It is the job of the writer to latch the reader to the story he or she has weaved together. Some readers latch on to characters while others may latch on to the plot. Ideally, I want readers to latch on to both. The latching is effortless–the reader has no idea what is going on–and before the reader knows it they are along for the ride and invested in the narrative. In Rucker’s Path of the Righteous, I latched on to the protagonist, Dahlia En’te, but it was hard to stay invested and maintain focus on some aspects of the plot and other characters.
Grail Holden is the name of this place where it all begins. It is composed of Town Major in the north, Stem Town in the middle, and Town Minor in the south. The story opens with a prologue that shows what I assume is a younger Dahlia giving Selma a lesson on how to handle herself in a precarious place for a young girl. I was ready for more about their lives then, but the first chapter begins and switches to the lives of the children of Town Major. The people of Town Major are about to host a Baptismal, the ritual by which its children are ushered into adulthood. Before this ceremony, they are instructed in the ways of obedience to their God, their elders, and their way of life. We learn about the ways of Stem and Creme Towns from some of its children, Phoebe, Leah, Rebecca, Alex, Cain, Darien, and Gideon. Since this is the rite of passage ceremony, I assume they are adolescent age. They are pretty naive to carnal things and are questioning the validity of the legends that are revered by their elders. Are they fact or fiction? This part drags and slows the narrative down.
Things heat up when Dahlia En’te from Town Minor shows up. Actually she is brought there by the Cleric under the guise of getting a better education and access to all that Town Major has to offer someone less fortunate like Dahlia. She has a difficult time fitting in because she is distinctly “other.” All people from Town Minor are because it is the wrong side of the tracks. This southern town and the people in it are snubbed by their neighbors in the north. The citizens of Town Major are mostly indifferent towards those people. When they do consider them, it’s with disgrace and disdain. Town Minor is not on the maps and isn’t included in the history books. The children of Town Minor can be taken forcibly from their homes and made to labor for free so that the people of Town Major can have their finery and servants.
When Dahlia arrives, she immediately catches everyone’s attention. The adults cast aspersions at her. Once she is wrongly accused of stealing a classmate’s broach. The instructor immediately takes the accuser’s side without investigating. Of course the girl from Town Minor is the thief! The girls are unimpressed with her drab, threadbare attire, but mostly with her rejection of their constant attempts to change her into a more presentable girl. On the contrary, those supposed detriments intrigue Alex–her inferior clothes, voluptuous body, curiosity, unfamiliar ways–to the point of mild stalking. Gideon is taken with her also. Dahlia is smart, and she likes books. She also likes cats–she keeps feline friend, Sox, hidden in her bosom–who are just as accursed and hated as the people of Town Minor. Alex and Gideon aren’t the only ones enamored with Dahlia. There’s the Cleric and Adam XXXVII who want Dahlia for a more sinister reason–they do more than mild stalking. Their reason for bringing her to Town Major is especially creepy.
This is the point in the story where I latched on to Dahlia and the imminent conflict between her and these powerful men. She is a worthy protagonist, courageous, thoughtful, unique, and strong, reminiscent of Cinderella, but without a need for Prince Charming. She is a hidden jewel of meager birth. She is ripe and ready for her rise to the challenge of what she has to conquer: catty girls, lecherous men, and demons, oh my! I was drawn to her strength and courage in the face of those who want to control her body and destiny.
In addition to the Baptismal, there is also the Wedding of Adam XXXVII and Eve. When Dahlia escapes certain rape and bondage and is then catapulted into the human sacrifice to the Demon Knight, the narrative becomes unwieldy for me. Dahlia begins her journey to try to get back home to her mother, but she has to contend with demons, faeries, and doxies. The leader of the demon realm, Master Diamond, wants her too, albeit reluctantly.
Rucker paints a vibrant visual world rich with verdant landscapes, vivid colors, fantastical beings, and reimagined religious myths. She knows her world well, but there are a few times when the characters speak in colloquialisms that are this worldly. When Dahlia characterizes her hair as a “hot mess” and Jayce speaks of “random shit,” I am taken out out of the fantasy. After the wedding and at the start of the sacrifice, I get a little lost in all that happens, making it difficult to stay latched on and invested. The narrative has a lot of pearls, but I think it lacks a strong enough string to pull them together. There are a lot of characters, but they lack the development to warrant their existence so they became distracting.
I want to know more about aspects of the narrative that don’t get as much treatment as other parts. What was it like for Selma and Dahlia growing up in Town Minor? Were they friends? Perhaps that’s the purpose of the prologue, but it wasn’t enough. The ritual of the Wedding is intriguing. What role does it play in the society? Is the Adam figure a religious leader, political leader, or both? What of Adam’s guy friend who is in love with him? I’m still trying to work out what Gideon’s role will be. I have a prediction that Alex will figure prominently in the next book. I’m still trying to figure out Hell’s Kitchen. Perhaps my questions will be addressed in the sequel due out June 2015.
Path of the Righteous has a world of potential. There are elements that I latched on to, Dahlia, the evil machinations of the Cleric and Adam, and to a lesser extent, Diamond. Some of the characters, the faeries, and Alex’s time in Hell’s Kitchen were distracting and had me working hard in ways a reader shouldn’t have to. I give the author points for creativity, but a tighter, more polished narrative, would have made it soar.