Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Tyrant's Law - Daniel Abraham

The Tyrant's Law is the third of five  novels in Daniel Abraham's Dagger and Coin series. It has been published in spring but back then I hadn't read the second volume yet. Now I've finally caught up with the series. Hopefully I'll be able to do a more timely review of the fourth novel, The Widow's House, which is scheduled for the spring of 2014. Although the series is neither very original or hugely challenging, I've enjoyed the previous two novels a lot. They adhere to the conventions of epic fantasy and make for very comfortable reading. I don't think these novels will end up on any lists of highlights of the genre but I'm pretty sure I'll end up reading all five anyway.

Geder, the Lord-Protector of Antea, has defeated the nation of Asterihold in a quick war. The nations have been embroiled in political and military conflict for generations but this appears to be a decisive blow. This conquest doesn't mean the war is over though. Geder catches wind of a conspiracy against him. The Timzinae, one of the thirteen races of humanity that inhabit the world are behind supposed to be behind it and so Geder's army turns its gaze to the nations where they are most populous. War will soon engulf them and once again Geder's priests play an important part in his campaign.

If there is such a thing as middle book syndrome in five book series then this novel is definitely suffering from it to some degree. As usual Abraham has complete control over his plot but I do feel that the novel lacks a strong story arc of its own. Abraham is getting people from A to B, setting up conflicts for the two concluding volumes of the series and delving into the history of the world. Quite a lo  achieve in one novel but still the result isn't quite as satisfying as The King's Blood.

Abraham keeps the number of points of view down to four in this novel. Geder, Clara, Marcus and Cithrin, all of whom we met before. It is Geder's actions that drive most of the story though. As in previous books, Abraham portrays him as a man who essentially means well but does some seriously creepy things. Protect by his position from the consequences of his actions he rules with an iron fist, depending on the talents of his priests to keep the momentum of the war going. His judgments are often harsh and usually rash. Once his is convinced he knows the truth he applies his brand of justice without digging for motivations or how a person's actions might fit into the larger picture. Geder thinks he will be able to retire gracefully once the prince comes of age but given the speed he is alienating people from him, that seems very unlikely to say the least. The mixture of naiveté and ruthlessness makes for a very disturbing character.

Cithrin, one of the more interesting characters in the novel seems to have come to a standstill of sorts. She is sent to do a years apprenticeship with a more experienced banker. The war interferes however and she is forced to return to her old style of risky banking. I guess what Abraham is trying to do with this character is having her develop a personal and professional moral compass. In the later stages of the book she makes some progress but early on her story line drags a bit. Her plot line ends on a very interesting note however, she seems to have underestimated Geder. It will be interesting to see how that plays out in the next book.

Back in Camnipol, Clara is picking up the pieces of her life. She may be disgraced at court but at least her children are still in a position to regain their standing among the nobility. Her life revolves around bringing down Geder now. Left without influence at court, she patiently looks for other ways to disrupt Geder's war. I thought Abraham did a very good job with Clara. Her perspective on life changes drastically but given the strain she is under, the change doesn't feel forced. It's very interesting to see how a person who is essentially considered to be marginalized manages to impact events to such a degree.

Marcus is out and about traveling with Kit, one of the few people in the world who has a good grasp of what is going on at Geder's court. He realizes that the world is in far more danger than it appears to be and sets out to destroy the source of the power behind the throne of Antea. It seems like a classic quest story line but Abraham does give it a nice twist. Little progress is made in resolving the complex feelings Cithrin and Marcus have for each other however. Like in the previous book, Marcus is definitely the least interesting character that gets a point of view.

Abraham set out to write a classic epic fantasy and do it exceptionally well. I'm not convinced he is living up to that ambition with these books but the fact is they are very fast paced and entertaining reads. They are also much more likely to gain him a large audience than his less conventional Long Price Quartet. If you liked the previous two volumes the only thing that will probably bother you about this novel, is that the fourth part is not available yet. That or the fact that the series has not been blessed with particularly good cover art. With The Tyrant's Law, Abraham has added a solid volume to his traditional epic fantasy series. I for one, am curious how he'll bring this series to a close.

Book Details
Title: The Tyrant's Law
Author: Daniel Abraham
Publisher: Orbit
Pages: 497
Year: 2013
Language: English
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-316-08070-5
First published: 2013

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