Since his début novel A Shadow in Summer appeared in 2006, Daniel Abraham has been writing novels at an impressive rate. 2011 will see the release of no less than three titles. April saw the release of The Dragon's Path, the first book in Abraham's new epic fantasy series The Dagger and the Coin Quintet, in June Leviathan Wakes, a space opera written in collaboration with Ty Frank under the pseudonym James S.A. Corey appeared (this one is still on the to read stack) and in scheduled for release in November is Killing Rites, the fourth book in his urban fantasy series The Black Sun's Daughter written under the pen-name M.L.N. Hanover. That's on top of the comic adaptations and the occasional short story he is working on. Very impressive indeed.
The Dragon's Path introduces us to a new fantasy setting where the thirteen races of humanity, once united under the dragon rulers, are now divided in many different kingdoms. One of the more powerful states, Antea, is about to launch a military campaign against the city state of Vanai. Although the eyes of the empire appear to be directed outside its own borders, the campaign is but one move in a much larger internal conflict. The King struggles to keep his subjects from going for each other's throats but clearly, control is slipping away from him. It turns what ought to be a limited military expedition into a spiral of violence that could well end in civil war.
I'm a big fan of Abraham's Long Price Quartet. Its unusual, oriental flavour, its almost Shakespearian drama and the attention to characterization make it some of the best fantasy written in the last decade in my opinion. It was quite well received by reviewers but apparently didn't sell well. Publisher Tor didn't bother with a mass market paperback edition of the final book, The Price of Spring, effectively sealing the fate of the series. It's quite an achievement Abraham survived this as a writer and is still publishing under his own name. These experiences may have influenced his approach to this series, The Coin and Dagger Quintet feels a lot more like traditional epic fantasy to me.
It took me a while to get into this story. Abraham is clearly building in this novel and that means the reader should have a little patience with this book. He introduces a world that is much larger than anything he attempted in the Long Price Quartet. It took quite a few pages for me to settle into that environment. Not surprisingly, quite a few things go unexplained or are not as well developed as I might have liked in this book. The thirteen races of humanity is probably the best example. He describes most of them briefly at some point in the novel but apart from the ones the main characters belong to, most of them are still only vague images in my mind. I guess an appendix would have been nice. The history of these thirteen groups is something Abraham probably will get into in later books. He leaves some interesting titbits throughout this novel though. One of the things I'd be interested in is the apparent lack of hybrids. Somewhere in the story it is suggested that not all combinations result in fertile offspring but others obviously do.
The story is told using many point of view characters, with chapters named after the character. In this, and a few other aspects of the story, Abraham is clearly influenced by George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels. He picks his characters from all layers of society. From the conservative nobleman Dawson to the mysterious mercenary Marcus, the entire fabric of society is shown to us. There seem to be two overarching conflicts in the novel that concern both the coin (economics) and dagger (military aspects) of the story. Dawson in particular, is involved in a struggle to keep farmers from gaining more influence in court. He is a great believer in the idea that everybody has his or her place in society and should not under any circumstance try to get above themselves. He shows a great dislike of the employee of a large bank he meets later in the novel for instance and resents the fact that the bank is able to wield a lot of influence thanks to their fortune rather than their station. These tensions could easily lead to armed conflict later on, something Dawson is quite prepared to face to defend his values.
The second conflict is not quite as clear yet and most likely ties into the unexplored history of Abraham's world. One of its symptoms of this approaching conflict is the re-emergence of a religious movement. The character most involved in this is Geder, the son and heir of a minor Antean nobleman. His mind seems receptive to a good dose of religious fanaticism. In fact, even without it, he is capable of some pretty drastic actions. Geder is the character I'm most curious about in the next volumes of this series. Whatever his next move is, it will most likely be quite dramatic.
Abraham introduces a clear economic component to his story, something that is often lacking in other epic fantasies. This part of the story is mostly seem through the eyes of Cithrin, a young orphan raised in the care of a banking establishment in the city of Vanai. Her protector sends her off with most of the bank's fortune to keep it from falling in the hands of the Anteans. It's the beginning of a wild adventure that will see Cithrin put into practice many of the things she's been trained to do as well as learn a thing or two about the world. I think this character is one of the stronger ones in the novel. Cithrin is a curious teenager. Her story line is a bit of an emotional roller coaster. Inexperienced as she is, she doesn't deal well with setbacks and has a tendency to look for answers in alcohol. Cithrin is definitely one of the more colourful characters in this novel, it will be interesting how the author will develop this story line.
The Coin and Dagger is a series with a lot of potential. The scope of this series is beyond what Abraham did in his previous fantasy novels and will definitely appeal to the epic fantasy fan. Personally, I thought The Dragon's Path, judged on its own merits, is not as strong as previous novels It's a bit slow to get going and, although it ends at a natural point in the story, the climax of the novel didn't have the impact on me any of the Long Price novels managed to deliver. Still, Abraham has me intrigued enough to stick with this series. It would surprise me if an author of Abraham's caliber would not be able to deliver on all that this volume promises for the rest of the series. I guess I am on board for part two: The King's Blood.
Title: The Dragon's Path
Author: Daniel Abraham
First published: 2011