We have entered round two of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. To avoid cruelly stretching things out, we’ll be posting individual book reviews as we eliminate them rather than waiting till we’ve finished them all. Please note that we’re not reading (or eliminating) these in any particular order.

If you’re going to start a book, start with action. That advice, though I can’t remember who said it first, just that everyone has said it since, is something Phil Tucker has taken to heart and it works.

The first chapter is exciting. We’re dropped right into the middle of a battle in a war that might have been going on for quite some time. Asho is squire to Lord Kyferin and they appear to dislike each other, but both are stubborn and fuelled by honour. Some of this dislike stems from Asho’s heritage. As a Bythian, a ‘lower’ race, whose very souls are poised on the threshold the Black Gate and damnation, he shunned and treated poorly by all around him.

Religion plays a strong background part to the story as it unfolds. A simple dichotomous system between heaven and hell, the White Gate and the Black Gate. Ascension is the desired goal of all enlightened people once they die. Magicians of the Black Gate are called Sin Eaters and those of the White Gate are Virtues. It all reminded me of the Dragonlance magician/religion divisions in this regard, a stark and obvious distinction between good and evil.

There are other characters whose viewpoints we follow and who flesh out the world. Kethe, the daughter of a Duke Kyferin, is a strong female lead who has faced fear and terror in her past. Determined not to be a victim anymore and to be in control of her own life, she is training in secret to be a knight. Even more wondrous adventures await her as the story progress towards its conclusion.

Audsley is a scholar and one of the more interesting characters even if he has fewer chapters dedicated to him. Not a Knight or warrior, not a man of magic or bravery, he is subsumed with the desire for knowledge and to serve the Lady Kyferin. When his chapters arose I was happier than with some of the other characters. In one of his earlier chapters he spots something that he has predicted, the coming of a stone cloud. Now this was a really intriguing concept and I was looking forward to finding out what happened with it. Sadly, as far as I recall, not a lot. It was ignored as the story gained pace, but there were allusions to it elsewhere, so maybe it will come back in books two and three.

Lady Kytherin is another viewpoint we follow. She is a planner and a manipulator, practical and pragmatic, trying to save lives and care for her family. A welcome change of pace. We also see the story through the actions of a disgraced knight who has sworn revenge against the Lady Kyferin.

More interestingly, and seemingly not linked to the main plot, is that of Tharok, a Kragh. This race, the Kragh, reminded me somewhat of the Orcs from World of Warcraft, though the author has created more depth and interest by separating this race into High and Lowland types. As a Highland Kragh, Tharok looks down upon the Lowland variety. I hope these two storylines join up in book two.

I’m going to describe this book as epic commercial fantasy, and that is not disparaging it in anyway. The plot and characters follow a familiar pattern through the novel and you could almost play fantasy-bingo as you go. Magic Sword – Check. Wise person who keeps secrets – Check. Orphan – Check. Magic Jewel (Crown) – Check. Dragon – Check. Betrayal by a family member – Check. Dark character with honour – Check. Good character who really isn’t – Check. A character discovers a secret power – Check.

The thing is, it does these things quite well and the story doesn’t suffer too much. There are moments of real pathos between the characters that brighten the story and give some depth to those involved, especially in the last twenty percent of the book.

The key to this book: it does the traditional fantasy thing quite well. The characters are generally interesting. The world is interesting and the magic has some intriguing possibilities. There are some excellent set pieces that build the excitement and interest. One pedantic criticism I have, and it only appears in one chapter, is that archers ‘fire’ their bows and ballista. I can live with that, it just knocked me sideways a little. It is probably just me. Move along.

I can see this book doing well, selling well and people looking forward to the sequel. How to sum it up? Standard, traditional fantasy with a cast of characters, magic and a dragon. And if that’s what you want from fantasy, then this is probably the book for you.


By Geoff Matthews

G. R. Matthews began reading in the cot. His mother, at her wits end with the constant noise and unceasing activity, would plop him down on the soft mattress with an encyclopaedia full of pictures then quietly slip from the room. Growing up, he spent Sunday afternoons on the sofa watching westerns and Bond movies after suffering the dual horror of the sounds of ABBA and the hoover (Vacuum cleaner) drifting up the stairs to wake him in the morning. When not watching the six-gun heroes or spies being out-acted by their own eyebrows he devoured books like a hungry wolf in the dead of winter. Beginning with Patrick Moore and Arthur C Clarke he soon moved on to Isaac Asimov. However, one wet afternoon in a book shop in his hometown, not far from the standing stones of Avebury, he picked up the Pawn of Prophecy and started to read - and now he writes fantasy! Seven Deaths of an Empire coming from Solaris Books, June 2021. Agent: Jamie Cowen, Ampersand Agency. You can follow him on twitter @G_R_Matthews or visit his website at www.grmatthews.com.

One thought on “The Path of Flames by Phil Tucker – SPFBO Review”
  1. Phil Tucker did an amazing job.. I’ve been exploring self-published recently and was blown away by this. The following books get better as well :O

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