Mark Lawrence's Reviews > The Path of Flames

The Path of Flames by Phil Tucker
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Path of Flames came 2nd in the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 2016. Three hundred books were entered!

I can see why the blogger who put it forward was enthusiastic about it. It’s an enthusiastic book that gets a lot into its sizeable word count (~250K).

It opens with a battle scene in which we’re treated to monsters, magic, and mass carnage. I had some trouble visualising the scene in places but for the rest of the book Tucker paints a full picture that never left me trying to puzzle things out.

At first sight Path of Flames is not a very sophisticated novel. It has an 80s fantasy feel to it and manages to bring in a great number of the “standard” elements of the genre. However, it does what it does well, and there are moments of both depth and genuine emotion that are also handled well. Lady Iskra, mother and widow, is a well written character who feels real.

Path of Flames is an exciting fantasy romp and it’s very easy to let yourself be swept along by the story and be thoroughly entertained. And for a lot of the time I was.

The chapters move between six (I’m guessing) points of view and for much of the time five of those are in the same place doing the same thing. The sixth, Tharok, is an odd one. Tharok’s story is entertaining too. He’s an orc-thing and his rapid rise through the orc-thing ranks is charted through the book in parallel to the story of the humans. The odd thing is that it really could have been an entirely separate book. The threads never join and there are very few hints that they take place in the same world.

There’s plenty of magic in the story, both in the “casting black flames at you” style and the more passive “teleport gates” and “floating cities” style. While none of it feels particularly new or fresh it does feel comfortable and well handled.

A niggle for those who have read a lot of fantasy may be just how many tropes are called upon. There’s also … I’m not sure what to call it … maybe a YA vibe or something similar. Our three youngest protags turn out to be fearsome warriors variously stuffed to the gills with mysterious and unexpected magic powers, or sporting important magic swords that they essentially found lying about.

The focus for the five human points of view is a tight one, bound for most of the book to two castle locations. Again the castles and the life within them feel familiar, and again, well done. There is a tournament which if you’re in a jaded mood you could roll your eyes at, but I actually really enjoyed. I’m a sucker for goodie knights vs baddie knights and all the arms and armour descriptions. It was exciting and entertaining.

As things progress our young heroes level up swiftly and a magical mystery builds with helpfully discovered secret libraries to fill in the blanks. We get a nice battle to end with, balancing out the opening battle, and our heroes become near super-heroes, cutting swaths through the foe to reach the boss-fights.

The ending is open with plenty to resolve in the following books. I never felt bored!

So, to conclude: don’t concentrate on my fault finding. With an open mind and your inner child(hood fantasy reader) turned up high, this could well be one of your favourite reads.

Read about the SPFBO competition here

See ratings and reviews of all the 2016 finalists here:

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Reading Progress

October 28, 2016 – Shelved
November 22, 2016 – Started Reading
November 22, 2016 –
0.0% "Exciting first chapter, though I am having problems visualizing how the squires are approaching the sin casters and why they aren't full of arrows..."
December 12, 2016 –
37.0% "Slow to get its hooks into me but I really enjoyed the tournament. It's starting to come together!"
December 25, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-16 of 16 (16 new)

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message 1: by Dawn (new) - added it

Dawn Campbell adding it to my want pile... dude looks depressed =) and anemic

message 2: by Ryan (last edited Dec 26, 2016 04:18PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ryan Mueller I loved this one, and I agree with everything stated in this review (as well as the Fantasy Faction review). The Path of Flames doesn't really break new ground in the genre, but it is great at what it set out to do: tell a classic fantasy story very well.

For me, none of the individual pieces were daringly original, but the way Tucker combined them felt fresh.

I feel kind of bad that Pornokitsch had to decide between two very deserving candidates (though I haven't read Senlin Ascends yet, I expect to enjoy it). From what I've gathered, Senlin Ascends is more original, but The Path of Flames is likely to sit in that sweet spot for fans of big commercial fantasy with a few YA tendencies (think Wheel of Time, anything by Brandon Sanderson, etc.).

That's a pretty large group of readers, and I could see it doing quite well. As an added bonus, Phil Tucker seems like a great guy on social media, and he's a very fast writer (without any obvious sacrifices in quality).

Ryan Mueller As a side note, have you considered making a change to the SPFBO by introducing some kind of wildcard? That way, when a reviewer has such a tough decision, they can nominate one other book to be the wildcard entry, which I'm sure Pornokitsch would have done with Senlin Ascends.

I imagine you could work it so that you don't have to nominate a wildcard, but if you feel that two books are both very deserving of a chance, then you could.

message 4: by Mark (new) - added it

Mark Lawrence Ryan wrote: "As a side note, have you considered making a change to the SPFBO by introducing some kind of wildcard? That way, when a reviewer has such a tough decision, they can nominate one other book to be th..."

I think then we might just end up with twenty finalists... There are lots of tough calls in any such undertaking.

message 5: by G.R. (new) - added it

G.R. Matthews And twenty finalists would be too much. Even with just 10 (9 if you discount the websites winner) that is still a lot of books to read in full and review. We, Fantasy-Faction (and thank you for mentioning my review) have a team of 3 reading the final nine and even that is probably not enough. We will finish on time, even early, but the SPFBO is large commitment of time and responsibility.

I like the idea and there are books in our cohort that I would, maybe, have put ahead of some of the other finalists (that one or other of reviewers wouldn't have). It is all subjective, but the nature of having to make a choice adds impetus and drama - it also forces us to think carefully.

Some of the books 'eliminated' were excellent and we've tried to make that clear in all our reviews.

message 6: by সাদমান (last edited Apr 28, 2017 10:36PM) (new)

সাদমান হুসাইন The guy on the cover looks too much like the protagonist of the Witcher series.

message 7: by Mark (last edited Dec 31, 2016 12:43PM) (new) - added it

Mark Lawrence সাদমান wrote: "The guy on the cover looks too much like the protagonist of the Wither series."

Not to mention ... Elric of Melnibone.

message 8: by Lourdes (new) - added it

Lourdes Sounds good to me I'll check it out. Thanks!

Jason I've read this, and your review is spot on! I believe the series is at #5 now, and judging by the cover, must centre around the annoying comic relief (there always has to be one, doesn't there?)

message 10: by Bear (new) - rated it 5 stars


message 11: by Adam (new) - rated it 5 stars

Adam I love this series. The 'unrelated' character (Tharok) that Mark mentioned becomes a major focal point as the series progresses, and I found myself looking forward to his chapters the most. Tharok resembles a known race, but has just enough enhanced traits to separate him from being too familiar to the reader.

The third book, "The Siege of Abythos," is likely my favorite of the bunch so far, but the high quality of writing stays consistent through each novel. This story really feels like one long story split into five parts, with some entries picking up within a few minutes of where the previous book ended. I believe Phil is about to publish the final book of the series in the next couple of weeks and I'm excited to see how it concludes. The previous entry ended on a heck of a cliffhanger, so the waiting game has been... not fun. Lucky for us, he's a very prolific writer and it's never a long wait between publish dates. (All in all, I believe he wrote & self-published all five lengthy books in just over a year.)

Phil writes exciting battle scenes, engaging characters, and just enough magic to keep some plot developments unpredictable. While the story can rely on fantasy tropes, he mixes these ingredients in a way that feels both nostalgic and fresh. The pace is brisk, and there was rarely a lull in the saga. The writing is very accessible and I suffered from many late nights where I wanted to squeeze in one more chapter... just one more... okay, last one, I swear.

I've been spending most of 2017 reading some of the top entries in last year's #SPFBO, and I agree with its placement at the top of the order. "The Path of Flames" (along with Jonathan French's "Grey Bastards") are among my very favorites I've read in the past few years. Fun, fun stuff. Check it out.

Kitvaria Sarene Can I just copy your review? It works so much better than mine... ;)

message 13: by Jon (new) - added it

Jon Adams I just fell down the Lawrence Blog rabbit hole for 30 minutes due to that one link.

message 14: by Mark (new) - added it

Mark Lawrence Jon wrote: "I just fell down the Lawrence Blog rabbit hole for 30 minutes due to that one link."

:) The system works.

You can never leave.

Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin I love this book! Need to finish the other books 😊

message 16: by Jenny (new)

Jenny I'm currently reading the bundled version of all the books in the series. It's a good read.

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