Monday, April 25, 2011

Review: The Dragon's Path by Daniel Abraham

The first book in Daniel Abraham's new fantasy series, The Dagger and the Coin, does not turn tropes on their heads or reinvent the genre; instead, what Abraham is concerned with is engaging fantasy - including its strengths and weaknesses - on its own terms. Indeed, in the "Extras" section at the end of The Dragon's Path, Abraham discusses having "permission to be part of a greater body of literature." Where his first fantasy series, the critically acclaimed and excellent Long Price Quartet, gave readers an interesting and new take on magic and placed it outside the traditional Medieval European setting, The Dragon's Path travels the rutted road of many epic fantastists - yet, it has all of Abraham's charm and wit, making The Dragon's Path an entertaining and engaging read.

Part of what Abraham does so well is write compelling characters. This is epic fantasy, to be sure, but the important players in The Dragon's Path are not great warriors or sorcerers or sorceresses (though, each of these certainly make appearances). There is Cithrin, an orphan and ward of the Medean Bank, who must smuggle the free city of Vanai's wealth across the countryside after her city is sacked. And Geder Palliako, the "lone scion of a noble house" who is more interested in speculative essays than swordplay, and is constantly made fun of for it. Marcus Wester is the closest Abraham gets to a great warrior; however, Marcus's glory days (tinged with tragedy though they are) are well behind him and he has become a mercenary and caravan guard. Dawson Kalliam, childhood friend of the king of Antea, is a man of tradition, whether right or wrong, and will do anything to keep the kingdom from falling. His wife, Clara, also plays into the action near the end of the novel - she is certainly more intelligent than Dawson and has a better grasp of court politics and the great changes sweeping through the kingdom.

The most interesting characters in The Dragon's Path are Cithrin and Geder, however, because their actions, at the best times, are morally ambiguous, deeply affecting, and, most important, truly human. When Geder is forced into a position of power, his conclusion of Vanai sets in motion various other power plays in the kingdom of Antea, where Geder hails from, and eventually sets him out on a journey unlike anything he's known. As dangers coalesce around Cithrin, her decision concerning the wealth of Vanai will potentially make her a very powerful woman - as war hits the continent, many nations may depend on loans from her branch. Both Geder and Cithrin make good and bad choices. Geder's naivete and near-sociopathic tendenies will have you cursing him at some points in the book; yet, in the end, you want Geder to win or, at least, do something right. Cithrin, too, is a complex character: her growth from a frightened girl in a world of unknowns to a confident banker is marvelous, though she is still fueled by the folly of youth.

The world Abraham's built is based around the end of the reign of dragons and the creation of the thirteen races of man. He spends most of the novel with the Firstbloods, glossing over the other twelve races with superficial detail - "tall-eared Tralgu, chitinous Timzinae, tusked Yemmu...The Dartinae had small braziers in their eyeholes...a Kurtadam with clicking beads." If there is a weakness in The Dragon's Path, it's here; however, this being the first book in a series of an expected five, it's possible Abraham well get more in depth with these races as they become important to the tale. Part of the first book in a series of this magnitude is setting up the world, letting the reader know the rules, and Abraham succeeds in that.

Beyond the political intrigues and banking contracts, Abraham has constructed an interesting if familiar back story concerning the age of dragons (who are now extinct, but left jade roads called "dragon roads" in their wake), and a temple of priests who can tell whether or not a person is lying and are concerned with the End of All Doubt and a very nasty spider. The revelation of the "End of All Doubt" is Abraham's intriguing spin on the "looming darkness" or "freeing of the great evil lord" common to commercial epic fantasy; it'll be exciting where he leads us.

Though The Dragon's Path shares similarities with past epic fantasy series', Abraham knows his strengths as a writer and, what might come off as cliche in a lesser writer's pen, here reads excitingly fresh. Recommended.

-Dustin Monk


  1. Added to reading list... Even though I've just begun the ASoIaF re-read in preparation for A Dance with Dragons.

  2. Well, I think you've got some time before the 2nd book of this series comes out; though Orbit (and Abraham) get things done quickly. I also recommend reading The Long Price Quartet first, but only because it's finished and you can dive right in without interruption.