Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Widow's House - Daniel Abraham

The Widow's House is the fourth volume of the Dagger and Coin series by Daniel Abraham. They've been appearing like clockwork every year in spring. Recently the cover art for the fifth and final volume was released. The Spider's War is set for release in the spring or summer of 2015. These books tend to linger on my to read stack for a while. On the one hand I like Abraham's writing, but on the other, these novels are not the most challenging or innovative reads around. They deliver what they set out to do. The Dagger and Coin is solid, epic fantasy, nothing more and nothing less. If you are in the mood for that, you could do worse than these novels.

War has enveloped the world. Geder's armies, assisted by the spider priests are achieving one victory after another. The rapid pace of expansion is causing problems though. His armies are exhausted, food is scarce because most of the farmers have been called up to fight and on top of that, there are rumors that a dragon has once again been spotted in the world. Still Geder wants to press on. The rejection by Cithrin stings and when he realizes how she used him, there is no holding him back. The army marches on Porte Oliva to settle the account with Cithrin.

In The Tyrant's Law, Marcus and Master Kit figured out that the Spider Goddess does not exist but that the ancient dragon magic creates the illusion of communicating with the Goddess. Its victims are completely convinced they are right and will prevail. Throughout the book we see signs how this conviction is beginning to work against the priests and how it will lead the world into a spiral of continuous violence. The shape of the conflict to come is beginning to get clear in this novel. It also means Marcus' job is done for the moment and he takes a bit of a back seat in the novel. The unresolved tension between him and Cithrin remains unresolved. Making peace with his past is also out of reach for the moment.

While Abraham is clearly working towards the climax of the story, in The Widow's House he is mostly setting the stage. There is a major battle in the book but neither of the parties get out of it what they were aiming for. In fact, Abraham makes it clear that the solution for ending this conflict is an economic one rather than military. It is Cithrin's mind for economics that comes up with a way to fuse the economies of the various nations in such a way that war becomes too expensive to wage. Her method is not the same but the idea that war can be prevented in such a manner is one of the principles on which the EU and its forerunners operate. The way in which economics is woven into the story is remains one of the most interesting aspects of the story. Interestingly enough, Cithrin also sets up the mechanisms for a spectacular economic crash here. I don't think the story will take us that far but it would certainly have been interesting to see how she'd respond to that.

Clara in the meantime is still seeing the world though more feudal eyes. Even more aware of the various classes of society, Clara herself moves though a kind of vacuum. She is an embarrassment to the court, yet the mother of one of the nation's highest military leaders. It changes her perspective in many ways. She does remain convinced that Geder will lead the nations into ruin however, and continues her campaign to see him removed from the throne. I liked her attitude in this book. She is of the opinion that the worst has already happened to her and is quite willing to risk her life to see peace return to the world. Abraham does make sure to keep a bit of an aristocratic outlook in this character, she may have fallen from grace but her upbringing will not let her be anything but a lady most of the time.

Geder himself seems at a bit of a standstill in this book. He is still the slightly naive, book smart and in some respects decent man, but also possesses a bit of a psychopathic streak, that comes out in full force under the influence of the Spider priests. He is, in other words, his creepy self for most of the book. The combination of basically decent actions and a ruthless policy of conquest is one you don't come across often in Fantasy. We have seen it in the previous novels however, and in this one we have to wait until the very end before we see cracks starting to appear.

I have often wondered what this series could have been if Abraham had taken a few more chances. He consciously avoids a number of overused tropes of the genre (the promised one, a clear good versus evil story, quests for magical artifacts etcetera) and includes elements in the plot that you don't come across often. The banking, the way he handles female characters and his take on religious fanaticism are good examples of that. Despite all that, the series has a very familiar feel to it for readers of epic fantasy. As Abraham said himself, he aims to do epic fantasy exceptionally well. While te result is familiar, comfortable and pleasant reading, it does leave me with the sense of unfulfilled potential. The Widow's House is another solid entry in the series but one that leaves me in doubt whether the final volume will be able to make me shake the feeling this series could have been more than Abraham has made of it.

Book Details
Title: The Widow's House
Author: Daniel Abraham
Publisher: Orbit
Pages: 493
Year: 2014
Language: English
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-316-20398-2
First published: 2014


  1. Nice review! I'm all caught up in this series but I'm in no rush to get this one. The whole series has been rather boring IMO. You're totally right when you said that Abraham needs to take more chances. The first three books are alright, but there's a feeling that something is missing.

    1. I suppose he wouldn't have sold it if he tried something in the vein of the Long Price books again so in a way I understand why he took a more.. conventional approach this time. I still feel those books didn't get the recognition they deserved. Or maybe I should stay the sales numbers.