REVIEW: The Jaguar Path by Anna Stephens

Last Updated on February 11, 2023

The Jaguar Path is the much anticipated second instalment in Anna Stephens’ The Songs of the Drowned trilogy. Readers may also know Stephens’ from her Godblind trilogy or her writing for the Black Library or Marvel. I am not too fond of spoilers in reviews, and hard though it will be, I will keep my review of The Jaguar Path free of any information that might ruin Stephen’s fantastic plot, but if you have yet read the first in the series, The Stone Knife, I suggest you move away.

The Jaguar PathFirst off, this was a brilliantly written book. It has the same complexity and subtle nuances I hugely enjoy in Stephens’ other writing. The Jaguar Path also sticks with you. When I was not reading it, I was thinking about it, and now I have finished it, I want more. Reading The Jaguar Path was an immersive and thought-provoking experience. At the end of this, Stephens is firmly on my automatic read list.

This novel is very character-driven, and we have many returning points of view from the first novel. However, The Jaguar Path picks up two traumatic years down the line from the end of The Stone Knife, so for all the characters and this world should be familiar, it is actually a very alien setting. All of the events of The Jaguar Path take place in the Singing City, the heart of the Empire of Songs, and this new sole setting feels as claustrophobic to us as it must do to the characters. Xessa is alone in a slave fighting pit, Lilla is a slave conscript in the Melody army, and Tayan is a slave to the Singer in the Source itself.

One of my favourite parts of Stephen’s writing, and The Jaguar Path is no exception, is the complexity of her characters. It is not as straightforward or reductive as good guys versus bad guys. Everyone in this novel is morally grey. Every character, at numerous points, does something unexpected and unpredictable. But this is not a case of nonsensical plot twists thrown around willy-nilly to throw the reader off; Stephens slowly revealed this masterful plot piece by piece. It is an exceedingly well-written dark fantasy with layers of politicking and betrayal. There is slightly less actual gore and violence than in The Stone Knife, but not by much, and when it is used, it is heartbreakingly effective.

I must admit, though, I personally prefer a faster-paced novel. I had the same struggle with the first book in this series, where the slow build-up (although very interesting) made me feel like I needed to make more progress with the plot. However, having had a few days
reading The Jaguar Path, where I had more time to sit and read, rather than a chapter here and there, that is more a reflection on how much time I have rather than a criticism of the writing. The writing is fantastic and deserves more of my time than I can usually give in one go. Also, the build-up is absolutely worth it because, as well as gifting us many engaging and well-formed points of view, the final third of the novel and the denouement of The Jaguar Path are spectacular. I am utterly bereft at that ending.

Everything is set up for the trilogy’s final, and probably heart-breaking, conclusion. The wait will be a torturous couple of years, but I will be grabbing hold of it as soon as I can. I want to massively thank Anna Stephens and the team at Harper Voyager for sending me a copy to provide this review for Grimdark Magazine.

5/5

Read The Jaguar Path by Anna Stephens

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Fiona Denton

Fiona Denton

Fiona is a former secondary school teacher and current stay at home parent to two very wild and active children. She lives with them and her husband in the UK and can often be found on a beach paddling in the North Sea or stomping through a forest with the sprogs and hounds. She loves to read and has always enjoyed fantasy novels, particularly the very dark and twisty ones with mythical creatures.