Sunday, January 24, 2010

Review - Shadow & Betrayal

The Long Price: Shadow & Betrayal
by Daniel Abraham
SFBC, 2007
Copy provided by, and all thanks to, me

ISBN: 978-0-7394-8915-4

Last night, I finished the Science fiction Book Club omnibus edition titled Shadow & Betrayal, by Daniel Abraham. This is the finest introduction to an author, in sf&f, since I read The Dragonbone Chair, in the early months of 1989.

The blurbs for each tale in the omnibus are as follows:

A Shadow in Summer

The city-state of Saraykeht dominates the Summer Cities. Its wealth is beyond measure; its port is open to all the merchants of the world, and its ruler commands forces to rival the Gods. Blissfully ignorant of the powers that fuel their prosperity, the people live secure in the knowledge that their city is a bastion of peace and progress in a harsh world.

Yet Saraykeht is poised on the knife-edge of disaster.

At the heart of the city's influence are the poet-sorcerer Heshai and the captive spirit, or andat, whom he controls. A man faced with constant reminders of his responsibilities-and failures-Heshai is the linchpin and the most vulnerable point in Saraykeht's greatness.

Far to the west, the armies of Galt have conquered many lands. To take Saraykeht, they must first undermine the trade upon which its prosperity is based. Now a plot is afoot to release the andat from Heshai's control. If it succeeds, the city will be left vulnerable to its conquering armies.

Just four protectors stand alone against the menace. But the Galts are not the greatest threat they face...

A Betrayal in Winter

As a boy, Otah was exiled from his family, which rules the city-state of Machi. Decades later, he has witnessed and been part of world-changing events. Yet, he has never returned to his childhood home. Now his father, the reigning Khai, is dying, and Otah's eldest brother, Biitrah, has been assassinated. Otah realizes that he must go home, for reasons not even he understands.

Tradition dictates that the sons of a dying Khai must fall upon each other until only one remains to succeed his father. But something even worse is occurring. The Galts have allied with someone in Machi to bring down the ruling house. Otah himself is caught and accused, the long-missing brother with an all-too-obvious motive for murder.

Crafted with subtle richness and storytelling skill, The Long Price: Shadow and Betrayal is a masterful drama filled with unique magic, Machiavellian politics, compelling characters and, behind it all, the machinations of an ambitious, bloodthirsty empire.

What I didn't like: There was an irksome instance of inconsistency within the story. In A Shadow in Summer the poet for Saraykeht is instructed by the Khai of the city to keep his andat locked away in a cage, unless absolutely necessary for purposes of its work. The poet goes along with the confinement for a short time, but then gives his andat free reign again. Abraham offers a rationale for why the andat's incarceration is debilitating to the poet, but it doesn't address the certainty of the command given by the Khai concerning the andat. The release of the andat is not done discreetly and I would expect the Khai to have heard of it and strictly addressed the poet. This doesn't happen. The freedom enjoyed by the andat becomes pivotal to events that then unravel for the remainder of the story.

In A Betrayal in Winter, we learn that the Khai cannot control the poets. In fact, the head of the order, the Dai'kvo, is the ultimate authority the poets are charged with obeying. I suppose this would have covered the inconsistency I observed earlier, but why not elaborate upon that in A Shadow in Summer?

I've gone on at some length about this, but in truth, I find it to be a small and minor annoyance. That is because the characters, drama and total exposure of the complete range of human emotion is the closest thing there is to a free pass for authorial error.

What I liked: Abraham's story does so much, and does it without any of the usual suspects. There is no quest object. There is no prophecy guiding every step of the protagonist(s). All the characters have 'warts' on display. There are no mythological creatures, demi-gods or world saving causes against all odds. Even the magic system employed is used to illustrate the reality of one's own inner conflict. What Abraham does do, is create characters that seem as real as you or I. Abraham then has them encounter myriad, subtle victories and defeats. With well crafted, consistent, credible characters an author can, seemingly, do anything. That's the impression Abraham has left me with.

Characterization, characterization, characterization. With it done as well as humanly possible, all else is trivial because it will make the story excellent regardless of any other flaws. Should the remaining two books of this series maintain the level displayed in the first two, I will be placing my works of Abraham with my other All-Time favorites, which include Tolkien, Donaldson and Tad Williams.

Verdict: Must Read, and potential All-Time favorite


Seak (Bryce L.) said...

I'm so glad you liked it and reaffirms that we have pretty dang similar tastes. I completely agree with how impressive it was to look back at the story thinking, there were hardly any swords, no creatures, hardly any magic used, and I absolutely loved every page of it.

RedEyedGhost said...

I'm glad you're enjoying them!

Not only does it "maintain the level displayed in the first", it gets sooooo much better.

The Long Price is my favorite finished fantasy series, and unless GRRM suddenly announces he's finished the last three books in ASoIaF, I don't see that changing anytime soon.

PeterWilliam said...

@ Seak - From past experience, I would say that we do indeed have similar tastes.

@ RedEyedGhost - I'm halfway through An Autumn War now and the series is getting better, if that's possible. I'm a fairly reserved fellow, but this series is absolutely squeeee-worthy.

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