Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Review | The Long Price Quartet - Daniel Abraham

...But first, a little blogosphere news. There's an excellent guest post over at A Dribble of Ink - showing how little support some of these genre books are getting. Myself? I was... Surprised to say the least. You can find the post HERE - and I'm hoping their signing goes well, especially after that much difficulty in just promoting it.

Anyway, onto the review!

I recently mentioned that the best SFF doesn't leave its world unchanged. For me, a story that ends 'same-old' falls far below one which explores the plethora of changes - not just 'new-king-on-the-throne' change (and he'd better not have been a farmboy...), but social change. Societal change. Magical change. Technological change. Fantasy in the Industrial Revolution? All for it.

...And at its heart, the Long Price Quartet is uniquely about change. It's the tale of two men - Maati and Otah - who change the world for better and worse, and simply different. It's a story, however, that starts off slowly - with A Shadow in Summer.

The cities of the Khaiem are decadent. Technologically backwards, bound by tradition... The list goes on - but they are fabulously wealthy. And untouchable. The reason?

The cities of the Khaiem have the andat.

Abstract concepts 'in a form which includes volition' - in layman's terms, the andat are concepts such as 'Seedless' and 'Water-Flowing-Down' bound into slaves, allowing the poet control. Take Seedless, for example - who the city of Saraykeht uses to remove the seeds from cotton. Seems pretty mundane, but it allows the cities of the Khaiem to stand untouched. Who, after all, would attack a city with the power to turn a country's stone to water?

Maati is a poet: sent to prepare to take up the binding of the andat Seedless. Otah is a porter with a lover, Liat. And with Seedless conspiring against his binder, Otah and Maati renewing their friendship, and the warloving nation of Galt seeking a weapon against the andat... Well, the two friends are about to find themselves shaping the city's future in their struggles. Shadow is a slow novel - it introduces you to a rich culture, and the climax isn't as changing as we hoped. Nevertheless, it's only the start of the quartet as a whole, and it's in A Betrayal in Winter that we really see the scope of the series. Conspiracy, intrigue, the andat, and the succession - it's all made profoundly human. Tragic at times, this is not a series where you'll get an unequivocal happy ending.

The setting of these books is incredibly rich. The Khaiem seem to come alive, their inspiration exotic - incorporating honorifics such as 'kvo' and 'kya' after the fashion of Japanese and similar languages, this is not your typical novel. There's no 'quasi-European' fantasyland here, and I for one find it a very welcome change! Similar to Rothfuss' Adem, there's also a system of 'poses', indicating emotions and attitudes. Contrary to Pornokitsch's love of them (sorry! :P ), I actually find them a little overused in sections to replace description or inference, though they definitely add to the image.

Onto the key component: characters. And this is where Long Price really shines: Otah and Maati are human, and make a wonderful pair of central protagonists. They do what they think they must, and what they'd like to. What's necessary - and what's human. Both fail and succeed - and do both simultaneously, and this is the series' crowning glory: they're grey. There's no black and white here, although there might at first glance seem to be.

There is, however, one disappointment in this: the female characters don't seem particularly strong to me, with one exception. Nevertheless, I think that Liat needed more in Shadow to define her - though in later books this is, admittedly, amended.

The ending, likewise, isn't entirely satisfying, but definitely completes the character arcs - and is very, very apt. It ends as it started - with Maati and Otah, two men who change the world. This is a must-read: a fantasy of merchants and social change, not of heroes. It's slow to start, but well worth the wait, and if you're looking to broaden your fantasy horizons (and let's face it: who isn't?) this is a must read. And a masterpiece.


Have you read this series, or plan to? Comment and tell me below!


  1. Sounds almost a tiny bit Sci-Fi??? Also, I must admit I am hesitant to embrace change because I am a huge fan of the Medieval-esque fantasy...

  2. Well, not really - it's still medieval-esque (with one industrial nation), just takes inspiration from rather exotic sources. Though I like medieval settings, I also like to take a look at fantasy in other areas - urban fantasy, to give one example, or Guy Gavriel Kay's fantastic Under Heaven.

  3. I loved this series, one of my all time faves.

  4. After my recent read-through, I think I feel the same way - though I'll admit to liking Maati a lot more than Otah as a character.

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