THE JAGUAR PATH by Anna Stephens (BOOK REVIEW)
Whereas this will be a spoiler-free review, there will naturally be spoilers for book one, The Stone Knife, so if you haven’t read that, y’know, what are you even doing with your life.
Xessa had always been willing to die for her people, her city, her homeland. Now she had to live for them, and she was discovering that it was much, much harder.
Yep, here we go again. Anna Stephens, that serial heartbreaker, is back once again with the good stuff. Trauma and emotional heartbreak.
The Jaguar Path is the second book in Stephen’s The Songs of the Drowned trilogy, and picks up two years after the tumultuous and world-rending events of the first book, The Stone Knife. Events are, for the most part, focused on the Singing City; the cloying Source, the burning training yard, the close and heavy fighting pit. It’s a much more claustrophobic read, these spaces pressing on the reader as the pressures of this world do our characters. We’ve shifted from the widespread events of the first book, to this gathering in one place as Stephens brings her players together ready for what will be the final play. But don’t worry, we’ll have plenty to face before we get there.
As ever with Stephens, this is not a straight-forward story of good versus bad. The heroes against the villains. Life is not so black and white, and Stephens gleefully mirrors that in her world, forcing the reader to question well, who is the hero here? This person is obviously a villain, but wait I feel kind of sorry for them now. And this absolute tool of a person is doing something actually kind of good? And why are you doing that, you were so good in the last book!! And before you know it you’re shouting out loud at fictional characters. People change. People are moulded by their environment and their experiences, and sometimes people will break if they cannot change. Amongst many things, The Jaguar Path is certainly an exploration of that liminal space in a person’s psyche; how much am I able to bend and flex to this new world without utterly shattering and losing everything I thought I was. Some people aren’t as flexible as they think.
The eponymous path of the Jaguar is the Tokob path for warriors and The Jaguar Path is very much an exploration of the myriad different ways people can walk such a path. When your home has been forcibly taken from you an destroyed, when you’ve been violently removed and separated from your loved ones, when you’ve been enslaved into an entirely different culture and faith; do you fight against that? And how? Should the path of the Jaguar be an open, wide avenue down which you march with blade in hand? The commentary on Empire and colonisation that Stephens began in The Stone Knife is continued here as we explore the after-shocks. She handles it all with incredible nuance and respect, reflecting so many different sides to the issue that you perhaps may not even had considered previously. This is a story which will really make you stop and think, and I was grateful for the opportunity to do so.
The song hurts, Feather, did you know that? … Every day and night I am within this pyramid, it is a physical pain, telling me I am lesser… And yet I do my duty regardless. With love of the Singer in my heart.
This is quite possibly Stephens’ most political book so far, plot-wise. There’s a great deal of politicking, power plays, backstabbing… literally. We are still very much in the realms of dark and gritty fantasy; there may not be as much gore and violence, but it is still present, more as an accompaniment to the main meal.
Yes that is an allusion to cannibalism, yes Anna this book has cannibalism in it too.
Despite that, Stephens once again immerses us in her worlds, leaving us feeling, not so much as we’re being told a story, but that we’re living in the life of these people. The Jaguar Path isn’t a tale to be told, it’s an experience. It clear that with each book under her belt, Stephens is simply going from strength to strength; I knew starting this book, that it was going to be good. Her nuanced, psychologically inspired characters, her distinct and instantly recognisable writing style and tone, her respectfully but thought-provoking commentaries. This is an author I can depend upon to be good, to not disappoint, and of course she doesn’t.
If The Stone Knife was a dark and insidious read, The Jaguar Path is a heart-pounding pressure-cooker of a story of high-stakes and betrayal. Stephens is an author I will always be coming back to for more.
Beautiful as blade was beautiful, as a jaguar was beautiful. As the lightening strike that lit you up with incandescence so you died bright and burning and terrible in your glory.
The Jaguar Path is due for release 16th February 2023. You can pre-order your copy HERE