Sunday, August 29, 2010

Book review: "Seasons of War" by Daniel Abraham

Once again, I am late with both my reading and posting this blog. I had troubles with my notebook last weekend and this week I had very tight schedule because of my work. Reading manga and watching anime is currently postponed for a while (except "Naruto" anime once a week on and manga at Last weekend I finished "Seasons of War" (and lo, only now I am writing a post) and currently I am reading "Night of Knives" by Ian C. Esslemont. Next is "The Born Queen", last book in "The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone" series. Depending on when will I finish it, I'll maybe jump to some short anime (I have two anime downloaded and ready), but then a special treat (for me, at least) is on: a reread of few last books of "The Wheel of Time". It will definitely include "Knife of Dreams" and "The Gathering Storm". Since Leigh Butler's reread on is somewhere on the middle of "Winter's Heart", I will maybe start with "Crossroads of Twilight".

Not, we'll get back to the book in topic. "Seasons of War" by Daniel Abraham contains two last books in his "The Long Price Quartet". In my blog about first two books, you can see that though I appreciated book's quality, I wasn't really into them. I am very happy to say the quality is still on most high level in this sequel, but I am now very much into it! While first two books carry their own weight in importance (I mean, as scope of events in books), I now see them only as introduction. An introduction where reader is shown history and social and political picture of the world. I was interested in story and fates of the characters, but not in same way and magnitude as in these last two books.

The story is a natural sequence of first books. As in first two books, it depicts a confrontation of two civilizations: one is old, build on Islamic world, decadent and dependent on only one resource: the andat. Andats are only supernatural or magical things in these books. They are solidifications of ideas: a poet who summons his andat can use him to perform actions connected to his essence. For example, andat Stone-Made-Soft can be used for alternations of stone's (or similar materials) internal structure; it can vary from making small stone sculptures to sinking continents. The other civilization is down-to-earth, businesslike, greedy and dependent solely on their skills. At least that is what it look on surface. Abraham's creations (both world and characters) are not one-dimensional or simple. There are both good and bad sides to everything. There are people in Khaiem (the civilization build on powers of andat) who understand that their greatest strength is at the same time their biggest weakness and want to rectify it. Also, not all Galts (second civilization) are aggressive and paranoid conquerors and schemers. In some way, it had a feel of reading historical fantasy, like Guy Gavriel Kay's books. Though, he has much more emotional books (or this is just me?).

Main characters in last two books are the same one as in first two. I was aware of this fact before I read all books (I've read it in some review on Amazon), but I was surprised how well this works. In first book ("A Betrayal in Winter"), Otah and Maati (two main characters) are 18 and 16 years old (or close to). And every next book present them some 15 years older. It was a very interesting situation to see 60 year old Otah comparing himself to his younger versions. This kind of comparison (young vs. old) is very common in this series. Other characters appear and disappear in course of books; some appear again, but some are gone forever.

I wouldn't go too much into stories of each book. Actually, you can consider this as a review of whole series, First book is a thriller-type book; second is a political intrigue. Third book broadens the scope: it describes a world war. And last book is much more leisured, brining old characters to one last adventure on the road.

What impressed me very much was how third book ("An Autumn War") was analogy of American aggression on Iraq (and possibly future on Iran). Andats are kind of biological or nuclear weapons (in power, if not in form). So author dwells about the question do the Galts have the right to attack cities of Khaiem to prevent them in using andats on them, even though they have no proof of intention. This is especially interesting if you consider the fact that in Khaiem is in first two books presented as the good side. As I said, both sides have their own reasons and justifications for their acts. It is on the reader to decide (or not) who is right, because Abraham doesn't give his own conclusion. If you read these books, I think you will agree with me that, even though not just, solution of third book was very poetical.

Stressing again, characterization is Abraham's high point. There are no simple characters here! They all question themselves, their decision and world around them. And they all act very natural: they make mistakes, get scarred and panic, have regrets for previous decisions....

Not connected directly to content of the books... Covers (at least the ones I have) are terrible! I don't see what that armored guy at "Shadow and Betrayal" cover has anything to do with, well, anything, but samurai-ninja with two absurdly long swords (cover on "Seasons of War") definitely doesn't belong there!

For final conclusion, I can't to not recommend these books. With reservation that they are not for broad audience (which can be read from their relative small popularity). If you read fantasy only for relaxation and escape from everyday problems, then skip this books. Because they force you to think carefully about characters and their problems. Also, be prepared to the fact that books leave a bit melancholic feeling after reading them.

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