Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Review: The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham

Daniel Abraham became a critical favorite with his Long Prince Quartet that unfortunately never translated into wide popularity. As a result he has re-booted his career, writing under the pen names of James S.A. Corey and M.L.N. Hanover as well as Daniel Abraham, and switched publishers. Now he has a new fantasy quintet*, The Dagger and The Coin, with its first book, The Dragon’s Path recently released (Book Depository, Powell's Books, Indiebound). Where the Long Prince Quartet moved beyond the norms of epic fantasy such as the medieval European analog, The Dagger and The Coin, embraces many of epic fantasy’s traditional values and The Dragon’s Path is a promising start to this new series.

Abraham’s world is one in which humanity has risen from the ashes of a ruined civilization created by dragons. One of the many legacies of dragon rule is that humanity is the creation of 12 additional races of humanity. However, just how and why the dragon empire ended remains a mystery long lost to history.

The northern kingdom of Antea lets internal politics boil from its borders with an invasion of the Free City of Vanai to the south. This event sets the plot in motion for The Dragon’s Path as we follow four primary points of view – Geder: an outcast minor noble in the invading army, Dawson: a traditional and powerful noble working for the preservation of Antea, Marcus: a mercenary captain with a past, and Cithrin: a young ward of the Medean Bank. As the invasion nears, Cithrin is disguised and sent from Vanai with much of the wealth of the Vanai branch of the Medean Bank. Marcus is the captain of the caravan’s guards in which Cithrin is hidden. Dawson seeks to manipulate events in Vanai from afar and Geder finds himself tangled in the intrigue.

Abraham’s earlier fantasy series set out to be different from epic fantasy while The Dagger and The Coin sets out to engage the core of epic fantasy. However, it’s hard to call The Dragon’s Path a traditional epic fantasy with the twists in perception engineered by Abraham. Traditional fantasy may be embraced and honored, but its presentation is fresh.

One of the aspects that I enjoyed most in The Dragon’s Path is Abraham’s selection of the characters he tells the story through. While most will (correctly) point to Cithrin and Marcus as the most developed, most sympathetic and likeable characters and Geder as the most intriguing in terms of what is to come, Dawson gets left out. Dawson represents the traditional, conservative force so common in epic fantasy – the status quo. He is an elitist noble who thinks of everyone else as less than human, he is a bigot, and he thrives in a male-dominated, testosterone culture that is reprehensible to modern sensibility. In court politics he commands a faction that is defending against a rival group of younger nobles seeking reforms such as more power in the hands of the farmers and such. The twist is that most fantasy these days tells the story from the point of view of the reformers while Abraham chooses to tell the story from the point of view of the conservatives. It’s a classic battle of progress versus the status quo and I love how Abraham forces the reader to cheer for the traditional bad guys.

In another slight deviation from traditional epic fantasy, Abraham embraces rather than discounts the power of economy. Throughout history, much of the power of society has resided in banks or their equivalent and Abraham honors this historical reality. Cithrin is the ward of a bank just about to achieve her adulthood and freedom – but events force her to flee her home and survive without direction. As the child of bank her only real world skills are banking, and use them she does. I love the importance that Abraham gives to the banks, even if it is only just realized in this opening chapter to the series.

Marcus is the classic aged hero with a past. He is the father figure and moral guidepost. And he comes complete with a not-quite-funny sidekick. When will Marcus come out of the shell of his past and be the man he can be? Geder is the biggest mystery of the main characters. He is a would-be scholar born into a noble society that reveres manly pursuits (not scholarship). He is a tool and the whipping boy of the marching army and he makes some odd choices that lead the reader to question his moral center and even sanity – is Geder a sociopath in the making? And just who’s tool is he? The answers to these questions are only hinted at in The Dragon’s Path with resolutions (hopefully) forthcoming in future books.

For an epic fantasy, The Dragon’s Path is a bit short on battles and magic, but this is only the opening chapter of the quintet* with the second book, The King’s Blood coming in 2012 (planned). The Dragon’s Path does not stand on its own and is similar in to The Fellowship of the Ring in that it is only the beginning of one great novel. This is the introduction and the promise of magic and battles to come is laid out and many questions have been raised with few answers. The Dragon’s Path wets the appetite but doesn’t deliver the meal. That is for later and I can’t wait. 8-8.5/10

*EDIT: I 'spoke' with Daniel Abraham about this and he says that the original concept was for The Dagger and The Coin to be a five book series, but he is currently under contract for only three. We'll have to wait and see what the sales are like before a final decision is made - Abraham says he can do either. SECOND EDIT: Abraham just informed me that he and Orbit have agreed on 5 books - now they just need to get the contractual details all together.


polishgenius said...

Why do you say it's a trilogy? Everything I've heard about it says it's a planned quintet.

Neth said...

Where did you hear that? I just searched around and didn't find any mention. I'll try and confirm if it's a trilogy or quintent and then edite the review as appropriate.

Mad Professah said...

I've been seeing a bunch of reviews of this and will put it higher on my TO READ pile...currently reading Connie Willis' latest...

How would ou compare THE DRAGON'S PATH to The Wise Man's Fear or The Name of the Wind by Rothfuss?

Neth said...

@Mad Professah

honestly, I wouldn't really feel comfortable comparing The Dragon's Path with Rothfuss' books at all. They have a completely different feel for them. Stylistically, they have much more in common with George RR Martin's books, but that's also not a very good comparison.

Neth said...

@polishgenius - see the edit I just posted in the original post - it was originally planned as a 5-book series, but currently is only contracted as a 3-book series. At this point it's all dependent on sales.

Neth said...

Daniel just let me know that he and Orbit have agreed on five books.

polishgenius said...

Yay! Good news.

I believe I originally read it on one of the older threads in the Westeros forums where Mr. Abraham posted, but I can't be entirely sure... Good to see it's confirmed.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...