of organizing the cosmology of the world. Tucker has come up with something quite unique, and the belief in reincarnation and the way that it plays into the relationships between people from different planes is really fascinating. The novel is worth reading just for this worldbuilding, but there are also characters that are well fleshed out. I particularly enjoyed Kethe’s growth, though several of the other viewpoint characters have worthy—if unfinished—arcs in this first book.

Not everything worked for me, unfortunately. There were some typos throughout the manuscript that could probably be eliminated with another proof read. These weren’t egregious, but there were enough that I felt it worth mentioning. More importantly, two characters receive a power up near the end of the novel. One of them I felt was foreshadowed and explained well. The other character’s power up sort of came out of left field for me. 

I still don’t understand the “why” behind that character’s power up. While I’m sure more will be explained in subsequent books, it was a bit jarring in this book. There is also a little bit of sudden, unexpected attraction between two characters near the end of the novel that is similarly not well foreshadowed or explained. I think this can be summed up by saying that I felt the character development felt a little jarring, especially in the final third of the book.

The Path of Flames isn’t a perfect novel, but it is a lot of fun. If you’re looking for epic fantasy where empires hang in the balance, this series is for you. Flames makes some great promises and sets the board well. I look forward to getting the second book in the series to the top of my TBR. 4/5 stars.

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Calvin Park

Book reviewer at Fantasy Book Review. Host of the UNDER A PILE OF BOOKS podcast. Geek into fantasy, fountain pens, Dungeons & Dragons, and dead languages.

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