James is convinced that the gods have cursed him, left to fend for himself in a squalid city-state in the clutches of a corrupt theocracy. As a lamplighter, James serves the palace by illuminating the streets each night with a flame from the gods’ temple. Despite his disdain for the gods, he feels a connection with the flame, and a surprising yet small amount of control over its brightness.
For him, a quiet life weathering the desert was all he had to look forward to. That is, until others appear. From distant corners of the world, each has connective power to the gods, and each a past of great consequence. A soldier, an idealist, a hero, and a monster.
Each squabbles according to their own desires, but cannot afford to exist alone any longer. Ancient devils and horrors beyond time have come to reclaim the world from the gods, but the forms they take and power they wield are anything but understood.
The debut epic fantasy novel of author Rob Leigh, Pathlighter depicts a world struggling to grapple with the consequences of an unknown past and uncaring gods, featuring nuanced characters and a story of self-realization, found family, betrayal, and hope.
Pathlighter is the debut novel of author Rob Leigh and impressed me with its non-stop action, compelling characters, intriguing villains, and expansive worldbuilding.
Throughout the novel, Leigh takes well-known tropes and adds his own spin on them to make them refreshing and new. For example, elemental magic is a staple in fantasy, but in Pathlighter only one person, supposedly chosen by the respective god, can wield each type of elemental power. When that person dies, another is chosen. In addition, the more of their power they use at one time, the more it turns back on them as well. So the characters will have that water fill their lungs, or start burning from the inside the more of their power they draw on at once. Theses spins on classic tropes caught my attention and I really enjoyed seeing how the author added fresh life to them.
One of my other favorite aspects of this novel was the gods, even though they don’t make a single appearance. Many people believe in the gods and their Chosen but not everyone, including James, our main protagonist and one of the Chosen. It is hinted at throughout the novel that the gods might not be real, but there is also plenty of evidence that they do exist, the Chosen obviously topping that list. If the gods do exist, why did the choose James? And why don’t they do more to help? On the other hand, if the gods don’t exist, why do James and the others have powers? And why does only one person alive wield a respective element until they die, and then another is born? Leigh doesn’t try to answer that question in this novel, though he drops hints supporting both sides along the way, and I am excited to see if we get more answers in the next book.
On the flip side of the (fake?) gods, the antagonists of this novel were very compelling. Supernatural and functionally immortal beings that claim to be the real gods of the world, before the ancient Chosen came along and killed most of them and drove the remaining few into exile. They have returned and are seeking to put all of humanity under their thumb once more. Leigh doesn’t try to make us empathize with the villains, they are decidedly evil, but they are also more than one-dimensional. They seem to represent facets of nature, and are following that nature, but also have their own desires and feelings. We get some POV chapters from their perspectives, which I always enjoy, and I loved those. I am very interested to see where the author takes them in the rest of the series.
I’ve probably mentioned the worldbuilding enough already in this review, but I want to note that I was very impressed with how Leigh filled out his world, and the time put into developing it comes through clearly. The invented creatures, cultures, and history thrilled me while reading. I really enjoyed how the author sprinkled bits of history throughout the book, always at the right times. The additional information we got about historical Chosen was very interesting. They are entitled to become royalty after manifesting powers, but just being Chosen doesn’t make them good people or good rulers. This provides opportunity to add insight to the world, explore the characters further, and delve into the themes of the novel. As a worldbuilding nerd I had a great time throughout the book.
No book is perfect though, I do feel the writing itself could have used some polish at some points in the book. There was too much exposition at times, which affected the pacing, and the interactions between the main group of characters sometimes felt off. It felt like what were told about their relationships didn’t always fit with how they acted, or their interactions felt forced and out of character. Don’t get me wrong though, I enjoyed the group and individually I felt they were all very strongly written. Though notable enough that I noticed while reading, none of these issues were egregious or ever made me feel like quitting. Rob Leigh is obviously a talented author and I look forward to continuing with this series. I highly recommend this book, reader who enjoy epic tales and complex characters will find a lot to love in Pathlighter.