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Old 15th February 2011, 10:28 AM   #1 (permalink)
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The Dragon's Path by Daniel Abraham

The Dagger and the Coin #1: The Dragon's Path

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The thirteen races of humanity have survived the downfall of the Dragon Empire and forged new kingdoms. The great nation of Antea now seeks to expand its influence into the Free Cities, sending its army to conquer the city of Vanai. Ahead of the Antean advance, the Medean Bank evacuates its Vanaian treasury by caravan, escorted by a young ward of the bank, Cithrin Bel Sarcour, and one of the most respected soldiers in the city, Captain Marcus Wester.

Meanwhile, in Camnipol, capital of Antea, Baron Dawson Kalliam finds himself engaged in a clandestine struggle as two factions clash for influence over the Severed Throne, with the assault on Vanai just one of the intrigues in motion. Geder Palliako, a minor nobleman accompanying the army, is less interested in glory and plunder than in knowledge and lore, and in Vanai finds hints that will lead him to unexpected ends. And in a remote and distant mountain range, a shadowy organisation holds secrets that the world has long forgotten...

A bald plot summary suggests that The Dragon's Path is the same old: armies marching and lords politicking whilst an ancient threat lurks in the wings. To some degree this is understandable: after completing the Asian-influenced Long Price Quartet, Abraham decided to pen a more traditional fantasy series. The Dagger and the Coin is set in a land more overtly influenced by late Medieval/early Renaissance Europe, complete with powerful kingdoms, feuding city-states and a banking institution reminiscent of the Medici. On the one hand this may be considered a retreat by Abraham into writing something less original, but on the other it may have been a wise move, given that readers responded to the near-blanket critical acclaim of The Long Price Quartet by not buying it (at least not in the United States).

Still, whilst Abraham may be swimming in more familiar waters, that's not to say he doesn't put 110% effort into it. His trademark impressive characterisation remains the focus of the book: whilst major and epic events rock the world, his interest is more in the development of Dawson, Geder, Cithrin and Wester, our main POV characters (there's a few other minor ones, likely to rise more to the fore in future books). These characters are somewhat complex and all deeply conflicted. Dawson is presented somewhat sympathetically as a loyalist to the king, but he's also a staunchly traditionalist opponent of any change in the social order calls for greater freedom being to resonate from the populace. Geder is selfishly only interested in pursuing his interest in book-learning, which seems harmless enough until he is given a position of authority and promptly displays a side we hadn't seen before. Cithrin is a confident negotiator and investor who is utterly lost when faced with the day-to-day realities of surviving on the road, whilst Wester is the old soldier who strives for cynicism but keeps being drawn to idealistic causes.

For The Long Price, Abraham used economics as a casus belli for the conflict, but didn't fully engage with the economics in depth. This is understandable as making economics interesting to the average reader can be tricky, though in the past Scott Lynch, KJ Parker and, perhaps unexpectedly, Raymond E. Feist have made good fists of it, whilst it is a minor but important driving point in conflicts in both A Song of Ice and Fire and The Wheel of Time. In The Dragon's Path Abraham deals with the economics in a more direct fashion, making one of the main characters a banker and one of the most powerful institutions in the world a bank. He avoids tedium by showing how the bank's activities impact on the wider politics of the world, though I suspect this will be more critical in subsequent volumes.

Abraham's prose is enjoyable to read, though perhaps a tad more prosaic here than in the more lyrical moments of The Long Price. The book isn't as fast and furious as his other 2011 release, Leviathan Wakes (under the pen-name James S.A. Corey), but is still well-paced, laying out the world and the stakes alongside the characters and politics.

On the weaker side of things, there are some moments when each of the four main characters loses the reader's sympathy (one of them never gets it back, but remains a fascinating protagonist). Intriguing side-characters get less page time than might be wished (Dawson's wife, Clara, has a solid subplot of her own and is one of the more interesting characters in the book). If you've read interviews with Abraham about what his influences were on the series, there are a few moments when those influences become a little too apparent (especially the parallel between Geder and events in a certain SF series; not Firefly). More problematic is that Abraham, having established thirteen different branches of humanity, doesn't give us much info on what these differences are, reducing them to just names, though in fairness Abraham has acknowledged this issue and promised to put more information in the sequels and on his website.

Overall, however, The Dragon's Path (****) is a winner. The characters are engaging and well-motivated, the plot intriguing despite some surface familiarity, and events are resolved enough to not make the wait for the second book, The King's Blood, too painful. The book will be published on 7 April in the USA and on 21 April in the UK.
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Old 12th May 2012, 11:22 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: The Dragon's Path by Daniel Abraham

The Dagger and the Coin #2: The King's Blood by Daniel Abraham

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Imperial Antea, the greatest nation in the world, is on the rise. Thanks to the hitherto-unexpected skills of Geder Palliako, a young nobleman, a conspiracy to murder the heir to the Antean throne has been exposed and defeated. Now the Anteans are pursuing the roots of the conspiracy into neighbouring Asterilhold, an investigation which threatens to explode into full-scale war. Baron Dawson Kalliam is summoned to serve his country, but as he works with Geder he discovers the shadowy roots of Geder's new political skills and is left with a critical decision to make.

Across the continent, Cithrin Bel Sarcour's position as the face of the new Medean Bank in Porte Olivia is undermined by the arrival of a new notary determined to stop Cithring doing her job. Furious, Cithrin undertakes a journey to Carse to convince the leaders of the bank that she can do the job. This fateful decision will lead her into the heart of the growing storm that threatens to plunge the known world into chaos and war.

The King's Blood is the second novel in The Dagger and the Coin and the sequel to last year's promising opening volume in the sequence, The Dragon's Path. With this series Daniel Abraham has moved away from the Asian-tinged fantasy of his debut Long Price Quartet in favour of tackling a more traditional, Western European-based fantasy. Whilst he's moved the date to one later than normal (Renaissance Europe rather than the traditional medieval period, with a banking institution modelled on the Medici), he's still swimming in more familiar waters.

However, this move has not dented his enthusiasm or writing skills. The Dragon's Path was a very solid opening novel, but The King's Blood eclipses it on almost every level. The writing is more confident and assured. The characterisation is richer, both of the established cast (Cithrin develops into a more layered character than before; Marcus Wester's psychological state becomes clearer; Geder becomes a lot more disturbing) and of relative newcomers. Clara Kalliam had a subplot in The Dragon's Path but in this novel develops into a key protagonist as she deals with a minor scandal in her family and then has to engage with the developing political crisis. There is more action, including a skirmish with pirates and several sieges and battles, but also more introspection as the characters evolve into more fully-realised figures. Particularly fascinating are Yardem and Marcus, a fine fantasy double-act who provide a great deal of the book's humour but are also potentially storing up tragedy between them.

The worldbuilding is also improved upon from The Dragon's Path, where the differences between the various kingdoms and the thirteen distinct races of mankind were not very well-established. This is immensely improved upon in The King's Blood (and not just by the addition of a glossary), with the world becoming more convincing and the distinctions between the races better-established. An area that requires more work, however, is the political landscape in Antea, which still feels somewhat under-developed. This wasn't so much a problem in the first novel, but risks becoming an issue in The King's Blood, particularly in the concluding section of the novel which suffers a little from a lack of scope due to the very narrow focus.

The book unfolds at a fairly swift pace, which results in the pages flying by so fast that the book's end, and the resulting year-long wait for Book 3, comes upon the reader unexpectedly. The book's excellence overcomes the occasional resorting to epic fantasy contrivance (journeys are either major undertakings or are completely skipped over depending on plot needs) or its inspirations being worn a little too openly on the sleeve (the Geder plotline's parallels to the Londo Mollari storyline in Babylon 5 risk it becoming predictable until it starts to swerve away from that structure late in the novel).

The King's Blood (*****) has a few minor flaws but overall is a very fine epic fantasy novel, a huge improvement over the already-fine Dragon's Path, and notable for its focus on finely-judged characterisation as much as the more traditional furniture of the genre. It's also a fast, addictive read that elevates The Dagger and the Coin into the position of one of the finest in-progress fantasy series around at the moment. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.
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Old 28th April 2013, 02:53 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Re: The Dragon's Path by Daniel Abraham

The Dagger and the Coin #3: The Tyrant's Law by Daniel Abraham



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The armies of Antea have conquered Asterilhold, but Geder Palliako, the Regent, allows his troops no time for rest. His plans, and those of the cult of the spider goddess, have taken on a note of urgency as they try to unearth the conspiracy that resulted in the death of the last King of Antea. In Camnipol, the disgraced wife of the traitor Dawson is working to both reestablish herself and her household and to bring about Geder's downfall. In the wilderness of the southern jungles, Marcus Wester and the renegade spider priest Kit are searching for a powerful weapon to use against the cult. And in the city of Suddapal Cithrin is apprenticed to an experienced banker to complete her training. But as the armies of Antea advance, Cithrin discovers that making money may be less important than finding a good cause on which to spend it.

The Tyrant's Law is the third volume in the five-volume The Dagger and the Coin, bringing this series past its halfway point. Those who've read The Dragon's Path and The King's Blood will know what to expect: well-crafted characters in an interesting (if not overtly original) world taking part in a plot inspired by a mixture of Babylon 5, Firefly and the real-life history of the Medicis. Like many such epic fantasy series with a number of entwining plots and character arcs, the series risks getting more diffuse the further it goes on, but Abraham prevents sprawl by maintaining a tight grip on a small number of POV characters: the entire plot unfolds from the POVs of Cithrin, Marcus, Clara (Dawson's widow) and Geder alone. This keeps the pace brisk and the word-count low, though not the page-count; due to a questionable decision to print the book in a font so large I briefly thought it was the edition for the hard of seeing, the book is exactly 500 pages in length, which seems rather unnecessary.

Still, The Tyrant's Law is a very good fantasy novel. Abraham has always been more interested in the nuances of characters than in massive battles and magical fireworks, and his most enviable skill is developing characters concisely and establishing convincing depths within them. So whilst we have no new POV characters, all of the returning faces get new dimensions added to them and more development into fully-rounded individuals. Geder becomes more accomplished in the arts of political intrigue, Clara becomes a convincing intriguer and Cithrin, already a skilled financier, learns some things about family and responsibility. Though not POV characters, both Yardem and Kit also develop in intriguing ways. Abraham undercuts some traditional epic fantasy tropes as well, such as turning a Conan-esque raid on a temple into a moment of profound character and spiritual revelation.

In some areas The Tyrant's Law is a bit of a let-down on The King's Blood. There's a lot of wandering around the countryside and at two separate times the same characters head into the wilderness to find a secret magical MacGuffin, giving rise to a feeling of repetition (though again Abraham subverts expectations with a surprisingly epic flashback ending). Cithrin being reluctantly apprenticed to yet another Medean bank executive (albeit a rather different character) and learning valuable life lessons also feels a bit over-familiar. The Tyrant's Law is a middle volume and showing some of the weaknesses of that position, but overcomes most of them through some solid plotting and decent characterisation.

If there is one major criticism that can be made of the series, it's that Abraham has deliberately set out to write something more traditional after the relative commercial disappointment of his debut sequence, the lyrical and imaginative Long Price Quartet. As a result, whilst Long Price felt like it was written from the heart, Dagger and the Coin sometimes feels a little too artificially-constructed and a little too knowing in its references. This isn't a major problem, but it does make one feel that this series is going to end up in the 'enjoyably good series' pile rather than the 'modern fantasy classics', where Long Price firmly resides. Still, with two more books to go, Abraham still has time to elevate the series to a new level.

The Tyrant's Law (****) will be published in the UK and USA on 14 May.
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