I’ll admit, I wasn’t really all that sure what I was getting into with The Yoga of Strength, as I couldn’t quite reconcile the Hindu-influenced title with the European Medieval fantasy blurb. So this was as much to satisfy my curiosity as it was to provide a promised review.
The Yoga of Strength follows Sir Andrew Cardiff, the son of a noble and newly knighted member of the Yellow Order of the Kingdom of Thrairn. Despite his cowardice and certainty that the only reason for his knighthood was nepotism, he journeys with his order to defend a neighbouring kingdom. But a strange encounter with a mystical jaguar and an enigmatic witch doctor puts him on a path that threatens to destroy his life as he knows it.
I am somewhat torn about The Yoga of Strength, because while I did like it overall, there are a few aspects that I feel could have been executed better. So I’ll start with the positive, which is the character arc for the main character, Andrew. When I was checking the blurb before I started reading, I noted that a few people had identified Andrew as a weakness with the book, due to his generally unlikable nature, and I can definitely see that at the beginning. Initially, it’s pretty difficult to identify good qualities in him, because whatever talents and positive personality traits he has are smothered by his persistent self-pity and envy of anyone who seems to be better than him. But, having finished the novel, I would argue that it’s a necessary evil, as his self-improvement over the course of the story becomes a lot more evident. Rowe names Hermann Hesse as an influence in his acknowledgements, and I can definitely see that come through in this journey to self-actualisation.
That brings me onto an aspect that I think works out overall, but might make The Yoga of Strength something of a hard sell. If I were to describe the novel succinctly, it would be Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha meets Lord of the Rings. That is, if nothing else, very niche. Like, I’m not sure who in my immediate circle is going to be totally on board for this combination. I personally find it really interesting and unusual, but I know that there will be plenty of fantasy fans wondering why there needs to be Hindu spirituality in their Medieval fantasy novel, and presumably vice versa. Apologies to the yoga enthusiasts, I have yet to meet you and so can only speculate.
My main issue with The Yoga of Strength is the treatment of one of the characters, Simon. So Simon is established early on as one of Andrew’s only friends, who bonds with him over shared feelings of inadequacy caused by their lack of physical fitness. They joke, as some male friendships are wont to do, about being homosexual. So far not really my thing, but it fit with the taboos of the world that they grew up in, so whatever. Then there comes a moment where Simon is discovered, incredibly drunk, in the company of a male prostitute. And later the reader finds out that any and all homosexual tendencies Simon had started after he was sexually assaulted by the head of his platoon in the Yellow Order. That is not how being gay works, that is not how being raped works, and I am really not okay with it. The narrative does start to salvage it towards the end by implying that he may be bisexual and that he may have some room to start exploring those feelings, but there’s only so much that you can recover from “I’m gay because I was raped”. I wanted to be able to recommend this book for anyone willing to try something a bit niche, but I am unable to do so wholeheartedly knowing that this whole homosexuality/bisexuality subplot has been handled so clumsily.
An unusual mixture of Medieval fantasy and ideas from Hindu scriptures which could prove to be an interesting series, if a little clumsy at times. My main issue is a very poorly handled attempt at an LGBT plot-line; while I want to believe that Rowe’s intent is to explore male bisexuality, its introduction to the plot and explanation in-story is clumsy at best, but could be pretty harmful to the wrong reader. A tentative recommendation. 3/5
Next review: The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger