All literary cuisine represents a work of passion from their authors. Often this passion leads to excellence in the wordsmithing kitchen or, at the least, allows the reader to overlook most minor oversights for love of the story, both their own and the love cooked into it by the authors themselves. However, sometimes, despite that passion, a literary meal can arrive on the reader’s plate half-cooked and no amount of love can overcome a meal in such a condition. You can never argue that Mr. Rajah is not passionate about his book and its subjects but does that passion lead to success?
Before we answer that question, let’s put our hands over our hearts and recite the Starving Review pledge:
- I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre.
- I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible.
The Lost Path represents another of those books I have come across in my short career sampling literary cuisine that are filled with tremendous passion, that I want so desperately to love, but unravels at a core essential level to the point that the food sours in my mouth. With that being said, let’s start off with what ingredients do hit the spot right before we take a look at how things went wrong. Obviously, the first thing right *is* the obvious love and investment the author has in his characters and the world he is writing. The main protagonists, especially, benefit from this and do feel to the reader as fully realized characters, for the most part.
On top of that, Mr. Rajah has, on the macro level, laid the tracks for an interesting world. He combines fringe scientific theories from throughout history with mythology to create an interesting alternate-history Earth with strange powers and exotic beings. As with his main characters, there’s a lot of potential in this world. There are a plethora of flavors hinted at and waiting to bust loose to fill the reader’s palate.
Where things go sour is in the writing, style, and execution of the recipe these characters and this world lay out.
Now I am not a Grammar Nazi. Small typos and occasional grammatical mistakes never make their way into my reviews. However, when taken to continual extremes, it rips the reader straight out of immersion as constant sour notes to their meal and this is certainly the case for The Hidden Path. Mid-paragraph dialogue shifts, sentence fragments, incorrectly used words, and the like run rampant in the text. All of that makes not only for a continual distraction but at times seem to actually fight the reader, making comprehension in spaces difficult.
What really brings the book down is a double-punch I have encountered before on my literary plate and it’s a particularly stomach-wrenching one: a combination of erratic pacing with a wide-ranging third person omniscient point of view. There are stretches where Mr. Rajah shows an excellent command of pacing, where the plot and action flow well, especially in the first act. However, once the main characters enter the second act and their scenery changes drastically (the best I can do with being Spoiler-free), the pace suddenly lurches to a slug’s crawl as we are given over to info-dump after info-dump. To Mr. Rajah’s credit, these info-dumps are integrated into a teacher-student environment but they are still very long and sluggishly paced with little action or characterization interposed between or during segments to liven them up. I am not a strict ‘show not tell’ fanatic (there are points where you need to tell, after all) but this is just far too much at once. It certainly doesn’t help that the big action finale has most of the action stripped away by cutting to another slow-paced series of info dumps during it.
The pacing issue is amplified by the wandering point of view. It is hard to build tension when the reader receives random insights from characters that hammers out their motivations before you even have a chance to doubt them. There are times when this wandering point of view breaks dramatic tension or suddenly slows the pace as we get sudden blurbs of information about characters that are either minor or that info is totally tangential to the current situation. It just breaks down the pace and, on top of that, the overall sense of reader immersion, something critical to build up when dealing with this kind of genre.
Where does this leave Lifeforce sitting in this reviewer’s stomach? To be honest, it wavered between the ‘acceptable but needs work’ and the ‘do not endorse’ category for most of the evening since I finished it. What made up my mind, what caused my gut to shift one way over the other, was the ending. Crafting an ending is as hard as making that initial hook at the start of a book and it’s harder when you need to segue into another book in a series. Unfortunately, The Hidden Path‘s ending is rushed and abrupt. A huge conflict central to the plot of the book and only coming into the limelight in the last act is essentially written off with exposition so that, I can only imagine, the next book can concentrate on the other huge conflict introduced in the final act. After how well-set up that first conflict was, it did it tremendous disservice to watch it evaporate, especially with the big action scene that was aborted in relation to it.
In the end of the day, Lifeforce: The Hidden Path strives to provide a passionate new set of flavors for the sci-fi and martial arts genres and, in some ways, it succeeds but ultimately hamstrings itself with a generally poorly crafted book. Intriguing ideas are held down by poor writing styles, erratic pacing, and ruined dramatic tension. Still, there is a diamond in the rough here and I would love to see Mr. Rajah refine and polish this recipe to become the top-notch meal it could be.
FINAL VERDICT: ** (A recipe bursting with potential held back by a trifecta of rough writing, bad pacing, and a flat finale.)