Wednesday, May 15, 2013

REVIEW: The Narrowing Path by David J. Normoyle

The Narrowing Path The Narrowing Path by David J. Normoyle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I did not expect how violent and gruesome the book was going to be, especially not one where the protagonist is a 13 years old. I read many YA dystopian books, but The Narrowing Path was certainly one of the most violent I’ve ever read.

The book echoed Lord of the Flies and, for a more contemporary example, The Hunger Games. Case in point, the prologue showcased a macabre scene of dead kids. Fortunately, the imagery was brief and not as graphic as it could have been. However, it was only the beginning of the horrors to come because more kids would die throughout the story. If I was a bleeding heart kind of reader, I would have bled to death and beyond because so many died.

I was disgusted. I was horrified. I was depressed. Dark emotions swirled in me as I witnessed the survival game the boys of noble birth, cleped Greens, were forced to participate in. A part of me wished I remained as confused as I was in the beginning so I did not have to face the cruelty in crystal clear vision.

The Writing

It was a dizzying experience in the beginning because the story had a learning curve due to the lack of exposition. It expected readers to learn what was going on and what the made-up words mean by piecing context. Eventually I understood things, and part of the things I understood was the “life’s an unfair bitch” full of insurmountable shit that Bowe faced.

The Characters

+ the protagonist

I really felt for Bowe. I pitied him so much that I felt like I have used up every piece of my body and soul to do so because by the end I felt hollow.

Nonetheless, sometimes the kid frustrated me. I admit I could cut him further slack because anyone else in his situation would have committed suicide because, hell, his family, the Bellangers, did and his adopted mother, Chalori, did too. Bowe had been brainwashed, excuse me, socialized to think the noble’s way, a.k.a. the Green Path, was the only way to live, and to undo harmful socialization, to challenge everything he had been taught was right, is a long process demanding patience. Not to mention that he was only 13 years old and each day could be his last day of being alive. Talk about PRESSURE. Nevertheless, the wait tired me and I did not enjoy how he was forced to learn his lessons the hard way, the bloody way, the “friend dies on you and allies betrays you” way. The book practically gave the concept of childhood innocence a big “Fuck You.”

I did like how he managed to keep his compassion and learned empathy despite the betrayals and bloody deaths that regularly, regularly splattered him. I liked how these things were viewed as weaknesses by everyone else yet they turned out to be his strengths and his way to survive. I liked that Bowe fought against the idea that survival meant conquering people, killing enemies, and walking a path of blood.

+ everyone else

Regarding the other characters, the cast was so large I still had a little trouble keeping track who was who by the end of the book. Nonetheless, I did not fail to recognize how diverse the cast was and how dimensional each character was. Hell, I even had sympathy for a few of the antagonists, including the ones who ended up betraying Bowe, coming from a reader who abhor betrayals and typically wishes for a quickly realized, painful and lasting comeuppance. It spoke volumes about the story’s ability to make me empathize the characters.

+ the love interests

However, I did not particularly like how the female characters were portrayed, in particular Bowe’s love interests. Bad enough there was a love triangle and Bowe haven’t fully understood what it means to take an interest in girls and to be in love because he was still a growing boy. I hated how Bowe fought with Iyra every time they met even though she had been nothing but helpful to him, saving his damn ass many times. I hated how he threw elitism in her face because he could not face his own true feelings for her, reminiscent of a boy harassing a girl in his fucked up way to show his like for her. While it indicated how Bowe still had great room to mature, when I juxtaposed his treatment of Iyra against his treatment of Zofila, I discovered a small but noticeable current of sexism in the nascent romance and I worried for what the future could hold.

While I like that Bowe was at least nice to Zofila, here’s the thing: she was a fucking damsel in distress as opposed to Iyra who was fucking kickass. Through Zofila, readers learn that while the boys of noble birth were forced in a survival game, the girls of noble birth were forced in one of their own. The only way girls of noble birth could survive was by whoring themselves out to ascors, the officially recognized nobles, who would care enough for them that when the time comes for the sexennial apocalypse the ascors would remember to take the girls to the Refuge with them.

Meanwhile, Iyra needed no help from anybody despite being an escay, a.k.a. a proletariat, who was supposed to be more disadvantaged than her upper class peers. In fact, immediately upon her introduction in the story and to Bowe, readers learn she was a member of The Guild, a secret society made up of escays in which to mention their name was to invite death.

Thus, on the table, what we have is a protagonist who was a jerk to a girl who had agency and needed no rescuing, Iyra, but a gentleman to a girl who did not and needed to be rescued at the end, Zofila. See my worries, now? I strongly hope that Zofila will take control of her destiny in the sequel, Bowe to make amends to Iyra, and Iyra to keep on being her kickass self and teach him to be a gentleman to all girls, no matter their class.

The Plot

The story felt long but it was sure as fuck never boring. I really appreciated that the plot spaced out its dark scenes because the story made me easily heavy hearted. I also appreciated that even when shit hits the fan, things never dropped down to a depressing as shit level where I thought it was better for Bowe to commit suicide and save himself enormous suffering.

The thing I didn’t particularly like was the lackluster ending. Success was attained at very the last minute but it wasn’t due to anything ingenious on Bowe’s part as it was pure luck and it wasn’t truly a success as much as it was a case of delaying the inevitable. There was no celebratory scene afterward, either. It was like “he’s still alive,” the end, and now we wait for the sequel. *blink* *blink*

In Conclusion

I rate The Narrowing Path 3-stars for I liked it. Despite a dizzying beginning and lackluster ending, the story engrossed me. What I love best was the marrying of the survival game and the political machination. The quality, the complexity of the story, was easily on par of an adult fantasy.

I totally would recommend it for readers who want a hardcore, read brutal, YA dystopian. I also recommend that if you do pick up the series, go ahead and connect to the characters but avoid forming attachments.

Goodreads | Amazon

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