Daniel Abraham’s The Long Price is one of those series of the past years that I missed out on up to now. The first novel in the series, A Shadow in Summer, was originally published in the US by Tor in 2006, yet I have only now read it. Instead of reading each of the novels individually, I opted for the two omnibus editions published by Orbit in the UK, of which Shadow and Betrayal is the first. This volume contains two very strong offerings from what was then a new writer. These two character-personal tales lead me to believe that as a whole, The Long Price will be a series worth remembering in the years to come.
The city state of Saraykeht dominates the Summer Cities. Its wealth is beyond measure, its port a hub for all the merchants of the world, and its ruler commands forces to rival the gods. At the heart of the city’s influence are the poet-sorcerer, Heshai, and his andat - the captive spirit, seedless, whom he controls.
There are those in the world, however, who envy such wealth, and only the threat of the andat unleashed holds the enemies of the Summer Cities in check. But there is more to conquest than siege engines and armies...
Conflict is brewing in the world. Alliances will be broken and friends betrayed. The lowly will be raised up, the mighty will fall and innocents will be slaughtered. And two men, bound to each other by an act of kindness and an act of brutality, may be all that stands between the civilized world and war.
War and something worse.
My analysis below is broken up in two, each section concentrating on one of the novels contained in the omnibus.
It’s clear from the onset that this book is going to be made up, to a significant degree, of set up for the rest of the series. First of all, we need to learn all about the world that Abraham has created - and it’s an imaginative world at that. Then there is of course getting to know the various characters that will be of interest, namely Otah, Maati, Liat and Amat, who are the point of view characters for this book. It’s also important to note that this isn’t an epic fantasy novel that will deal with large battles, wars or any kind of fighting for that matter - A Shadow in Summer has no true fight at all. Instead it is very much a book about the characters, the people, though their actions and hints left by Abraham along the way imply greater things to come plot-wise. After all, with a title like Seasons of War, one would hope that the second omnibus of The Long Price will include some...war.
As A Shadow in Summer is the first entry in this series, I’d like to make a closer mention of the imaginative aspects of this book. Abraham has created a vast and well developed world and has also slipped in neat little touches that make this reading experience that much more immersive. By this I mean elements of the worldbuilding that do not appear as important but benefit the novel, such as the different titles added to the end of peoples’ names when they address each other formally or, more notably, the use of “pose” that reflect a sentiment a person wishes to convey to another without speaking, as such, characters go through “poses” of apology, regret, command, query and many more, when appropriate. Among the more major worldbuilding elements the one that most easily comes to mind is the inclusion of the andat, these god-like entities which are, in fact, physically personified enslaved elemental powers controlled by human “poets”. Each of the andat are named after what they control, such as Removing-the-Part-That-Continues (better known as Seedless), the only directly encountered andat in this book, who has the ability to kill the seeds (including fetuses) of any living thing. The “poets” who control the andat are also the ones which originally captured the nature of their power in order to represent them in a physical form and in doing so, gaining the access to all the andats’ powers. This really is an original and fascinating concept, one of the better ones I’ve stumbled across.
When I say that this is a book about the characters, you'll understand that it means the characters are great. It’s very hard to rest the weight of an entire novel of this kind on characters that aren’t perceived as realistic relatable and interesting to the reader. So of course the characters Abraham has depicted in A Shadow in Summer are realistic, relatable and interesting, even if some are less so than others. Since I’m going directly into reviewing the next book in The Long Price, I’ll reserve my final judgement on the characters for the first half of the quartet for later. As for now, Otah and Maati, and to a lesser extent Liat, are the characters that stand out the most. Otah in particular among the characters has been through a lot and that has made his character more complex and captivating to follow. Though his morals may be a bit clouded at times, he is not the kind of hero that has come up more and more in fantasy recently; he isn’t gloomy or angry at the world or seeking revenge. He has his faults and his difference with others but ultimately he’s just trying to make his way through life as he best sees fit, a policy that is clearly reflected in many of his decisions. Maati, who’s actually gone through many of Otah’s early life experiences, serves to demonstrate the results of different paths being taken at a common fork in the road. Them together, mixed with their relationships with Liat, make for one passionate and interesting read.
Let’s move on to...
A Betrayal in Winter
It’s always a joy to read a book and its sequel back to back. Among other things it helps keep moments of “Who is this guy? What happened again?” at bay. And it also makes for a more fluid read. The transition between A Shadow in Summer and A Betrayal in Winter is seamless, making it very easy to leave the characters at the end of the first and reunite with them some years later in the second. Though this book takes place in a different setting from the first, the story picks up much faster than it did in the first. Also, Abraham does not take the time to annoyingly reacquaint us, as some other writers do, with the world or the characters he has created - if you didn’t pay attention in the first book then tough luck.
A Betrayal in Winter’s plot still remains about the characters but it also concentrates majorly on the politics of the ruling family of Machi. At the time we rejoin the world of the cities of the Khaiem, the Khai Machi, ruler of the city of Machi and father of Otha, is dying and his succession is still undecided. It is tradition for his sons to kill each other until only one remains to become heir. But someone else is killing the brothers and is blaming Otha for the crimes. Finding his way by coincidence to the city of his birth, Otha is forced into a political scramble for the throne that is leaving a trail of blood behind it while his old friend, Maati, is charged with the duty to find him and bring him to justice. Let’s just say that chaos, betrayal, despair and mystery, mixed with a touch or awesome, ensues. The first novel was good but this one is even better - not by much, but still a half-level above. If A Shadow in Summer contained relatively little action, A Betrayal in Winter has got murder plots, assassinations, kidnappings, manhunts and plenty of excitement. Not only that but in the underlaying grand-scale of things, something has begun to build up speed. This promises much for things to come.
Some of the characters from the previous book have been left behind in Saraykeht or drop off somewhere else in this world. In exchange new additions have been made, Cehmai and Idaan. Both offer new view points from which to observe the most plot twists Abraham throws our way. The two main characters from the previous novel, Maati and Otah, are back and have gone through some interesting things while we were gone and have grown in ways that couldn’t really have been predicted at the end of A Shadow in Summer. It was refreshing to have their differences accentuated - it made them play off of each other in ways we had not seen before. Needless to say, this book leads to even further evolutions of these characters and lead me to wonder where exactly they are heading as I look forward to the last two books in the series. Up to now, I’ve enjoyed the characters we’ve encountered - their actions and decisions have kept me reading enthusiastically
If you take one good book, add to it another good book, and package it together in one volume you’re sure to have one very good book. This is how it is with Shadow and Betrayal: it brings together the very good first novels in what looks to be an excellent series. Even forgetting the ease of having two books in one, these are some novels I highly recommend you pick up, be it in this omnibus form or as individual novels. I’m quite excited to delve into the next and last volume, Seasons of War. Expect my review of that in the weeks to come. In the meantime, for those of you that haven’t read The Long Price, I suggest you act on my recommendation and read this volume.
My Rating of A Shadow in Winter: 4 out of 5
My Rating of A Betrayal in Winter: 4.5 out of 5
Overall: 4.5 out of 5
Reading Age: 16 and up
Daniel Abraham's Website: http://bram452.livejournal.com/
Buy Shadow and Betrayal:
Amazon.com (A Shadow in Summer)
Amazon.com (A Betrayal in Winter)