Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Shadow and Betrayal - book review

Last two weeks I've been reading "Shadow and Betrayal", an omnibus edition of Daniel Abraham's "The Long Price Quartet". It is partially funny and partially sad that I need almost two weeks for some 600 pages book, but times when I could easily spend 12 hours a day on reading are now gone. Except if I quit my job and devote myself to reading? (just joking)

Anyway, I picked this book for two reasons. First, because it is relatively short serial (four short books) with all the books published. Currently, I have some 6 or 7 serials opened, waiting for next installments, so I didn't want to add another one to this list. Second, more important reason was seeing some nice reviews on, describing this like a very intelligent and unique, but undeservedly ignored serial (it was either here or here where I first seen it mentioned).

Two main characters (at least in first two books) are Otah and Maati. They were both students in academy (of a sort) for poets, this book version of wizards, Otah a few years senior to Maati. Otah finished first part on his education when he decided to quit because he believed it was morally wrong to continue and run away to hide and be forgotten, while Maati continued and reached the final step. Now, Maati is in a city of Saraykeht to finish his education and study under a real poet. At the same time, a conspiracy is in motion, with final goal of removing the poet and then the city from the source of their power. Chance will again tie Otah with Maati and set them against internal and foreign forces.

There are three points that these books excel at. First, it is the world. It is not a classical fantasy setting, more like worlds in Guy Gavriel Kay books. It is mostly influenced with Middle East, with some references from Japan (name suffixes and some food), but only one part of the world was in focus so there is a possibility of other real/imagined countries. Setting is very realistic; except the part with the poets, you could mistake it for an alternate history setting. And poets are very well imagined: they are not omnipotent or common. Their powers originate in "andats", which are personification or manifestation of a single idea. For example, "andat" Stone-Made-Soft can literally make stone soft, whether one pebble or a whole mountain. Unfortunately, they are very rare and there are only four of them mentioned in first two books; I hope for more of them in last two books.

Then, the plot; it is very interesting detective story. One review on Amazon compared it to Columbo movies, meaning that we have a POVs from the "bad guys" as the same time as the ones from the "good guys". So, books follow the play between few confronted sides, each trying to get the other first. Now I must mention the characters, which are very deep and feel like real people. So, when friends found themselves on different sides, we can feel their emotional qualms. There are not many important characters, so it's easy to connect to them.

What I didn't like is the general tone of the books. I found them actually a bit depressing. First, the world is deteriorating: from glorious, but violent past to seemingly fine, but actually corrupted present. And you just know that future is not going to be bright. Troubles that our heroes got trough are quite big and leave them all emotionally scared.

To summarize, these are very quality and intelligent book, with deep characters, unique and realistic world and interesting plot. I personally didn't like the depressing feel they give, but I appreciate their uniqueness and complexity. A recommendation, especially since they are not long nor there are many books in the series.

As of my next project, it will either be some anime or some manga.

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