[Review] The Yoga of Strength – Andrew Rowe

Check it out on Amazon 🙂

The Yoga of Strength is the story of Andrew Cardiff, a long-time squire on the cusp of elevation to Knighthood within the Yellow Order of the Kingdom of Thrairn. There is only one issue: he is an abject coward and slave to his baser instincts. Thrust into a world of magic and treachery, Andrew tumbles along a path that threatens devastation at every turn. This unlikely hero must plumb the depths of his soul in search of the courage and strength that have always eluded him. Around him, the world is crumbling. Will Andrew discover his answers at the center of the mystery before it is too late?

Disclaimer – The Yoga of Strength was a book I received for free as part of the TBRindr program for indie authors! In exchange, I was asked to provide an honest review.

All right! The Yoga of Strength is a high fantasy novel that was released last week, written by Andrew Rowe. It follows Andrew, a young, bumbling squire, as he finally ascends to knighthood. All too quickly, though, things go horribly wrong on his first voyage, and he winds up caught in the middle of all of the intrigue and bloodshed.

So, what worked for me with this novel?

One of the first things that I noticed when I started reading Yoga was the prose. It’s frankly very dense, with a lot of exposition and a lot of flowery language.

There is a page missing from the text of my life, though scraps of the words written thereon still come to me unbidden from time to time. I know that this page deals with dissolution, an unraveling of self from semi-formed tapestry of youth to a mess of filament lying disheveled on the tavern floor. More bruises were added to my collection, though I was not sure who the assailant – or, more likely, assailants – were. What I do know is that I awoke to a splash of water on my face that smelt of ancient piss on the morning of my birthday, with a pain in my head like I had been stabbed, groggily blinking my eyes awake to Rolf the Tavernkeeper’s ugly face. He was holding a bucket in his hand and a furrow on his brow.

That’s the opening paragraph of the novel. I read that, and I’m not going to lie. I winced. I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into, but I’ve read enough bad attempts at dense prose that I was immediately put on edge.

Much to my surprise, then, I found that the stylistic language…worked. Mostly. For the most part. What I will say is that Rowe is exceptionally consistent. When you have a really unusual voice like that, it’s very easy to let that slip and slide the longer you go, and to fade back into your natural voice. That didn’t happen, and it really did go a long way to making the book feel consistent from start to finish. I found that within a chapter or two, I was able to blur past most of the outlandish language, and actually sink into the story.

Which brings me to the second point that really did appeal to me – the story. I was a bit shaky on the novel, to be honest – until the first main twist. I’m going to try and keep this reasonably spoiler-free, so I’m going to hold the details close to my chest, but there came a certain moment in the story when the proverbial shit hit the fan, and things changed very dramatically.

The twists and turns in that section really intrigued me. I liked the style of it, I liked the blending of dark reality and morbid humor, and I liked the stakes. It felt very real and very relatable.

And now, we get to the fun part of the review, the part where I get to push all of that aside and say but. Turn your head and cough, please.

What didn’t work for me, then?

Forgive me, author. I tend to get long-winded about specific issues I had, to lay them out clearly and properly. This section will always, always be longer than the “things I liked”. And the fact that I’m being sarcastic means I liked it. Yeah, it’s weird, but that’s how my family works.

I’m going to lay the first part out plain and simple.

The beginning kind of sucked.

Now, now. I understand the concept of it. For some context, at the opening of the story, the main character wakes up in a whorehouse/bar deal, having shit himself and realizing that he’s late for his initiation ceremony. This whole section really goes to establish how much of a fuck-up he is, how much he’s disappointed his family, how much he’s failed at his knightly lifestyle.

The problem is, it sort of does that too well. Or, in my opinion, it goes into it a bit too much. About the fifth time it was stated how fat the main character was, I found myself rolling my eyes. He was supposed to be a bit lazy, yes, and have failed in life. But it wound up feeling very self-pitying at times.

In short, the beginning tried so hard to make the main character unlikeable that the main character was, in fact, unlikeable. It did get better, in time. But I think that it made the opening acts a lot more cringe than they had to be, and when I’m giving the book a test drive, that’s not the sort of thing that would really draw me in and convince me I should read more.

The second half of this meshes with my next point, in fact. Yay, transitions.

The main character, fat and slovenly, has a long voyage by ship. And when he arrives, among other things, he finds that the diet and exercise he had to partake in on board, as part of the crew, left him muscular and no longer fat! Just like that!

I think that for me, this was a case where it didn’t feel like the main character really earned it. It was just…an appropriate length of book had passed, and it no longer served a purpose for him to be fat, so he wasn’t fat anymore. That’s what it wound up feeling like, and so I felt cheated of character development.

And that’s really my largest complaint about Yoga. The single biggest sticking point that I had was that characters felt incredibly impermanent, and I never quite knew what I was getting. Rather than the characters changing as a result of events and development, they changed in fits of unpredictable emotion.

Let’s look at Andrew’s relationship with his taskmaster, just as one illustration of what I mean here.

I felt a small twinge of respect for the elder man then. A small twinge that I soon buried in a heap of impatience.

“Hurry up, Terence.” I chewed the words as I spit them out, relishing that I could now say such things to a man who had humiliated me at the training grounds so many times before, even if my losses of face were always transmitted in the spirit of lessons from teacher to student.

These are back-to-back paragraphs – literally going from respect to harassment in a few breaths’ span. And then-

I could not exchange any further words with him. I knew that if I turned to face him, I would feel the hot sting of tears on my cheeks. I could not allow it. Not here. Not in front of Gerard, my brother whom I could not admit to myself that I loved. Not in front of Terence, the man who was more father than trainer to me.

What?

That’s the same chapter, keep in mind. So the main character has gone from respect to harassment to this man is like my father, just like that. To be honest, I was starting to lose my ability to understand how characters related to each other. It was like all of them were high, and just letting random emotions burst out.

This is repeated with pretty much every relationship Andrew (the main character) has. His brother torments him – No, his brother gives him a prized memento of their dead mother, because he loves him – No, his brother harasses him for being fat and sloppy! His father hates him for being a failure – No, his father has always been proud of Andrew’s success, even if it wasn’t in the way he wanted – No, he’s so disappointed in Andrew he threatens to lock him in stocks for the entire journey if he messes up again!

Each of these cycles plays out within the span of a chapter. It’s dizzying.

I think that trying to represent complex relationships, where, say, a father can both be proud of his son and wish for him to be better, is challenging. I can see what the goal here was, I just found it rushed. What it felt like was that character arcs that would normally take an entire book – or an entire series – were being jammed into a single chapter as though the author was worried he was going to run out of words.

I’ll call out one specific example that I had a big issue with. At one point, the father is upset at Andrew for accidentally killing a man. ‘Upset’. We’ll call it that. But Andrew explains that this man was raping his soldiers (and…kinda sorta turning them gay by doing so. That’s a whole other can of worms that I felt was very badly handled), and so even if it wasn’t okay that this man had died, it wasn’t all that bad because this man was evil! And his father caves and gets all teary eyed.

Just looking at this one example, I felt that this was a classic case of trying to do away with character development. What should have been a long, slow, painful process of mending that wound was instead patched over with a “Well I was wrong but this guy was more wrong.” And that felt cheap. It didn’t make the main character any better, it just made some dead guy worse.

Occasionally, I did have issues with scenes that just made me shake my head and go what? A prime example would be the scene where the king is speaking to his knights and soldiers before they depart for lands foreign.

In this speech, after he’s been all motivational, he takes it upon himself to tell them that he understands if they need to sleep with some whores, but that they need to do it in the list of approved whorehouses they’re given. For their safety!

“One final note,” the King continued, his voice becoming serious. “I ask all of you men to keep the honour of Thrairn in your hearts and minds when you conduct yourselves. While making use of prostitution is a grave crime in our fair Kingdom, an offence against the state and a sin against our Holy Mother Church, I do understand that, ahem, virile men of your ages, good breeding or not, have certain requirements during periods of rest and relaxation. Especially when blood is shed or yet to flow. There may be such quiet moments while we are in Erifracia. King Revanti has graciously offered up a list of brothels and public houses that you will be permitted to frequent.” King Janus held up a piece of paper.

I basically just stared at the book, brow furrowed. It made no sense for this to be something the king said, versus something their medieval drill sergeant said. It felt out of character for someone who’s supposed to be goddamn royalty, and just seemed like the text was trying to over-emphasize that whores were involved.

Just in general, I think that was one of my impressions of Yoga. There’s a definite push for fantasy novels these days to mimic Game of Thrones in the whole ‘war is real’ kick. Murder, death, sex, blood, all the good stuff. Sometimes, I felt like this book went too far in trying to emphasize the sex and prostitution and people soiling themselves. The point was made the first few times the characters referenced it – beyond that, it felt like the book was trying about 20% too hard to fit that niche.

As a minor complaint about the book – At a certain point, I started to feel overwhelmed by all of the names and titles and countries being thrown at me. I think that the book might have tried to bite off too much too quickly.

This is a situation where the fanciful, flowery language worked against it. With everything being long and old-fashioned and a little bit dense anyway, it really hid names and things within it. It was significantly harder for me to pull those things out and match them with their proper context, than it would have been if the text was a little more accessible. That’s just my instinct on it, anyway. Especially once the ship had reached its destination and they were in foreign lands, I was a little bit off-balance with everything being thrown at me.

Finally – I’ll just comment on this in passing, and it didn’t affect my rating for this book, but I didn’t like the use of “Christ-man” for the country’s deity xD I think it’s the -man suffix. It made it feel either like the deity belonged to a culture more primitive than the one the MC lived in, or simply a bit campy. Not book-breaking, but it did make me sigh a little.

Final thoughts

Good lord, it looks like I’ve ripped this poor book apart. In truth, I do think it was a solid book – and one of the reasons I’ve let the sarcasm out more in this review and come off like a bit of a dick is that overall, I do think this book worked. With the indie novels I review, often times I find it hard to switch off my internal reviewer and just sit back and enjoy the story.

With Yoga, I found that I was reading it for its own sake, and I was enjoying it. I think that the world worked and was compelling, and there were complex plotlines weaving themselves in and out of the character’s actions.

And it was written in first person. What can I say. I’m a sucker.

So take my sarcasm for what it is – ribbing of a book that has places it can improve on, but was overall a pleasant and enjoyable experience. If you enjoy high fantasy novels written in a more complex style, I recommend giving it a try!

Final rating: 3.5/5 (4 on Amazon)

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