Sunday, March 4, 2012

Book review: "The Dragon's Path" by Daniel Abraham

First I would like to say that recently I have finally bought Amazon Kindle. I was playing with the idea for some time, but my initial decision was to wait a year or two for this technology settle properly. What made my change my decision was very mundane: a lack of space for books. I am still living at my parent's house and have a relatively small room with only two bookshelves on the wall. So when I recently come close to filling them fully, I realized that I will have to invest in a new one, but I was already tight with space. This also made me thinking, what will I do when I move out (probably to some apartment): bring all my 100+ book with me? So I decided to make thins investment -which turned out to be much smaller than I thought will be. I decided to take the basic version, even without 3G (only WiFi), because I have a good smartphone I can use for Internet (Samsung Galaxy S II). Now, after completing my first book I am very satisfied. I was able to read without any problem, even easier that with real book - you can choose font-size you like, "paper" was not too bright and there was no gloss. You can change pages easily and move between chapters. Built-in dictionary is also useful. Device itself fits very nicely in hand, and in lap, which I important to me because I like to read when I am eating. Only drawback was that I wasn't able to see all details on the map in book. But all in all, I am more than satisfied with Kindle and I don't plan to buy any more paper books, except in case where there is no Kindle edition.

So, first book that I read on my Kindle was "The Dragon's Path" by Daniel Abraham. I have read his probably most famous work for now - "The Long Price Quartet". I think these are exceptionally well written books, but although I had enjoyed them, I can't say they were among my favorites and I haven't made any special connection to the setting or characters. After "The Dragon's Path" was published last year, I read some very good reviews about it, telling how Abraham retained his quality but wrote much more classical epic fantasy work. I concur with these reviews, because I found it extremely enjoyable, a kind of book you try to read in one sitting. I hope this will be a start of great series, one called "The Dagger and the Coin Quintet".

There are four main characters in "The Dragon's Path" and story is told from their point of view (in third-person narration), although two more characters get each a small chapter or two. Captain Marcus Wester was a famous captain and warrior, but after a jealous betrayal by his lord, he found his place as a leader of caravan guards, a mere mercenary usually leading half a dozen men. His latest job is to take one of the last caravans from Vanai, a soon to be besieged trading town, one of Free Cities neighboring the Antea Kindgom. Cithrin is a young girl of seventeen years, who lost her parents at four years and since has been a ward of Medean Bank in Vanai, living there and learning to be a banker one day. But because of closing siege and pressure from ruling Prince, a leader of this branch of bank decides to move its riches secretly. After the murder of person who was supposed to take it from the town, Cithrin is forced to take his place masked as Tag the Carter, a place in caravan guarded by Captain Wester. Geder Palliako is a knight in army that is coming to conquer Vanai. He is a good and likable guy, a minor noble, but because of this goodness and his social awkwardness he is often bullied and teased by his peers. After one such joke, where his superior burn his favorite book, the firmly decides to take his revenge on him. Last one is Lord Dawson Kalliam, one of the strongest and most important nobles in Antea, now a man in his middle years with grown up children. His constant feuding with one of his peers will take him to discover a possible plot against his King - first only by reducing King's power by installing a farmer's council, but later with much worse consequences.

The setting Abraham came up for his new series, "The Dagger and the Coin Quintet", is one that fantasy fans will find more familiar then in "The Long Price" quartet, but on the other hand, one with enough originality to not be a common one. But the best part is that Abraham is very scarce with details and although he made a very believable and realistic setting with so few, he left much more for fans to explore in next books.  Few thousand years ago all land was united in the Dragon Empire, one literary ruled by dragons. Thirteen races of humanity were then designed and created by dragons, with Firstbloods (regular humans) as first. Other races are also human, but with specific traits (some are larger, some are smaller, some have reptilian features, and so on). Due to infighting between dragons, their Empire collapsed and the only that is left from then are the Dragon Roads, indestructible jade roads that connect new kingdoms and cities. Technology is classic medieval, but commerce plays a big role. There is magic which is wide known and taken for normal, but it is rare and weak (cunning-men can heal minor wounds, make some weak physical effects like calling the wind, and so on).

But what make this book exceptional are the characters. Marcus and Cithrin present the lower side, common people. They are both realistically written and both are neither perfect nor plane. Marcus is troubled by death of his wife and daughter, and during book his decision are influenced by the fact that Cithrin remind him to his daughter. As his companion ask him: does he do things because Cithrin remind him of her, or does he act differently in spite of it. Cithrin is a classical young character thrown into circumstances over her head. She is spiteful, sometimes weak and sometimes full of herself, but always interesting to read - there are few big turns and surprises with her story. I read some reviews that say that her part was too full of boring economics, but I didn't found it so - at the contrary, I found the realism of it very refreshing.

So, Marcus and Cithrin are great characters, but Geder and Dawon are above this - two really thought-provoking characters. Geder is one character many will be sympathetic for, even find connection to. He is thoughtful and oversensitive, likes books and reading - although he is nice guy, he is a target of teasing by his companions. It makes you forget that he is a knight, trained in killing people, and even though he is only minor nobility and not very rich, he had a protected and easy childhood - not so much compared to his peers, but miles above common people. And what he will do during this book... We can't call it really evil because there were no evil intentions and he does it from naivety, but I don't think he would fare well on the International Court of Justice in Haag! And as for Dawson... He is intelligent but wise, sure in himself but not too demanding of others. He is rich, powerful and loyal - a lord everyone decent could look up to without jealousy. He likes dogs and you just cannot dislike him. But at the same time, he is racist, chauvinist and elitist. He thinks about other races as slaves and less than animals - common people he regards maybe some better than animals. When you read his talk about raising pig-headers, you are disgraced that you are both humans. But what is much worse, he sound very convincing and sensible! Abraham did a great job with him - it's like Abraham is using Dawson to invite and challenge you to prove him wrong and to prove yourself better than him.

Other characters that we meet though book are also interesting. The acting troupe for some reason reminded me much to "Tigana" by Guy Gavriel Kay, although without any specific reason.

Book is some 600 pages long and is really easy to read. It is well rounded and has a completing ending. But you have to have in mind that this is only first book in series and that will have at least four more. What it does is introduce the setting and some players - real action will only follow. Threat of the Spider Goddess is only indicated, but I am looking forward reading more about it.

In many ways "The Dragon's Path" reminded me to "The Darkness That Comes Before" by R. Scott Bakker - original setting with history and realism, interesting and flowing story, amazing and provocative characters, combined with great writing. If sequels retain this quality, this series deserves to be placed among the best fantasy series out there now.

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