The Fragile Path is intended as in-world artifact for Mage: The Ascension and represents Porthos Fitz-Empress's attempts at using the testaments of the members of the First Cabal to pull together the Traditions. The book consists of an overview of the Cabal members, their eventual fates, a timeline, a copy of the founding documents for the Traditions and the Technocratic Union, and the five testaments of those that initially survived Heylel's Betrayal. The book struggles to cover everything and create the space for the fully written testaments, but ultimately, I think the book largely pulls off what it needs to.
The opening consists of two contrasts, the first being elderly Porthos talk about how in awe he was of Heylel (the master talking about how wide-eyed he was as a young mage) and the second being the time it took to assemble and get to work on the Ascension War between the Order of Reason (weeks, took over world in five centuries), and the Council (nine years of meetings, only was really together in the wake of World War II). Porthos rambles on in overly vague terms and the world doesn't feel real as he talks.
The overviews are fine and everyone is pretty and opinionated which I guess is partly the point of World of Darkness but it was a little much for me. The point was for the Disciples to be paragons of their Tradition making it more likely that they were likely dogmatic and unable to get along which is a little odd as one would expect that from masters. Periodic mentions are made of the time required to meditate or to shine weapons or pray as a reinforcement of how slow it was to get everyone to act. Given that the Cabal was together for years before betrayal, we only get one specific mention of actions the Cabal took which felt to me like an oversight. We got to see the Cabal fall apart, but we never saw it together.
A rare morsel we get is the write up of the Convention of the Ivory Tower, the founding document for the Order of Reason as well as the Declaration of Intent for the Traditions. I don't know of another place these are available.
The characters that don't receive an testament felt somewhat throw-away. This may have been necessary to get to the other parts but still even the short write-ups felt too short or elaborated thin characters. But then we get to the meat of book which are the proper testaments. Heylel's pre-execution oration is provided which gives a strong argument that what he wants is for the Traditions to be united and that his way of doing that was to betray their position to the Order of Reason. They claim that the Traditions will never be able to see past their differences and the Order of Reason will triumph. Whether or not you think Heylel acted correctly, their prediction regardless was somewhat accurate at least over the five centuries or so.
As a reader, I'm not sure why Heylel was accused of being a diabolist and trucking with demons when there was no evidence for this nor was it listed as one of the forbidden activities in the founding document of the Traditions. I felt this was included as a way of defending Heylel and showing that the Council was simply throwing everything the Council could at Heylel. Alternatively, this could simply be kind of a period piece as accusing someone of trucking with demons could have simply been the style of the time.
Eloine's testament was structurally interesting but felt kind of hollow. She's billed elsewhere as a very compelling figure but that kind of fell flat as she's in an inquisition cell. I suppose if someone's magnetism is around their appearance and charisma, one shouldn't expect it to translate into writing but she felt like a love object and bearer of children and little more. The section where Eloine talks about being drawn to Heylel just kind of screamed "MIND MAGICK" which made me cringe a little.
The Prophecy of Akrites itself was the richest in terms of world-building and provided three particularly interesting parts. The first was the idea of a prophecy that a storyteller could play with. Vague prophecies are offered in other game lines and provide ample ground for an inventive storyteller to allow characters to pursue or abandon prophecies and other such foretold events. In Mage, prophecy is both more and less intimate as the characters are familiar with the fact that, yes prophecy does exist and the characters may even know how to use it, but also that prophecy is very hard to work with. Second, the reflection on the role of the prophet and the failure to warn the others of the betrayal. Akrites saw it coming but didn't act decisively enough to prevent it from coming to pass. Third, we get a slice of life of what it was like to be part of the First Cabal. We see the group trudging around Scandinavia and all the difficulty that imparts as well as the perils of using magick even before the modern advent of Paradox. This section to me provided the most use for the storyteller and I wish we had more stories from the First Cabal that felt like this one.
The Song of Bernadette was inventive and interesting and consumed page count but it simply doesn't stand on its own. Luckily, it's in a book with several other testaments and therefore doesn't have to.
Finally, the testament of Walking Hawk gives the reader a look into a few things. Walking Hawk provides fresh eyes on the practices of the other groups such as pointing out that he and Eloine seem to recognize the same spirit of the earth but hers seems to be much more bloodthirsty. His commentary shows that from some vantages that the difference between the Traditions and the Order of Reason is smaller than between some pairs of Traditions especially when one indicates the level of technology to which the Traditions have already become accustomed to. Lastly, the section is well written in simple prose with style that at least rings true to my little experience of indigenous writing.
My criticisms are simple. The Porthos sections are too wordy as is Brucato's general style, the characters are all attractive and charismatic, and there's little information on what the Cabal actually did. If the intent is to show they were ineffectual and to deplete our sympathy for the group vs the individuals, mission accomplished.
I had ignored this book for far too long but feel I appreciate it mightily with the background of the rest of Mage under my belt. I think this book shines most to those who're familiar with the setting and want to answer the question of "so why has the Technocracy done so well and the Traditions so poorly" beyond just assuming conspiracy.