Monday, July 25, 2011

Random Comments Needs a Time Out

Or rather, I do. Something has come up in my private life that makes focussing on books and reviewing pretty much impossible. It doesn't need to be discussed on this blog but getting my act together may take a while. All outstanding promises for review will be met, may take me a bit longer than anticipated though. Don't expect too much activity in the next month or so.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Troika - Alastair Reynolds

With the space shuttle program almost concluded there seems to be a sense that that window of opportunity for the human exploration of space is closing. There is no successor for the Space Shuttle, NASA's budget is shrinking, the US is dependent on other nations to get people up to the International Space Station and exploration of the solar system has completely shifted to robotic probes and Mars rovers. The premise of whole libraries of science fiction novels appears to be increasingly unlikely and that clearly worries a lot of people in the field, including former ESA astronomer Alastair Reynolds.

Personally, I think the drama over the last space shuttle missions is rather US-centric. It can't be denied that the space race between the USSR and the US is over and out competing the other super-power no longer gives the US space industry a boost, but there is a lot going on in other nations. In a multi-polar world, the nature of space exploration has changed. Interest in space exploration won't disappears overnight, even if the US is no longer the leader of the pack. Whether or not we can spare the resources in the long run is another matter. In a way, Reynolds deals with both these matters in his Hugo-nominated novella Troika.

In the near future the USSR has made a comeback. It is once again one of the leading nations in space exploration and when a mysterious alien object appears in the solar system, it is one of the few nations capable of investigating it. The structure of the object and the way it suddenly appeared in the solar system baffle the scientific community. When probes have discovered everything they can, there is only one way left to find out more. Go out and have a look. Three Cosmonauts are sent out on a long mission to explore the object. A mission that will face its share of problems.

There are two main story lines in this novella. The first introduces us to a man recently escaped from an institution for the mentally unstable, which in this second USSR includes people who say things the government would rather not hear. He is on his way to the nearest city where he hopes to find a disgraced astronomer. This story line is a classic example of an unreliable narrator, carefully designed to make you doubt whether or not he has lost his mind.

The significance of what this man tries to achieve is mostly worked into the second story line. This one takes us back a number of years to the manned mission to the alien object. This part of the story, Reynolds approaches as classic of the science fiction genre, a Big Dumb Object story. I use approaches here, because unlike classics like Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama, we do eventually find out the purpose of the object's visit to the solar system and its message is alarming.

There is a tremendous sense of loss and missed opportunities in this novella. Especially in the story line dealing with the escaped patient, it appears to be completely irrelevant whether or not his mission succeeds. He knows nobody is interested in his message. He is mostly doing it for his own piece of mind. It's not surprising he doesn't like Prokofiev's Troika playing on the radio. Too much of an upbeat composition. Prokoofiev's music and the plot of this novella contrast in interesting ways.

The more cynical reader will probably consider this novella a bit of propaganda for space programs in general, and manned space flights in particular. It's warning us that turning our backs to space, despite the economics of its exploration, is a serious mistake. As the Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky once put it: "The Earth is the cradle of humanity, but mankind cannot stay in the cradle forever." Whatever your opinion of the matter, it won't settle the question whether or not space exploration is worth the billions invested in it, especially since there is plenty of work still to be done on Earth.

Troika certainly provides food for thought along those lines and it does so in style. This novella is carefully crafted and works to an interesting twist in the plot at the end of the story. It's well-written and most certainly well-timed piece of writing. It's a novella that celebrates sense of wonder science fiction but also wonders if that drive to explore, through science as well as fiction, has perhaps passed. For me, Troika worked very well, both as a warning and a piece of literature. It faces some stiff competition for the Hugo but I think it would make a fine winner.

Book Details
Title: Troika
Author: Alastair Reynolds
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Pages: 114
Year: 2011
Language: English
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 978-1-59606-376-1
First published: 2011

Friday, July 15, 2011

London - Edward Rutherfurd

London (1997) is Edward Rutherfurd's third novel. I reviewed his début Sarum (1987) last year and concluded that he has gone on to write better books. I'm skipping his second novel for the moment. Ruska (1991) is the odd one out in his bibliography so far, it's the only one that is not set in an English speaking part of the world. I've read it a number of years ago and I may reread it at some point in the future. Given the size of these novels, London weighs in at over 1300 pages in mass market paperback and that is a few pages less than Sarum, I decided to read London first. Like all Rutherfurd's novels, London takes the Mitchener approach to historical fiction, in this case covering twenty-one centuries following the lives of a number of fictional families.

Where Rutherfurd covered ten-thousand years of history in his first novel, he takes a slightly less ambitions approach this time. After a brief section detailing the geological history of the region, the story kicks off in 54 BC with Ceasar's invasion of Britain. It ends with an epilogue set in 1997. The period up to the Norman invasion in 1066 takes up less than 200 pages, a lot of which seems to be tied to archaeological finds in the region. I suspect it would be interesting to visit the Museum of London with these sections as a guide. The emphasis of the novel is on medieval and early modern history of the city. Given the enormous amount of historical material available on this topic Rutherfurd could probably have written another book as big as this one. It's obvious a selection had to be made and Rutherfurd has chosen to stay very close to developments in the city, not letting himself get distracted by events in the rest of the world.

London is one of three novels set in relatively close to each other in the south of England. In Sarum he covered the Salisbury Plain region, in London the city of that name and in The Forest (2000), the first book by Rutherfurd I've read and still something of a favourite of mine, the New Forest region. One of the things that struck me, now that I've read all three, is how careful the author is not to repeat himself. The history of these places is of course tightly linked to that of England as a whole. Major decisions by kings and parliaments affected the whole nation and sometimes reached far outside the borders of the Kingdom. It would have been easy to focus on these periods of upheaval that most readers would remember from their history classes. Although Rutherfurd doesn't ignore them completely, he shows that there is a wealth of historical material that is much less well known but, for a lot of readers, will fit in nicely with what they do know of the history of England.

One of the parts I thought particularly interesting was the section London Bridge, which in part deals with the Peasant Rebellion of 1381. It was a curious affair really. The rebels could have razed the city and the King would not have been able to stop them. It's very hard to adopt the mindset of a medieval peasant but I guess it shows how deeply ingrained the feudal structure of society was. Despite Ball's preaching it would take centuries for the last remnants of it to disappear from the legal system. It's the King overstepping is bounds in the existing framework that triggers the rebellion as much as a desire for greater freedom that causes the rebellion. What the leader of the rebellion did to cause his eventual death is still a bit of a mystery. Rutherfurd gives us his own interpretation of what might have happened here, one of many instances where his fictional characters play a small part in the history of the city.

A second part that receives a lot of attention are the religious conflicts in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Rutherfurd pays a lot of attention to the slightly absurd events that lead up to the establishment of the Anglican Church and the consequences of its inability to decide whether to seek reconciliation with the Catholic Church or develop into a full-fledged protestant form of Christianity. The religious struggles in England took quite a different path than those in on the continent. Rutherfurd pays attention the the Puritans in particular, and the influence they had on the development of what would become the United States.

The City is portrayed as a place of trade for almost its entire history. There's a lot of attention to the workings of guilds, trade and the rise of finance and banking that has made London one of the financial hotspots of the world. The rise and fall of generations of merchants, the ways to make or loose their fortune, is the backbone of the story really. I guess we see London more as a city of finance these days, in this novel Rutherfurd makes the link between them very clear. The brief mentioning of the South Sea Bubble of 1720 forms a nice link to Rutherfurd's most recent novel New York.

If there is an overarching theme to the entire novel, the treatment of women is probably it. Throughout the novel there are plenty of instances that detail the place of women in society and Rutherfurd makes it clear that for most of history, a woman's options were limited indeed. Forced marriages, being considered property, the risks of childbirth and sexual violence, not much is spared the female characters in this book. Rutherfurd sticks to the historical framework. These women know their place in society, know what they can expect and to a large extend accept this, or at least don't attempt to stretch custom and law beyond what could be reasonably expected. It's interesting to see how views of what would make a good wife or husband shifts over time. Personally I think it is one of the strengths of this novel but that is something not all readers will agree on. One of the last sections of the novel, The Suffragette, partly deals with the struggle for women's right to vote. Reading this novel I got the feeling Rutherfurd was building up to this.

On the whole I thought London was a better novel than Sarum. It's more balanced I suppose. Rutherfurd doesn't need to make to many large jumps in history since there is plenty of material from the Norman Conquest onwards. It makes the ride a bit smoother. I thought the way Rutherfurd managed to keep the attention focussed on the city, always using the outlook of London's citizens on events in the wider world in his story very well done. With twenty-one different sections set in different periods and using different characters, the novel is still quite a challenging read. It helps to have some knowledge of the general history of England. Even if you know more than a bit, there is still quite a lot of new things to learn in this novel. I enjoyed reading this book a lot but I have to admit, Rutherfurd's way of telling a story is one that doesn't suit all readers. If you are tempted to try it, London is probably a better introduction to his work than Sarum.

Book Details
Title: London
Author: Edward Rutherfurd
Publisher: Arrow Books
Pages: 1302
Year: 1998
Language: English
Format: Mass Market Paperback
ISBN: 0-09-920191-7
First published: 1997

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Armageddon Bound - Tim Marquitz

Armageddon Bound is the first book in the Demon Squad series. The author kindly provided me with copies of this book and the sequel Resurrection. I'll be reviewing the second book sometime next month. Both are available as paperback and e-book in various format from publisher Damnation Books. Without any prior exposure to this author, or publisher for that matter, I had no idea what to expect. Armageddon Bound turned out to be a testosterone-driven and absolutely action-packed novel.

Imagine a world where God and Lucifer have decided they've had enough. After a brief chat they both decide to walk away from the mess that is our world and leave it to sort out its own problems. A bit of a let down if you've spent eternity serving either one in the capacity of Angel or Devil. Some of them feel Armageddon can't come soon enough. Time to start over. Not everybody agrees with that vision however. Frank Trigg, also known as Triggaltheron in the many circles of Hell, is one of those who'd rather stick with the old world. Part of an organization known as Demonic Resistance and Containment (DRAC), he actively tries to prevent Armageddon from occurring. A job that becomes a lot more dangerous when a powerful Angel decides to side with the pro-Armageddon forces. As if that isn't enough, Trigg also has to deal with a vengeful ex. Life is going to be interesting for Trigg for a while.

Trigg is quite an unusual hero. His uncle is Lucifer, the big man himself, and once, he was even offered the job of Anti-Christ. For reasons not made clear in this novel, he turned down this offer. Still, his heritage offers some benefits. He is immortal for one thing but as Devils go, not particularly powerful. Perhaps not entirely surprising, Trigg is drawn to the darker side of life. He spends most of the novel in the bad part of town and is not one to walk away from a good brawl. In fact, he takes a lot of punishment in this novel.

One of Trigg's qualities not all readers will appreciate is his tendency to describe the assets of just about every female character he comes across, and his physical reaction to them, in detail. He is single, apparently a fan of Jenna Jameson and, although currently in a dry spell, has had a turbulent sex life in the past. I thought Trigg's trouble with his ex-wife, and really, he should have seen it coming, to be entertaining but for the most part, the rather crude descriptions employed don't really add to the bad boy image Trigg likes to cultivate. Then again, lust is one of the seven deadly sins.

Except for a stray vampire most of the creatures we come across are biblical. We don't get to see heaven but hell appears to be mostly modelled after Dante's vision of the place. Interestingly, we don't get to see any of the souls spending eternity there. It's a rather quiet place when Trigg gets there. The author chose to tell the story from a character who is part Devil but clearly not all evil. It's interesting to see how he transforms the eternal battle between good and evil into something of a power struggle were both parties do things they ought to be ashamed of. There is something ironic about a Devil preventing Armageddon and Marquitz uses this to full effect.

Another striking feature of this novel are the action scenes. Marquitz has his characters engage each other with an explosive mixture of magic and fire arms. These are intense scenes of mayhem and destruction and are the main attraction of the novel. Truth be told, Trigg has quite a bit of trouble holding his own in the company of more powerful Devils and Angels. It makes for a very fast paced novel, especially since Marquitz does not forget to to make Trigg aware of the fact that time is running out.

Armageddon Bound is an entertaining but somewhat light read. The concept of God and Lucifer raises some interesting questions that could have given the novel a bit more depth. How does the knowledge that nobody is listening to your prayers any more influence religious communities for instance? We see angels and devils trying to bring about Armageddon but no ordinary humans seem to have any role in the conflict. It seems to me there is material for some interesting social developments and perhaps a cult or two here. That being said, as the fast-paced, action-packed novel it aims to be, Armageddon Bound works very well indeed.

Book Details
Title: Armageddon Bound
Author: Tim Marquitz
Publisher: Damnation Books
Pages: 155
Year: 2009
Language: English
Format: E-book
ISBN: 978-1-61572-001-9
First published: 2009

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Naamah's Blessing - Jacqueline Carey

Naamah's Blessing is the third book in Carey's Moirin trilogy and the ninth in the Kushiel's Legacy series. Carey has indicated that it will be the last book in the series, at least for the moment, and that she intends to write an unrelated series after this, which will be more of an urban fantasy. She also has a second book coming out later this year. Saints Astray is the much anticipated sequel to Santa Olivia, one of my favourite books of 2009, and is scheduled for a November release. I very much look forward to reading that one. As for the Kushiel Series, it has had its ups and downs, personally I think it is a good idea that Carey is going to focus on something else for now. I wasn't terribly impressed with Naamah's Curse. This book is a bit better but still nowhere near the level of Kushiel's Dart, the outstanding first novel in the series.

After a long journey back form the east, Moirin and her husband Bao arrive back in Terre D'Ange. Although Moirin has followed her destiny and overcome the challenges she faced in Ch'in, she knows her adventures are not over yet. In fact, there is quite a lot of unfinished business to be taken care of. For one thing, Moirin is confronted with the daughter of the Queen, one of Moirin's many lovers who died in childbirth while Moirin was travelling. The King has not recovered from the death of his second wife well and it is turning into a full blown political crisis when the King's chancellor shows a bit more ambition than is proper for his position. There is also the matter of Raphael de Mereliot, another former lover who has developed decidedly megalomaniac tendencies. Resolving this loose end will require another long journey. One to the recently discovered New World.

Carey again takes us to a previously unexplored part of her world. We visit the Aztec and Inca empires in this novel, recently discovered by the Aragonians. It is mentioned that these new lands have been discovered in Moirin's lifetime, which is one of the most precise historical markers in the entire series. It would put this novel in the early 16th century. It also shows how much liberty Carey has taken with historical developments in over the course of the series. In Naamah's Blessing for instance, the suppresses the use of gunpowder in the Ch'in civil war, something that in our history was already pretty well established by that time in Europe. There's lot of historical details in these novels but for the sake of the story, Carey didn't attempt too much historical accuracy. Personally I would have appreciated it if some of the key elements in the series had been a bit more consistent but we have to keep in mind it is a work of fiction.

One of the works Carey used in researching this novel is Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, which, to my shame, I have to admit I haven't read. I'm familiar with its central thesis though, that the dominance of Eurasian cultures can be explained by environmental and geographical factors rather than genetic or intellectual superiority. Of the three elements in the title, Carey has already taken care of the guns. She further levels the playing field by having Raphael offer a cure to the pox to the Nuhuatl (Aztec) Empire, much to the dislike of the Aragonians (Spanish). It inserts an interesting shade of grey into what would have other wise have been a classic evil overlord type of villain. Steel is also mention as something both the Aragonians and D'Angelines try to keep out of the hands of the Nuhuatl. She spoils the effect a little by having one of the characters behead someone in a single stroke using a maquahuitl (an wooden sword-like weapon with obsidian embedded in the blade), which strikes me as rather unlikely. Still, armour and horses are a great advantage.

In a world where the gods of many people seem to be able to influence life on earth, the way Carey deals with the human sacrifices a Aztec empire was known for is interesting. Carey has never shied away from behaviour that would be considered taboo in most cultures. This one is a bit more problematic than most though. Structural human sacrifice is rare in human history, certainly on a scale the Aztecs seemed to practice it. In a world where many of the sacrifices made to the gods are necessary, does this extend to human sacrifice as well? Early on in the novel it seems the Aragonians are attempting to stop the practice but human sacrifice is key to solving Moirin's problems. Until now, the sacrifices made by the main character in the book, no matter how horrible, where mostly personal in nature, Carey definitely enters into new territory here and not all readers will appreciate it.

Once we reach the stronghold of Raphael, my suspension of disbelief collapsed entirely in the space of a few pages. This was not actually caused by something the author did but rather a strange association my mind insisted on making. Rapheal, in Naamah's Kiss, acquired the language of ants from a demon he tricked Moirin into summoning for him. It turns out to be a curse as they don't have anything intelligent to say. When we meet Raphael again, he has turned this annoyance into a weapon and managed to find a way of controlling the ants by somehow having his body produce the right chemicals. Not this is a bit of a stretch already but it gets worse. Maybe 20 years ago I read a number of books in a series of absolutely dreadful westerns that were very popular here in the 1970s. They were written by a German author using the pen-name Conrad Kobbe and to my knowledge they have never been translated in English. Most of them were set in the American West but once in a while, the main character, a bandit hunter by the name of Conny Coll, ended up in South America as well. In one of those adventures features a voracious horde of army ants insisting on overrunning a fort of some kind. It was entertaining but also completely ridiculous. I can't remember how Coll overcame this obstacle but no doubt his aim was impeccable. Much to my amusement, Raphael does indeed order his ants to serve him as an army. Ouch!

One of the things I didn't like about Naamah's Curse is that for most of the book Moirin obediently obeys the instructions of the divine guide. This novel doesn't escape that entirely in this novel but at least the gods are a bit more cryptic. I also have to hand it to Carey, she knows how to plot a novel. In the finale of the trilogy, things fall in place very nicely indeed. Not a loose end in sight. That being said, I don't think the trilogy as a whole lives up the the promise of the first novel, which is without a doubt the strongest of the three. The gods manage to thoroughly douse the spark that made Moirin such an interesting character in Naamah's Kiss. Fans of the series will no doubt devour this book and love it. Personally, I think the plot is a bit too far-fetched even for a fantasy novel. All things considered, Carey has written better novels but it is far from her worst as well.

Book Details
Title: Naamah's Blessing
Author: Jaqueline Carey
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Pages: 610
Year: 2011
Language: English
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 978-0-446-19807-3
First published: 2011

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Consider Phlebas - Iain M. Banks

Iain M. Banks is something of an unusual author in that he both publishes science fiction, under this pen-name, and main stream fiction which appears under the name Iain Banks. In science fiction, he is probably best known for his Culture novels, a series that currently spans eight book and a bunch of short fiction. I understand that it isn't necessary to read them publication order, the second novel The Player of Games is frequently mentioned as a good place to start. Not having read any of Banks work however, I thought I'd start with the first one, Consider Phlebas (1987). The Culture novels have been written more or less in chronological order as well, for those of you who prefer that approach to reading a series.

The Culture is a galaxy-spanning, post scarcity civilization. A community where things like money, laws and poverty are part of history. Their technology is capable of providing for the trillions of inhabitants, who are now free to pursue the arts, education, sports and whatever else they desire. It may sound like a socialist's utopia but there are still people who feel threatened by it. After a hundred generations of peace, The Culture finds itself at war with the Idirans, a religious, biologically immortal race on a crusade to spread their faith. With this conflict as a backdrop, Bora Horza Gobuchul, member of a race known as Changers and agent to the Idirans, is faced with a difficult assignment. He is to retrieve an advanced Culture artificial intelligence known as a Mind, stranded on an off-limits planet. The assignment is made even more difficult by the fact that he is not the only one looking.

Banks makes in interesting choice by show us The Culture though the eyes of one of its enemies. Horza may not share the Idiran religious ideals, The Culture still makes him decidedly uneasy. Especially the extent to which it relies on artificial intelligence, some of whom are sentient and enjoy the same status (I won't say right since The Culture knows no laws) as any other citizen. He's pretty convinced the Idirans are right early on in the novel but as the story progresses and he is forced to spend more time with Culture operatives and drones, his certainty is beginning to show some cracks. I thought this was an interesting bit of character development.

Horza has one thing right though, the arrogance The Culture displays is stunning. The scale of the war Banks describes is incredible, he mentions casualty figures in the trillions, destroyed planets and spaceships litter the galaxy. The Culture is ill prepared for war and until they feel the can face the Idiran threat head-on, they retreat, destroying what they cannot defend. Everything can be rebuilt at virtually no cost after all, this scorched earth tactic makes perfect sense from a rational point of view. Their conviction that, even though they are on the defensive for all of the novel, the war will eventually be won and the casual manner in which entire planets are sacrificed in a strategic withdrawals really driven home by the scale of the destruction Banks describes. It also illustrates what Horza feels is wrong with The Culture and to what extend The Culture relies on machines to dictate their strategy.

On this point Banks makes the readers doubt again. Despite the outrageous computational capacity of the most advanced Minds in The Culture, a small group of human minds is still capable of more accurately prediction future developments. The author includes brief interludes showing us one of these people and it made me wonder how much of their strategy is actually thought up by the Minds. While these sections were very interesting and give us some insight into the workings of The Culture, I would not have minded if these sections had been a bit more integrated into the main story line.

Consider Phlebas is in essence a very fast-paced space opera. Huge spaceships and incredible constructs form the background of lots of detailed action scenes. Banks rarely takes his foot of the gas for long enough to really reflect on this universe. In that respect I had expected a little more from this novel. Then again, he's clearly not done with this setting so perhaps it is just as well he leaves something to be explored for the next volumes. I don't think this novel quite justifies the praise heaped on The Culture series as a whole, the setting may be awesome, the plot itself is rather straightforward. There's also an odd sense of disconnection between he plot and the setting. None of the characters in the book seem to influence events on a larger scale in any way, which is something I more or less expected given that the book is marketed as space opera. In fact, the whole ending of the novel is rather depressing. It's a conclusion Joe Abercrombie would approve of. It was an entertaining novel but it did give me the impression there was quite a bit of room left for improvement. For this series to live up to its reputation I expect stronger novels among the other Culture books.

Book Details
Title: Consider Phlebas
Author: Iain M. Banks
Publisher: Orbit
Pages: 471
Year: 2010
Language: English
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-85723-138-0
First published: 1987

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Dragon's Path - Daniel Abraham

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.

Book Details
Title: The Dragon's Path
Author: Daniel Abraham
Publisher: Orbit
Pages: 555
Year: 2011
Language: English
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-84149-887-4
First published: 2011