The Left-Hand Path: Mentor by T. S. Barnett (Amazon, Goodreads)
Welcome to another installment of the Local Author Smorgasbord (yes, I never remember the previous term and change it), where we cut through the offerings of the Gulf Coast’s chefs! This week a course of urban fantasy/horror is ready to be eaten as we tuck into The Left-Handed Path: Mentor. Promising witches, magic, scares, and surprises, will Mentor teach us a new lesson or will it be the same things we learned last year?
Before we enter the classroom, let us finish our punishment by writing down the Starving Review rules one-hundred times:
- 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
Mentor is one of those interesting meals that twists on the plate, like a plate of live octopus. The chef isn’t content with traditional plating, so things work their best to put the traditional rules and tropes on their head. That isn’t to say that there isn’t a grounding in the basics, the core recipe rules of fiction that make for a good story. No, it’s more that Mentor gleefully plays with your expectations, just as it plays with the expectations of its cast of characters.
At its heart, Mentor is a recipe that puts the antagonist among the protagonists. This isn’t quite the traditional type of ‘the bad guy is the good guy’ scenario. No, this is something just a bit different, and it is exciting in that regard. It’s a distinctly different structure than I’ve seen in quite some time, like some mutant ‘tri-protagonist-antagonist-mudslide’ affair. One might flip pages, expecting for that big redemption moment in the end (or the big fall-from-grace moment), and yet … well … to say more other than this vague implication would be SPOILERS. Needless to say, it’s an intriguing element and one that the chef handles with aplomb.
What about the other core elements? World-building is handled through the titular Mentoring of one of our merry band, providing a conduit for exposition that isn’t heavy-handed or info-dump-y. As something that is most definitely character-driven, Barnett took the time to fully bake her cast, letting them rise in the oven before putting them in scene. Even most of the secondary characters have a fair bit of heft to them.
If there’s any quibble at first bite, it would be the eventual conclusion of the arc involving another antagonist. However, the truth is that this isn’t a mistake or a rushed arc. No, after eating the final bite and letting it settle, I realized what seems to be the ‘real’ antagonist is, in fact, just a smaller threat, a mere catalyst for the story, with the real antagonist (which might be considered one of two people, depending on your viewpoint and beliefs) has always been sitting in our circle of pro-antaga-trioists.
So, to close this up, The Left-Hand Path: Mentor is a twisty-turny fantasy/horror sweet roll that is good to the last bite! If you are a fan of darker fantasy tales, interesting character dramas, and stories with a touch of horror to them, I’d suggest you put this in your pantry right away. If you just can’t stand horror or prefer simple, straight-forward tales, you might want to look for another meal.
FINAL VERDICT: ***** (A twisty-turny fantasy/horror sweet roll that is good to the last bite!)