Friday, 6 May 2011
‘The Dragon’s Path’ – Daniel Abraham (Orbit)
Abraham’s ‘Long Price’ quartet is considered to be top notch original fantasy by those people who have read it. For the record, I’ve only read the first two books but if they’re anything to go by then I’ll quite happily agree with the people saying all the good stuff. However, this oriental influenced fantasy didn’t fare so well (sales wise) in the US which led to the publishers not bothering to release the final instalment in mass market paperback. Sometimes, no matter how nice your face looks it just doesn’t fit...
Abraham doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to be put off by something like this though and has come back with another fantasy based effort, this time set in more familiar quasi-medieval surroundings. Orbit have already shown their support for the series by acquiring two more books, to follow on from the three that they’ve already bought, and rightly so. ‘The Dragon’s Path’ is a gorgeous read that lays its cards on the table right away and promises a lot more goodness to come in the future.
‘Summer is the season of war in the Free Cities...’
The politics of Kings impact on the lives of all and it is the job of everyone else to make out the best they can in the meantime. Marcus is getting out of the city of Vanai before the armies of Antea arrive to lay siege; guarding the last caravan out of the city seems as good a way to escape as any... or is it? Cithrin Bel Sarcour has been charged by the Medean Bank, as its ward, to oversee the removal of it’s Vanaian treasury (before the city claims it) and she is trying very heard to keep it all a secret... in the last caravan out of the city.
On the other side of the coin, young noble Geder Palliako marches to war for the first time although he would rather pursue matters of philosophy than swordplay. His role as the regimental scapegoat will change in the fires of battle (as Antean nobility manoeuvre for influence over their King) but his discoveries on a remote mountain range will bring change of a kind that the world itself may not be ready to face...
I’ll happily admit that when I first heard mention of ‘The Dragon’s Path’ I was wondered if this was a tactical move on Abraham’s part to get back in the game by writing something that would appeal to a wider audience than the people who read the ‘Long Price’ books. Maybe this was the case (and who could blame Abraham for doing that?) but Abraham has stuck to his guns and given us a book that may tick all the boxes for a regular fantasy novel but also is just as thoughtful and character driven as anything he has written before. The result is striking to say the least.
A big deal is made these days about ‘gritty’ fantasy novels where the author takes great delight in killing characters when you least expect it and showing the ‘evil villain’ to be a generally nice guy after all. That’s all well and good but I find that I can tell which way a character will fall as they’re pushed so far in one direction that you’re almost waiting for them to spring back and go the other way (GRRM, I’m looking at you right now). This is not the case with ‘The Dragon’s Path’, not at all. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book where all the characters are painted in such a perfect shade of grey that you cannot tell what they’ll do until it is done. The reasoning behind their actions also throws everything on its head at moments cleverly chosen by Abraham to keep the ball rolling. The end result is compulsive reading, pure and simple. You’ve got a story where the character least likely to make a game changing decision does so at the worst possible time. You’ve also got a story where you find yourself genuinely sympathising with characters opposing the main players; people genuinely believe that they are doing the right thing here. Abraham’s characters are so well drawn that I literally had to keep reading to find out how they develop further (and they all do). There’s also a nice blend of character driven moments and moments where action takes over and things get a lot more visual; a move that makes the plot flow very smoothly.
‘The Dragon’s Path’ is left open ended in such a way that you find yourself drawn in just to see where the plot takes you. The book itself is very much an ‘opening instalment’, with things being set up for the future, but events are self contained enough that you don’t feel you’re left hanging for all the wrong reasons. I was left more than satisfied with what the book gave me in terms of plot and I’m looking forward to seeing more of the same (plot and characterisation working together so well) in the future.
I wasn’t so sure though about the focus on the role that economics plays in such a scenario. It’s certainly an interesting theme to pursue and perhaps one that doesn’t get the attention that it deserves in other novels. What I didn’t feel though was a solid connection to the rest of the plot and that was a shame seeing as everything else is so tightly bound together. Having said that though, fair play to Abraham for presenting it all in such a way that it kept my interest throughout the book (economics and I don’t mix as a rule...)
The world in which the drama plays out is left vague in some areas, gaps that will presumably be filled in as the series itself develops further. What we’re given in the meantime though is more than enough to be getting on with as Abraham gives us the kind of detail that fans of the ‘Long Price’ series will have already enjoyed. Enough work has gone into the background scenery that you will feel like you are walking through mean streets, corridors of power and lonely mountain passes...
A minor issue arising from the exploration of economics prevents ‘The Dragon’s Path’ from being the excellent novel that it initially promised to be. There’s no doubt though that we’ve got something special here that any fan of well thought out fantasy should be following as a matter of course. Recommended reading here.
Nine and a Half out of Ten