All the Hidden Paths is the direct sequel to A Strange and Stubborn Endurance, the first book in the Tithenai series, and these books must be read in order. The complex political structure and extensive world-building would simply confuse a new reader otherwise. I’m going to do my best to minimize any spoilers for A Strange and Stubborn Endurance, but it will be difficult to avoid them all for this review. So considered yourself warned!
After the danger, injury, and terrible betrayal that marked the first few weeks of their marriage, Velasin and Caethari have retreated to the country to work through their grief and start building their lives together. But politics and prejudice stalk them even in their relative isolation and soon they are summoned to the Asa’s Court in Qi-Xihan. Their marriage has ignited a political powder keg between the liberal Tithena and the more conservative Talia. Add in the recent deaths in Caethari’s family and his own elevation in status and importance, a summons by the ruling Asa was hardly unexpected.
But nothing is easy for Vel and Cae and a simple journey to the capital is marred by multiple assassination attempts and an increasing emotional distance between them. Once they arrive at court, the threats and danger only multiply. Surrounded on all sides by those they cannot trust and those who would see them dead, Vel and Cae must wade through the quagmire of court politics and somehow manage to stay alive. Doing so is easier said than done and, even if they survive, there is no guarantee there will be anything left of their marriage by the end of it.
All the Hidden Paths follows A Strange and Stubborn Endurance and, while I enjoyed the first book, I thought All the Hidden Paths was a stronger and even more compelling novel. Velasin and Caethari are the centerpiece and their relationship is a fragile and unbalanced thing at the start of the book. They feel something for one another, but given the trauma they’ve endured during the previous few weeks, it is easy to understand why they are tentative and unsure of how to move forward in their marriage. There are miscommunications and foolishness on the part of both men, but it is Velasin’s own fears and insecurities that nearly undermine them. But their connection to one another makes them a truly engaging couple and one I only want to know more about. The cast of secondary characters is equally strong, especially in Vel’s devoted friend and servant, Markel, who remains intriguing in his own right.
At it’s core, All the Hidden Paths is a novel of court politics entwined with a romance. As a result, the world building, while excellent and critical to the story, can be a bit dense. But I found the groundwork laid in A Strange and Stubborn Endurance made untangling some of the chaos a little easier this time around.
I thoroughly enjoyed All the Hidden Paths and felt it was a slightly stronger entry than it’s predecessor, which was amazing in its own right. There is a lot to unpack with this novel from politics, how we manage grief and communicate with one another, and the realities of human frailty, but it is absolutely worth your time and effort. As a fantasy, it is top-notch.