Author: Daniel Abraham
Series: book one of The Dagger and the Coin
Publication Date: April 2011
Review copy provided by the publisher, via NetGalley.
Daniel Abraham’s Long Price Quartet earned him a place among my must-read authors. His latest fantasy takes a somewhat more conventional road, but still delivers a gripping read that should appeal to new fans and old.
THE DRAGON’S PATH is, in essence, about the interplay between war and commerce. Cithrin bel Sarcour, a young bank ward, joins a caravan fleeing Vanai in advance of an army intent on occupying the city. Unbeknownst to Marcus Wester, one-time war hero and captain of the mercenary company that guards the ‘van, Cithrin carries the bulk of the bank’s wealth with her.
Geder Palliako, a junior knight with the approaching army, would much rather be reading speculative essay than marching off to war. His life grows a great deal more complicated when Dawson Kalliam, a conservative nobleman intent on crushing a rival’s bid to allow commoners more political rights, decides to use Geder and the occupation of Vanai as leverage in his own schemes.
These four characters’ stories run parallel to each other, and intersect to varying degrees. Cithrin’s story is intimately entwined with Marcus’s, while Geder and Dawson affect each other at a distance and rarely meet. The two pairs touch only briefly, in a single scene, though many of their actions have wide-reaching consequences that affect the others’ goals. The result is a layered narrative comprised of smaller, independent scenes that nonetheless build towards an inclusive outcome for all involved.
This is my favourite sort of setup; it gives the reader plenty of time to get to know each character while still pushing the story forward. It does mean that it takes a little while for the overall plot to emerge, though, so I can see it being a downside for some readers. Abraham also includes a tantalizing prologue that takes quite a while to bear fruit--but when it does, it ups the stakes in some bloody awesome ways. I can’t wait to see how it plays out in the next book.
The characters, now, are everything I’ve come to expect from Mr. Abraham. This guy does not do black and white, so we don’t really have heroes or villains. Just people, acting as they believe they need to act, in ways with which the reader may or may not agree. Some of them do terrible things, or support dubious causes. Dawson, in particular, is a complex fellow whose goals wuld not necessarily be my own. He’s committed to his king and country. Everything he does is intended to strengthen his nation and uphold the political ideals that mean so much to him. He’s presented as a protagonist--but he dedicates his whole being to upholding noble power and keeping commoners from having a political voice. He genuinely believes that lowborn folks are incapable of original thought. I can’t agree with him, but I couldn’t dismiss him either.
The others are equally interesting and complex. Geder is an initially sympathetic underdog who behaves in some appalling ways, personally and professionally. Cithrin is very young, and often stumbles as she tries to find her path in life. Marcus has suffered a devastating loss that impacts every move he makes. I’m eager to see how their stories play out in future books.
From a personal angle, I enjoyed THE DRAGON’S PATH because it touched on a few things I find particularly interesting. Economics fascinates me, as long as no one’s testing me on it, so I had a wonderful time with the banking scenes and the various investment deals the characters brokered. I loved Geder’s obsession with speculative essay because it reminded me of the cross-cultural comparisons we do in Classics. And Marcus and Cithrin fall in with an acting troupe. Y’all know I got a thing for the theatre.
I’m also impressed with the way Abraham writes about social class--particularly, the way a woman’s social class dictates what she can or cannot do with her life. Throughout history, almost all our primary sources have come from wealthy, free, educated males who were citizens of the countries or city-states in which they lived. They’ve given us a skewed perspective on what womens’ lives were like, since they emphasize the strictures under which upper class women lived. Abraham’s books always acknowledge the division between what's permissible for the upper classes and what a lower class woman can do with her life. In this case, he gives us Clara, Dawson’s wife, with her low-key, behind-the-scenes work on her husband’s behalf, and Cithrin, who’s able to step forward and act in her own interest without fear of social censure. Clara’s work isn’t less important than Cithrin’s, but she’s bound by a set of rules that makes it impossible for her to ever gain the same autonomy. Abraham doesn’t belabor the differences in their capacity to act, but it’s there for anyone who’d like to consider it, just as it was in the Long Price Quartet. I love that.
All in all, I’m most pleased with this--and past experience has shown me that Abraham’s series get better with each installment. I look forward to the next book.
4 stars – loved it
Once Upon A Time V – that's two dark fantasies, one historical and one contemporary, plus one secondary world piece.
Cithrin’s definitely younger than me. I believe Geder is, too. Marcus, Dawson, Clara and most of the other secondary characters are at least my age, if not older.
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Back In the Day:
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- Two Years Ago: The Long Way Home by Joss Whedon and Georges Jeanty