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The Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham

The Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham
Book Name: A Shadow in Summer, A Betrayal in Winter, An Autumn War, The Price of Spring
Author: Daniel Abraham
Publisher(s): Tor
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / eBook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: March 7, 2006 (UK) July 31, 2007 (US)

A few weeks ago, finding myself without anything to read, I picked up A Shadow in Summer, first book of the Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham. Since I had never heard about this series or its author, my expectations were quite low: probably some generic fantasy to pass the time, with just enough interesting twists not to be a waste of time.

For the first few pages, I thought that was exactly what I had in my hands. The action took place in a middle-eastern setting that seemed intriguing, but the descriptions were confusing: I think I spent more time re-reading to remember who each character was than actually advancing through the book.

Once the bitter first draught was done, though, I found that my first impression had been wrong: the world is fascinatingly complex, resting on a delicate balance between the marvelous technology of the ever-expansionist Galts and the apocalyptic power wielded by the Andat, thoughts given form by the poet-mages of the Khaiem.

The only reason why the Galts, with their superior firepower, haven’t razed the city-states of the khaiem is because the latter control the andat, concepts given form that wield power on a global scale. Makes-Stone-Soft, for example, is used for trade, enabling stone to be molded like clay, resulting in vases that know no equal in the world. Should Galt threaten war, however, all of their mountains and cities could be turned to water and then to stone again, dooming all its inhabitants to a horrible death.

The binding of these creatures, however, isn’t simple or trivial. Since the andat represent concepts that have no existence by themselves, they have to be bound and defined by the poets, each binding harder than the last. Besides, should the binding fail, the poet will die a horrible death. To top this, all of them long for inexistence, tugging at their poets’ mind and trying to manipulate them in order to get their freedom.

It’s in this setting that we find Otah Machi, a young poet in training and son of one of the city-states’ ruler. The book opens with his struggle within the poet academy, and his decision to leave it in search for a better life. From there, we will see the world through the eyes of many characters, showing how even the most trivial decision can, given enough time, change the fate of the entire world.

Throughout the saga, the most prevalent idea is that of change, both of the characters’ as they grow from children to old men and women, and the world as it’s changed by the characters’ actions. The author makes a masterful work showing how the different decisions a person makes and the events they live change who they are and how others see them.

The world is fraught with politics and intrigue. Fortunately, the author has little bias for any of the characters, at least at the beginning. Instead, he shows the reasoning behind their plots and maneuvers, leaving it to us the decision of who is right and who is wrong. While quite gritty and with no lack of violence, it is something that tends to stay behind the scenes, showing only its after effects: actual action scenes are few and far between.

One of the books’ best features is how gray the characters’ moralities are. Here, we get a peek behind most of the characters’ minds, even those who can rightfully be considered evil or deranged, finding plausible motivation for doing what they do. There is no place here for villainy just for the sake of villainy. It serves as a middle ground between the immaculate purity of the more idealistic fantasy novels and the almost gory brutality that goes on the other extreme.

The rhythm and depth of the political games are quite well written. They are believable, complex, and with many different factions clashing between themselves, but not so much that it becomes difficult to follow.

Unfortunately, all the good work seems to go awry in the second half of the fourth book, giving way to an incredibly disappointing ending. The prose maintains its high level, and the intrigues are as complicated as ever, but the author seems to lose the moral neutrality that made the rest of the series so enjoyable. While he’s been careful to avoid making moral statements (whether explicitly or implicitly), in the end he seems to almost shout to the reader which side is on the right and which is on the wrong. Had he been able to maintain his composure until the end of the book, this series would be among the best I’ve ever read.

Unfortunately, he didn’t, leaving us with a very well written tetralogy, with interesting and compelling characters, but with a shaky beginning and an even shakier ending.


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