Paths split, sometimes to merge once more. Sometimes only to stray ever further. Friends and comrades are made, lost, and sometimes, against all odds, found again. None can predict the turns one’s life may take. None can predict the losses to come. One can only hope.
A killer seeks his path to freedom. A path away from the blood that has haunted his life.
A young warrior, journeys to a new world in search of glory, only to find himself forgotten.
A sellsword searches for an easy job.
The mercenaries of the Stone and Shield have suffered great losses, their numbers decimated, many comrades lost. The bulk of the surviving mercenaries return to their home in Frostmoor on the edge of the Norwaldian Wilderness. Eager to begin a period of rest while they winter in.
Others survive, scattered across the world. Whether arriving on the distant western shores, far from the reaches of the Emrosian Empire, or in the capital of the troubled kingdom of Talres. For some of the surviving mercenaries, there will be anything but a time of rest.
Split Paths is the second installment in Thomas Devens’ Fall of Emros series. It follows members of the Emrosian Empire, as they navigate their way through war-ridden lands and dangerous territory. The story is written in the style of Epic Fantasy, but I do not think the scope is quite enough to be considered Epic. I would categorize it more as Classic Fantasy, bordering on Epic.
Split Paths is very different than the first book in the series, Stone & Shield (which I reviewed back in May and can be found here). In that review, I praised Devens for the author’s technical writing prowess, and that is something that continued in this book, as well. Which is expected, because it is not as though authors just suddenly forget how to write (amirite?). In any case, I was happy to see Devens’s use of writing methods and story elements come together to create a book that was very structurally sound.
One area in which the author improved is with the emotional component of the narrative. I mentioned in my first review that I thought the book could use more moments of feeling, add more elements to help readers connect with the characters on an emotional level. I would say the author is fairly successful with that in this book, and I wonder if that is a purposeful choice on Devens’ part or just comes along with the territory for a book such as this. This is an entirely different setup than book 1, where there were multiple storylines but all connected to the same narrative. Split Paths is more than just multiple POVs, it is broken down into several short stories that each follows a different character in the Emrosian Empire. This naturally creates several mini-climaxes along the way as each conflict is dealt with individually. The way the book is broken down into more intimate stories might be the reason they are more emotive. Either way, this was a definite improvement over the first book.
I am a little conflicted about the overall nature of the book, though. I mentioned the technical writing style is still there and improvement with connection to the characters, but the one element I thought was missing was an overarching plot. This book reads as a collection of short stories for the most part, and, while I did enjoy that for what it was, I was looking for the disparate storylines to merge into one main narrative. In the end, there was a bit of a connection, but not enough, in my opinion, to be completely satisfied with the payoff. This felt like more of an offshoot book to give background to the series, which is not a bad thing in and of itself, just not what I was expecting. I thought I was getting more of a true sequel to Stone & Shield.
All in all, Split Paths is a well-written Classic-style Fantasy with Epic tendencies. Devens has a nice writing style that makes use of writing techniques to create stories that work really well. I was impressed with the way the author was able to add more emotion into the character arcs, and, while I was slightly disappointed that there was not enough connection between the storylines, each story was still compelling to read. Split Paths stands well on its own merits. I recommend picking it up if you are looking for a Classic-style Fantasy.