Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Dragon's Path Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Daniel Abraham
Publisher: Orbit
Genre: Epic Fantasy, Low Fantasy
Series: The Dagger and the Coin Book One
Pages: 592

Buy on Amazon!

If you were ever looking to pick a series up that’s like Game of Thrones this would be the one.  Daniel Abraham’s The Dagger and the Coin is a new series with a conflicted medieval landscape and multiple character titled chapters.  All of the characters are multidimensional, the plot is largely unpredictable, and there are a fair share of those”horrible moral compromise” types of moments. Above all, this is a character driven fantasy that I really enjoyed and couldn’t recommend enough – especially if you’re a fan of George R.R. Martin who’s impatiently waiting for his next book.

In a world with thirteen different human races, five loosely interrelated characters narrate their stories across a land that used to be ruled by the great Dragon Kings.  Baron Dawson Kalliam is an Antean nobleman struggling for political power and his king’s affection. He’s aided by his wife Clara and his son who fights in the Antean army. While Dawson gets plenty of narration time, his wife only joins the foray at the end.  His loyalty to his king, his loving relationship with his wife, and his political maneuvering abilities make him a likeable character.  His disdain for lower class people and his insistence for aristocratic rule – essentially arguing for essence over existence and that freedom should be denied to lower class people – has the opposite effect. These type of dichotomies pretty much sum up all of Abraham's characters, and it’s what really makes the story work.

Geder Palliako is the only scion for his house, and he has no respect from his peers.  Not helping his reputation is his interest in speculative essays, a frowned upon genre in Antean society – sound familiar fantasy fans. He unwittingly becomes a pawn of Antean political games. Geder is currently serving in the Antean military, along with Dawson’s son. Without going into too much detail, Geder is forced to make a number of difficult decisions that ultimately have a huge impact on his personal fortune.

Marcus Wester is an aging hero of legend.  Many think he’s dead.  In order to avoid conscription into the Vanai military, he works as a Captain for a caravan guard.  He has an “old school” hero’s mentality that’s in constant conflict with an ever-changing world.  On a trip to Carthe, his caravan is joined by Cithrin bel Sarcour, a teenage orphan of mixed races.  She’s been raised by a patron from the Medean Bank, and she’s been tasked to smuggle out the entire bank’s fortune to Carthe, as the city she’s currently living in is soon to be invaded by the Anteans.

There is a lot of coming of age in this story.  Cithrin and Geder both come a long way by the book’s end, and both end up in places you certainly weren’t expecting at the beginning of the book. Dawson and Marcus’ plots show how traditional and older ideas can be a hindrance or value – depending on the circumstances – in a constantly evolving world.  All of the plots challenge traditional fantasy character tropes. Cithrin really stands out here as she’s a young girl and a virgin.  Virgin girl coming of age stories in fantasy are oftentimes one of the most unrealistically looked at events in fiction …. well …. not in this book. It’s this book’s tendency to stick closer to realism, not just with Cithrin but all the characters.

Magical elements are almost non-existent, and when they’re introduced, it’s done mysteriously. The worldbuilding is reminiscent of the late medieval and early renaissance period of European history. One of the central institutions of power besides the various king and noble ruled kingdoms is the Medean Bank.  With inspiration drawn from the Medici in Italy, economics looks to be slowly becoming a bigger part of this story.  While not the most exciting topic, Abraham makes finance interesting enough, and it’s real world implications are disturbing. The only thing lacking here is more info on the thirteen different races of humanity. This was an area that was underdeveloped, but with four sequels on the way I expect this issue will be remedied.

The plot’s a lot shorter and the pacing’s a lot quicker than it is in Martin’s books. In this regard I’m reminded of The Black Company by Glen Cook, where the story just jumps from event to event – getting to the point quickly – albeit there are multiple viewpoints to keep track of, instead of just following one specific group of characters. There were times though where I wished for things to be flushed out a little slower as this tends to make climactic moments feel more dramatic.  That being said there are plenty of climactic moments in the book, and by the end my needs were certainly satisfied.

Score: 8.8

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